Hi, my name is Melissa and I’m addicted to planning themed birthday parties. I’m the “pinterest mom” all you non-party planners hate. But, I don’t do it for the compliments, I don’t do it because I think it’s necessary and, if we’re honestly speaking, I don’t even do it all for my kid (meaning they would be happy no matter how we celebrated their birthday). Simply put, I do it because I really freaking love planning, crafting and executing a themed party. It’s just my jam. But, before we go any further I just want to be clear that this is NOT a post to make you feel guilty if party planning is one of those things that give you anxious sweats. Rather, this post is to help those that have the desire to plan themed parties and would simply like some tips and ideas on how to execute. There are many, many, many ways to celebrate birthdays and make someone feel special on their day so whatever works for and your fam is the way to go. Less stress, is always best!
But now let’s dig into themed birthdays. I’ve decided to dedicate this post around my one year birthday parties because I feel like that’s when parents typically plan a bigger ‘hurrah’ compared to other years. I also like one year birthdays because the child is too young to give you much input, haha. Yes, I totally love themed birthdays, but not so much where I give zero consideration to my child and what they would want. At 3 and 5, Parker and Ellie pretty much tell me the theme they would like and then I run with it. But for year 1 it was all up to me. Now, onto the ideas!
Themes: My first focus, when choosing a theme, is thinking of their interests. I loved reading Where the Wild Things Are to Parker and the main character, Max, reminded me of him so I did his one year party around a favorite book. If your child doesn’t have much of a specific interest yet (or perhaps too many interests) then my second tactic, especially with one year parties, is to choose something based on the season of their birthday. Ellie is August and so I planned an outdoor flower garden party. Maren is late October so I planned a party centered around pie (had fall colors/Thanksgiving type feel). I decide on a theme 5 to 6 weeks before the event date so that I can have the invitations created, printed and in the mail 3 to 4 weeks prior to the party.
Invitations: I’m a “mailed invite” kind of planner so my tip is based on that, although I’ve definitely received some ridiculously cute evites too. But when it comes to a paper invite, simply put, my go-to is Etsy. I find them to be the cutest and honestly the cheapest. What I like about Etsy is that you can find an invite for any theme in a downloadable format. What that means is I typically spend $10-$12 for someone to email me a personalized PDF invite and then I bring my own cardstock to UPS and get them printed there. I then cut out the invites, stuff them and mail them. This option is more time consuming then just ordering off a site like Shutterfly but the cost savings is worth it to me. Some favorite Etsy card shops can be found here, here and here.
Decorations: Decorating is my favorite part and, of course, where you bring the theme to life. Many Etsy shops also sell printable decorations to go with their invites so if being crafty isn’t up your alley, that is a creative way to add customization without spending loads of time. I focus my decorating efforts to the dessert table and guest tables. For one year birthdays I also decorate their high chair and include a display table of their monthly photos, milestones and current one year stats (this also usually doubles as the present table). For decorating ideas, Pinterest is my friend. I create a secret board and get to pinning. I also scour my house to see if there is anything I already own that could work with my theme. For example, I had plenty of vases and watering cans I could use for Ellie’s flower garden party. I’m also totally predictable and use mason jars for everything – drinks, vases, guest book pen holder, utensil holder, etc. I always keep the kids table simple with kraft paper and crayons.
Guest Book: I have a tradition of using a children’s book that ties in with the theme as the guest book. It obviously started with wanting to use Where the Wild Things Are for Parker, but even if I come up with a theme first I then go out and find a book that relates. I love these keepsakes for my children and that they can go back and read the sweet messages inside the cover from those that attended. Here are some themes and the corresponding books I’ve done so far:
Trains = The Polar Express
Construction = Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site
Monster Trucks = Wheels 3D
Flower Garden Party = 1 is One
Mermaid/Sea = The Little Mermaid (Fairy Tale Adventure Version)
Princess = Twelve Dancing Princesses
Sweetie “Pie” = Mud Pies and Other Recipes
Outfits: My main focus is on the birthday child, but I do try to at least coordinate the colors on everyone else so that when we take a family photo it looks cohesive (my OCD is showing, I know). I lucked out and found someone that let me borrow a Max costume for Parker’s first birthday, which was awesome. For Ellie’s first birthday I reached out to a friend to sew me an outfit (delegation! I could have sewed it myself but preferred taking that task off my plate). For Maren’s first birthday I wanted something vintage and so stalked a few Instagram accounts that sell secondhand, vintage children’s clothing (did you know that was a thing? Because it is! And can be a rabbit hole once you start finding them) until I found something from @twolittlestargirls.
Execution: This is hard for someone that likes to have control, however I’ve found that my parties are much more successful when I delegate (especially when people are asking what they can do to help). Grandmas bringing the side dishes? Check. Kroger baking the cake? Check. Husband setting up all the chairs and tables? Check. Betsy on camera duty? Check. Each party is different in what I relinquish control of, but the point being that other people outside of myself participate in the success of the party. For Parker’s first birthday I even hired a professional photographer to come to the party. I was planning on getting one year photos taken anyway so it just made sense for her to show up an hour before the party and take the family/individual pics first and then she stayed at the party for a bit to get photos of the decorations, guests and cake smash. Timing didn’t work out to do this with the my other two kids but I love having professional pics from Parker’s party and it took the task off me. I also start setting up decorations 2 to 3 days in advance as I have the time. Basically things always take longer than you think, so having all the decorations up, all the serve ware chosen and out ready for food, drink station arranged, tables and chairs set up, etc – it all helps when done early!
Hopefully you find these tips and ideas helpful when planning your own themed birthday party. Have more questions? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. Also, I’d love to hear about some of your own creative parties and themes you’ve done in the past!