Birthday Parties: Over the Top or Not?

Birthdays come around every year. Some families have set traditions on how they are celebrated, other families let the celebrations evolve as their children do. Either way, you can’t let the day pass by unnoticed.

Here’s my question though: does your child’s birthday party need to be a catered event? An event held at a party space? An event with entertainment, be it clown or petting zoo?

We did a family party for our daughter for the first four years of her life. We traveled three hours to host the party at my parents’ house, which is within an hour’s drive for the rest of the family. The parties were always fun, but I’d be lying if i didn’t say they were also exhausting. Last year, my daughter started talking about having a friends’ party. We told her that she had a choice- she could have a friends’ party or a cousins’ party. She chose a friends’ party and we hosted ten little girls at a local gymnastics place. She was DELIGHTED.

Honestly, the cost was comparable. Our family parties typically included up to 30 people, and we always served lunch, cake and alcohol. Actually, the gymnastics party may have ended up being cheaper, come to think of it. The ease of that kind of party is unmatched- I showed up with balloons and cupcakes, and the pizza was delivered. They set up and they cleaned up. It was heavenly.

I thought I’d seen every kind of birthday party there could be- gymnastics, dance, bouncy houses, petting zoos, animal shows, bowling parties, movie parties, parties at local venues, you name it, we’ve seen it these past few years.

And then we saw the mobile video game trailer at the 4th of July festival.

A quick Internet search tells me this is a booming concept. A trailer is decked out with typically four large flat screen televisions and outfitted with the latest gaming systems. The party then comes to your door, and your guests spend time in the trailer. There’s typically a video game coach who gets the party started and gives tips to anyone who needs them.

I don’t know if this kind of venue will ever appeal to my daughter. She loves playing video games when she gets the chance, but we don’t haveĀ  a gaming system at home, and don’t intend to get one in the near future. But the idea of having her party at a “place” has stuck and now she’s scoping where she’d like this year’s party. And I’m not convinced yet that’s what we are doing. Something about my child expecting a party that costs more than a week’s worth of groceries (and then some) every year doesn’t sit well with me. But I definitely want to make her day special, and celebrate each and every candle on her cake.

How did you celebrate your birthdays as a kid? How do you celebrate with your children? Do you have rule about the type/size/number of parties your kids have each year?


13 replies on “Birthday Parties: Over the Top or Not?”

My childhood birthday parties were always such a sad tale of woe (oh drama, ok, not really, they were just pathetic). My birthday falls in the middle of August, I lived in a veritable child desert, so my birthdays were almost always totally devoid of friends. I am sure that not ALL of them were on vacation, but nobody thought to call them over (I guess 7 year olds in the 1980’s didn’t use phones themselves? just me?). I remember one year my family went on a huge summer long camping/road trip. We were somewhere in the rocky mountains in a provincial park on my birthday. I remember my dad drove hours away to get a cake in town and later drove around and around the campsite in the truck asking all the little children to come to our campsite for cake. One girl actually came. Nowadays I am sure someone would have called the police.

Did I have a point? Oh yeah, I did: as an adult on the cusp of 30, I am happy and well adjusted and sure my parents love me even though they were terrible at organizing parties for children. I don’t think I suffered much socially (during the school year anyways). I had a happy childhood without much fuss being made over me.

the Mary Poppins broadway tour was near us 2 weeks before my daughter’s 6th bday. i gave her the choice of a party-place type party, or seeing the show with just me. she chose the show. i took a day off work, got 2 sort-of-expensive seats, and took her out for her first theater experience. it was exciting to miss school, eat out with mom, and spend a day in the city. and no little sister tagging along and messing it up for her! we marked her actual bday by taking my kids, the neighbor, and her 2 kids to chuck e. cheese that nite. no matter how fancy mary poppins day was, to a 6yo, nothing replaces celebrating your bday with junk food and friends.

I love it. We saw Cinderella recently at a local theater, and there were a number of 6 yr old girls there celebrating their birthdays!! I celebrated my 16th birthday by going to Chicago with just my mom and bff– we went window shopping & out to lunch. SO FUN! My 17th birthday my mom and I went to go see Phantom of the Opera. AMAZING!

I try to do the same thing for my kids that my parents did for me. Most years we do low-key home parties with anyone who wants to come over, but every now and then we do something special with a few friends. We’ve done bowling parties, Medieval Times, Build-a-Bear Workshop, and of course Chuck E. Cheese. Looking back, I’d say you are right that going out with a few friends is usually comparable to hosting lots of friends and family at home.

I had fairly small birthday parties with my friends at my house when I was a kid – I vividly remember performing magic tricks with a magic kit I’d gotten from my parents at my eighth birthday party. And other years we’d either order pizza or have a cookout (July birthday, here) and watch movies or when I was a little older go to the theater for a movie. I’ve always disliked being the center of attention or having a big fuss made about me, so these were low-key things that weren’t too different from what I might do with friends on a regular weekend. And because I have very little extended family (slash we don’t really like our extended family), I never had to deal with combining family and friends or having two parties.

Cal is two and last year’s party was 30+ people at my house. I thought I’d have a stroke from stress. I don’t want that many people, and it’s silly, because he’s a toddler and he won’t even remember. But once I’m done inviting all the people who will be offended if they AREN’T invited, I have that many folks. There are the family members, then the friends with kids his age that he plays with a lot, then the handful of folks who just want to come because they want to come…and I’m way too nice to tell them all no. So alas, this year will be the same. I got wise and decided to rent a pavilion at a local park/river so that the kids can swim, we can grill and I don’t have to clean up after everyone. But it’s still going to be a madhouse, and for a two year old. *sigh*

When I was a kid, my parties were either inside (at home) or at the beach, because it was the middle of summer, but if it was at the beach, we generally got monsooned-out, so we ended up at the house. Then there was generally a sleep over. Usually pretty low-key. My biggest party was at McDonald’s, in preschool. I remember my parties as being fun. Also, generally decorated with red, white, and blue, because my birthday is so close to the 4th of July and my dad REALLY lives America, and saving money by recycling decorations. This backfired on him, because now I insist on Birthday Week with NO July 4th decorations.

Today is, incidentally, my birthday. So far I celebrated by getting myself a wild berry smoothie from McDonald’s (haha) and taking a simulated MBE exam, and then cried because I have a lot of work to do. The Bar exam ruins everything.

Thank you! McDonald’s birthdays were awesome. For some reason, I feel like our McDonald’s always smelled like Coke and soft-serve. Nowadays (ugh, I’m old), they smell so weird (pukey) to me, hence why I only get smoothies and fruit salads there. I wonder if Past Annie just had a less bitter olfactory sense.

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