We were never the type of parents who went way overboard with birthdays. You know, the ones who rent ponies, clowns, magicians and inflatable water slides for 30 party guests – all for one party for their three year old. But we held our fair share of parties featuring 25-30 kids, scheduled activities, pinatas and way more food and treats than could be consumed. Afterwards, as the birthday child sorted through their massive stack of new toys, we would pry ourselves up off the floor and begin the long cleanup process all the while wondering how in the world we had spent so much money on two hours of fun.
As we started looking at ways to simplify our lives more, this was one area we knew could use a makeover!
We began by holding more simple parties. One that I remember well was held at a local park. My son was really into animals and we had spent some time volunteering at a local
animal shelter. So instead of bringing gifts, we asked everyone to bring something to donate to the shelter. Then my son would get the excitement of taking the dogs and cats new toys instead of playing with his 8,000th Star Wars figure.
The party included “old-fashioned” games like Red Rover, Doggie-Doggie Where’s Your Bone and tag. But we really just let the kids decide what they wanted to do. It was like a huge play date more than an organized party with a strict timeline in order to get everything crammed in.
We had a few snacks like Puppy Chow and goldfish. Goody bags were scaled down too, just a paper bag decorated with animal stamps, some animal pencils, more animal snacks and a few other small items. The whole thing was tied shut with a ribbon with a thank you note already attached (a simple thanks for helping the animals). Very low key and very simple. And yet everyone had a great time. This style of party felt much better to us because it focused more on friends playing instead of all the preplanned stuff our old parties included.
Then a few years ago someone mentioned that they skipped “friend” parties all together. Instead, their child selected a place to visit. If you keep the destination simple and somewhat local, you spend about the same amount of money as you would on the party. Plus you get the memory of “remember when you turned 8 and we went to the mammoth excavation site?”
We like this idea a lot and let the kids pick a party or a trip. We’ve gone on day trips to museums and national parks. We’ve done weekend trips to Mt. Rushmore, the mammoth site and other cool places. Some have been more expensive than others but nothing was too costly. We pack the birthday kid’s favorite foods and snacks. Sometimes we let them open the presents (usually about 3 or 4) along the way, other times they waited until we get home.
On their true birthday (if we aren’t on a weekend trip) the birthday child gets a special breakfast, picks the person they want to decorate their birthday cake (sometimes it is themselves!) and plans the dinner menu based on their favorite foods. There is no homeschool on weekday birthdays and the whole day is spent being lazy and playing.
I think birthdays are still very special but more focused on what the child wants instead of what is “expected” by everyone else. We no longer worry about what everyone else is doing and instead do what feels right to us. That is the way we live our lives in so many other ways so it just makes sense that we do the same when it comes to birthdays. I don’t think the kids are missing out by not having a fancy party at the local bounce house or water park with everyone in their class (including those they aren’t friends with) invited. I don’t think they are deprived by not getting the 25 new toys that they most likely won’t play with a week later. I like to believe that the memories and traditions we are giving them each year are more important and long-lasting.
And a happy birthday to my now NINE year old son! I hope you enjoy your homemade sausage pizza, cucumber and onion salad, peaches and strawberry baseball cake with strawberry icing made by your sister. All your favorite things for our favorite nine year old!
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