MAKE IT FUN FOR ALL!
Gear up for a day of games and the most awesome historical document ever.
In the yard (or pool, if you have one), give guests balloons that have been filled with water and frozen, one with a coin inside. Whoever melts theirs fastest gets a door prize, and whoever has the coin wins something else. (As for the prizes, this is an instance where regifting is acceptable.)
Chances are, if you don't own a set of croquet mallets and balls, someone on your block does. If not, they're a steal at sporting goods stores. (Bonus: If the kids display any expertise, you'll learn you may have future golf pros in the family!) Write directives like "Do the twist for 10 seconds!" or "Name the first five U.S. presidents!" on paper tabs and tape one on each croquet hoop. The last one to get the ball through the hoop has to perform the action.
These are thought to have originated in England (just like us!), making July 4th a perfect excuse for staging them. Break out old pillowcases, using king-size cases for adults and standard ones for kids, or buy burlap sacks at daybagoutlet.com.
EMBRACE THE SPARKLE
Fireworks are fun for everyone, but we found plenty of other ways to shine, day or night.
Punch up your punch bowl with sparkling ingredients (alcoholic and non-), and serve sweet-spicy refreshments that put the "fire" in "fireworks." Try:
Michelada: beer, lime juice, worcestershire sauce, hot sauce
Champagne Cocktail: sparkling wine, sugar cube, dash of bitters
Sweet and Tart: cava, pomegranate juice, dash of superfine sugar, lemon peel
Lime-Pomegranate Cooler: limeade, pomegranate juice, seltzer, fresh mint leaves
FREEZE THE FLAVOR
Fill a medium metal bowl halfway with water, then drop in several thin slices of lime. Freeze for 4 hours. When it's frozen, add more lime slices, fill to the top with more water and refreeze. To unmold right before serving, run the bowl upside down under warm water. This lime ice will keep your punch bowl of Lime- Pomegranate Cooler chilly all night without watering down the drink.
Help the kids catch fireflies in jars, and gather everyone else for a bit of star spotting. Get whoever actually paid attention in astronomy class to teach your guests about the constellations (where is that Big Dipper, anyway?), and connect other stars into "constellations" that you name yourselves.
MAKE DECORATIONS OF INDEPENDENCE
Let your American flag fly without looking like every other party on the block.
PLAY WITH RIBBONS
Upgrade standard paper lanterns with this idea from Hostess with the Mostess founder Jennifer Sbranti: Hot-glue five lengths of ribbon vertically from the top opening of the lantern to the bottom opening, letting excess ribbon hang down 1 to 2 inches. (Tacky or fabric glue can work, too.)
Sbranti also loves tying ribbons around plastic straws or napkins. For a fun twist on that idea, braid ribbons first, using two red and one white ribbon on some, and two blue ribbons and one white on the others.
GET THE KIDS INVOLVED
Another of Sbranti's favorite low-fuss ideas? Twist metallic pipe cleaners (chenille stems, technically) together to create faux sparklers. The kids will love to help out!
DECORATE WITH DRINKS
Liquefy your color scheme: Round out cocktails with a spread of color-coded beverages like red fruit punch, coconut water, and lemonade mixed with pureed, strained blackberries.
END ON A SWEET NOTE
Whip up a sweet spread that's as American as -- well, you know.
A WARM AND GOOEY TREAT
Use the grill or campfire's last embers to toast marshmallows. If you have chocolate lying around, melt it with a little heavy cream for dipping. Hot Tip: To mix sweet and savory, use fresh rosemary sprigs for skewers and put a tiny bit of kosher salt in your melted chocolate.
RED, WHITE AND BLUE DESSERT
Serve cherry or raspberry gelatin made with balls of cream cheese and fresh blueberries (get it?), which will suspend in the gelatin for a burst of flavor in every bite.
STONE (FRUIT) SIMPLE
Grill peaches or plums and top with a little whipped cream; if you're feeling decadent, drizzle with dark rum or amaretto.
Serve your favorite sorbet in a champagne flute with a splash of sparkling wine and fresh basil or mint.