An Anatomy of a birthday
There are two kinds of parents when it comes to throwing birthday parties for their children. The first kind, that plan ahead six months in advance. In their minds eye, they can see exactly where the 53rd balloon will sit prettily next to all the DIY decorations that they created with their children. Then, the second kind where most of us mere mortals fall. The kind who decide that your child does not need a birthday party but relent one week before the big day because, what kind of a child does not have at least a basic party? (We recognize that this is a privilege and these two kinds definitely do not summarize the entire parenting experience spectrum)
This post is to help the latter kind. The frazzled parent who knows not what an epic expedition they are getting themselves into. In this post, you will find ideas and simple checklists of basic things to be checked off while throwing a modern day birthday party. We will also talk about eco-friendly alternatives.
Key components of a modern birthday party. See our ready reckoner with a flow chart to make your birthday planning a breeze (Get your free printable here).
Flowchart for birthday planning
Guest list: This is the first item to be tackled. Create a guest list and divide it up into children and adult guests. At this stage, guesstimate the number of guests because this is crucial to all further calculations.
Venue: This could be between your home, an external managed venue like a soft play area, external un-managed venue like a society hall, or an outdoor area like a public park. If you have chosen a venue other than home, you need to book it or block it upfront with an advance amount. If you are one of the last minute party planners like us, this may not be a viable option but you can still try it out. Most managed venues take care of the event end to end.
Photographer: In the entire list, the two things that need to be booked immediately are the venue and photographer. The dates of a great photographer is usually booked months in advance. Fret not, if you have not called them yet. Just hand over the photography responsibility to friends and family. Create a shared folder on Google drive or Dropbox to collate all the photos from the party the guests and designated photographers. If you are not averse to sharing photos on social media, you can create a special hashtag for the party and ask all the guests to upload any photos they have using that hashtag.
Theme: The next item on agenda is the theme. This sets the tone for everything else in the party, from games, to return gifts, to the cake. Even in a managed event, this needs to be decided by you. The nestery suggests that you go for gender neutral theme and encourage older children to choose gender neutral themes for their birthday parties. Our Pinterest page has a large collection of ideas for gender neutral birthday themes. Some gender neutral themes are:
- Jungle/safari theme,
- In the park theme
- Mowgli from "The Jungle Book"
- Minions from "The Despicable Me"
- Art & crafts theme
- Old Mc Donald's farm
- "Oh the places you will go"/Travel theme from the Dr. Seuss book
- Rainbow theme
- Smurfs theme
- Panda bear theme
- Elmer theme
- Gruffalo theme
- The very hungry caterpillar theme
- Gajapati Kulapati theme
- Balloon theme
- Li'l Chef theme
- Finding Nemo theme
- Winnie the Pooh theme
Cake: Order a cake based on the theme or simply order a flavour of your choice if you are not much for themed cakes. Most home bakers require you to give at least a couple of days' notice for creating a custom cake. Please order from a home baker only through reference or review from another customer. This is to save you any last minute hassles. Please let them know about any dietary restrictions on the cake. For example, no processed sugar, no maida cake for a one year old's birthday party. The baker will give you alternative suggestions such as dates and bananas as sweetener and whole wheat flour as a replacement for maida. The standard protocol is to pay at least half the total amount up front as advance. Talk about the terms of delivering the cake at home as many bakers do not offer home delivery
Snacks/Food: You can choose to make it at home from scratch or order a snack pack from an external caterer. Mention any dietary restrictions in advance. If your event is managed, then you just need to check a few boxes off a pre-set menu and you are all set to go. Protip: It is easier and hassle free to throw a vegetarian party as against carefully planning vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals. Apart from the usual suspects of deep fried frozen food, some suggestions for relatively healthy and easily executable snack ideas for a birthday party are
- Coleslaw sandwiches
- Steamed corn and butter
- Corn on the cob
- Lemon juice with honey
- Non-messy fruits like grapes, orange wedges
- A wedge of paratha with cheese on top
- Peanut Butter & Jam sandwiches
- Cracker sandwich with cheese spread etc.
Return gifts: If we could, we would absolutely do away with this annoying return gift practice. We are going to put it out there. It is a big hassle for the organizing parent to source and collate these gifts. They are either low value gifts that act as a placeholder to fill that return gift check box in our party planner or all-out hampers with customized goodies. In one case, the receiving parents do not know what to do with it and in the other, they set unrealistic expectations from others. In our opinion, they should meaningful, simple, and practical. Some ideas for return gifts are
- Books, books, and more books
- Mini-gardening kit to encourage green thumb
- Steel straws
- Activity kit
- Open ended toys
Invites and chalkboards: You can create stunning invites using Canva. It is a web based tool, that is essentially design for dummies. We use it a lot, can you tell? For the custom chalkboards, you can try it on your own or go to a local print shop to modify existing templates available online. Else, you can find a web based freelancer to create one for you at a cost. Skip the paper for the invitations and send it via WhatsApp or FB messenger, if possible.
Cutlery: Skip the plastic. In an ideal world, we would use steel utensils at a birthday party. A because, nobody seems to want old school steel utensils at a birthday party despite being far more spill proof and B, who wants to see an overflowing sink at the end of an already harrowing adult day? So, let's look at the next best alternative, get paper plates or even better those compressed leaf plates. Get paper cups and paper based cutlery as well.
Games: This is something we will leave for our genius friends at Pinterest as we have barely 1/2 a creative bone in our body. Most managed events come with it's own line-up of entertainment.
Logistics: As much as we hate those pesky WhatsApp groups, they have made life easier for coordinating with different people. Create one group for all the invitees. Send an e-vite on WhatsApp in advance and ensure that you get confirmations from those who will attend. You can make it clear, if you want parents to hang around for the duration of the party or if you only want them to drop and pick them up. You can use this same group to share photos with the group after the party. It is good etiquette to dissolve the group once the party is over.
Decorations & Props: If it is a managed event, you have nothing at all to worry about. If you are self-hosting, keep it simple. Focus on creating a backdrop for the cake cutting area. It need not be floor to ceiling, just high enough to look complete in a photo frame. Everything else is optional. Although not the most eco-friendly idea, we highly recommend balloons. Who doesn't have fun with those around?
Seating: In a managed event, this is a non-concern, but at a self-hosted event, everyone seems to forget this tiny detail and there is frantic running around looking for additional seating. Plan this beforehand based on the layout of your house.
Toilet arrangements: Small but important detail. Designate one bathroom for use during the party. Ensure there is a potty seat for the smaller kids and a step stool for the children to use. Needless to say, ensure the bathroom is well stocked.
Dietary restrictions: We have mentioned this earlier too, please be aware and cater to any dietary restrictions during the party.