How to make a birthday special – without hiring Hannah Montana

By Kelly

When Natalie turned one, we threw a huge party.

We didn’t have flame throwers or a Ferris wheel or limo rides. No one got a gift bag, and I made her cake myself.

But we did host a BBQ for our family and friends in our backyard. We invited all the young families in our Sunday school class, and we hired a balloon artist to entertain the masses of children ages three and under. (His rates were impressively reasonable.) Since we lived in San Diego at the time, we busted open a piñata.And because Natalie was the first grandchild on both sides of the family, the grandparents and out-of-town aunts and uncles flew in for the festivities.

We weren’t trying to jump on the over-the-top birthday treadmill.

We were just deliriously in love with our daughter and so very proud. We wanted to share our joy with everyone we knew.

It was a magical evening, brimming with laughter and delight.

Fast-forward almost six years to today. (An apt description of the parental time warp where my children age eight times faster than me.) Natalie is again approaching a birthday – this time, her seventh. I still love throwing parties for her, but now that we have three kids, we’re trying to keep parties in perspective.

(Of course, at times, you have no choice. Take, for example, Connor’s first birthday. He was just two years behind Natalie, and he was the second grandchild on both sides. But because we had just moved to a small town in the middle of nowhere, very few family members could make it, and we didn’t really have any friends at that point. Thus, his first birthday party consisted of a few balloons and cake at the dining room table. I’m already saving for his therapy.)

Natalie’s party this year will be at a indoor water park. Her guests will be the other girls from her first grade class; no more mixed birthday parties for a while. It will be a pretty simple affair — just sugar, singing and swimming.

I feel good about that. Hopefully, it will be a fun afternoon for everyone – without having to morph into an occasion that rivals the Presidential Inaugural Ball.

But because this party will be a couple of days before her actual birthday, I’m left wondering how I can make the date of her birth special. I don’t want to skip over that day on the calendar. It’s important to me. It changed my life.

We still don’t have much family in the area, so it will probably be just our immediate family celebrating that day. Traditionally, the birthday person gets to request their favorite meal for dinner that night – and of course, we have more cake.

But that doesn’t seem fun enough. (I’m a bit of a fun addict.) I want more – without having to go all out for a second party. Maybe a silly wake-up song? A special card at breakfast? What traditions do you have in your family to make birthdays special? I’m looking for ideas.

Find Kelly also blogging at Love Well.

35 Responses to How to make a birthday special – without hiring Hannah Montana
  1. Jen
    July 16, 2008 | 1:56 am

    I struggle with how to fit everything in, birthday-wise. ALL my family and ALL my husband’s family live within 45 minutes of us, plus my daughter is turning 4 now and has a few little friends she would like to invite. It gets to just be too much. I’m trying having a “friend party” during the daytime this year and a “family party” later that evening, but trying to find a day that will work for all the family is turning out to be difficult. I really want to find a way to get back to birthdays being simple and special and not a huge production. But short of telling her either “your friends can’t come” or not inviting our families (who would be very hurt if they weren’t included) I don’t see a good way to do it.

  2. hyperactive lu
    July 16, 2008 | 7:14 am

    I know it probably sounds excessive, but our boys birthdays are in December, so we REALLY try to make them extra special. We try to do one activity- like park, zoo, museum- that that child wants to do. We do a lunch out on their special day. I also try to something nice for their breakfast… like donuts. We let Bubbie open a gift at breakfast last year, so we might continue to do that. Like I said, it sounds excessive, but it really isn’t “TOO” much, because the rest of the family does skimp on their gifts! So, I want to make up for it.

  3. oh amanda
    July 16, 2008 | 9:07 am

    Maybe one special present she gets ONLY on her actual birthday? Or dinner by candlelight with china and a special birthday plate? Or the whole family waking her up with breakfast and gifts?

    This isn’t about the actual day but we accidentally discovered last year that my daughter’s birthday is 12 days after Christmas. She had a 12 Days of Christmas Advent calendar and it ended on her birthday. I’m changing it into a Birthday Countdown calendar. Maybe something like that would continue her bday celebration after her party?

  4. AmyG
    July 16, 2008 | 9:10 am

    My 2nd child didn’t get a party for her 1st birthday, either. She got cupcakes & we sang to her. We had a big BBQ for my 1st child. Timing just wasn’t right.

    Anyway, as for making the day special. Would it be possible to “plan the day around your daughter?” Ask her what kinds of things like like for breakfast, lunch, dinner, a favorite movie to watch before bed? Do it movie theater style with popcorn, candy, soda. (if you allow that stuff, that is.) Play her favorite board games.

    I hope she has a great day!

  5. One Mom
    July 16, 2008 | 9:50 am

    I completely agree with not doing the extravaganza birthday party. A child’s birthday is a very special day and the focus should be on the child. I like to make the celebration last all day, doing lots of little things (like waking her up with a birthday song and special breakfast, preparing her favorite foods, reminiscing about her birth or earlier birthdays, looking at photographs, etc)to make her feel special. I have lots of ideas for some easy party themes and activities on my website if you’d like to stop by.

  6. Jenny
    July 16, 2008 | 10:30 am

    I think you have some great ideas already. You could write her a Happy Birthday message with dry erase markers on the bathroom mirror, sneak in and decorate her bedroom a little before she wakes up, and/or serve her breakfast in bed. I think it’s the little things that they will remember. I love Birthdays (even my own, even at my age)!!

  7. Tonggu Momma
    July 16, 2008 | 1:15 pm

    Every year since I was a teenager, my momma (a teacher) calls me from school and has her class sing “Happy Birthday” to me over the phone. It’s very cute. You may not be a teacher, or your child’s birthday may be in the summer, but you could always ask relatives or a group of friends to do the same. It brings a smile to my face every year.

  8. Happy Geek
    July 16, 2008 | 6:17 pm

    I am all about the cheap so this is what we do.
    Birthday person gets to pick all the meals for the day, chooses their favorite at home activity (my 4 year old just had a long bubble bath in my big tub) and junk food is dispensed at will.
    Since these are all rare ocasions, it seems very fun to my kids.
    I also left the decorations up from Monday’s party and will take them down after he goes to bed tonight.

  9. Beck
    July 17, 2008 | 11:00 am

    Oh! We decorate the living room with streamers and balloons while the birthday child sleeps, so that they wake up to a birthday wonderland – and we do goofty things like ice cream and candles on their morning pancakes, taking them out for lunch and letting them pick the evening menu. We also sing Happy Birthday to them ALL DAY LONG, and my husband now has me in the habit of giving presents at unexpected moments (we had the Girl open one up while she was having a bath! It was bubble bath, too.).

  10. Michelle
    July 17, 2008 | 2:13 pm

    There are some great ideas listed! I remember as a kid, getting pancakes for breakfast and one gift–then we picked dinner (at home) that night and had cake (again, we picked, mom made). We didn’t have any family around, so it was just my parents and brothers–but it was always fun.

    I love the birthday wonderland idea, and think some sort of treasure hunt would be a lot of fun too!

  11. Kellyn
    July 17, 2008 | 6:58 pm

    We always have a party either before or after, for family. We have a small celebration at home, with cupcakes and presents from us. It makes the day just as special when we put balloons in the bedrooms that morning, so they have a nice suprise when they wake up. The child picks dinner, and a movie they want to watch. Everyone sits down together to eat and watch (last year my daughter picked a Barbie movie..son not as impressed but he sat nicely).

  12. Rick Bucich
    July 17, 2008 | 7:01 pm

    I’m a big fan of “king or queen for a day” it costs nothing to bestow the title and your child will get a lot of mileage out of any special privileges granted. They could pick dinner (off a pre-prepared list perhaps), sit at the head of the table or be master of the TV remote control. A funny poem incorporating their name is a nice touch as well.

  13. Mindy
    July 17, 2008 | 11:02 pm

    so here’s what we do. her “Birthday-Eve” if you will, we “plant” as many gum drops as she is going to be old; then, “miraculously” in the morning, they’ve grown into giant lollypops. (maybe to share with friends or siblings?)I, too, am big into marking the day.

  14. Julie Bo Boolie
    July 20, 2008 | 1:21 am

    My sister always filled her kids’ rooms with balloons while they were still sleeping. We make it a point to take Sarah out to lunch on her birthday since it’s Christmas Eve and our family celebrates Christmas on the evening of the 24th. We also found giving her a special birthday present from Santa was a nice touch and something we’ll continue to do even though she doesn’t really believe anymore.

  15. Missy
    July 21, 2008 | 9:06 pm

    A couple of years ago I bought one of those red plates off of Ebay that my kids get all their meals on for their birthday:

    and believe me, the red plate is a BIG hit.

    Also, on their actual birthday, the birthday kid gets to choose a restaurant to eat at. Usually paid for by Grandma. Once they grow out of kids meals, I imagine it will be, Mom cooks you whatever you want.

    I had a friend whose family tradition growing up was you got to eat chocolate cake for every meal on your birthday – cake for breakfast, cake for lunch, cake for dinner. It was one of her favorite memories.

  16. Lyn
    July 22, 2008 | 11:18 pm

    We have NO family in the area and our birthdays have always been family special. First there is a wall of streamers hanging from their bedroom door to walk through. No longer a surprise (at 12 and 14) they usually pick out the color of streamers they want. I have the cutting and hanging down to a science. : ) The couch is piled with presents because I wrap every single little thing…even the batteries. And then there are the balloons that fill the rest of the couch space. Sometimes 25-30, depending on how tired Mom is the night before. The day progresses as usual – school, soccer, whatever – and is followed by a home made dinner of the birthday child’s choice. (Only on Mom and Dad;s birthday do we go out.) And the cake. A. Glorious. Cake. With wierd candles…glittering…colored flames…musical…whatever.

  17. Annette
    August 4, 2008 | 11:11 pm

    My kids are older now but we’ve had fun with streamers and balloons on the birthday girl’s chair when she wakes up, the “It’s Your Special Day” plate (I think it’s Pampered Chef?) and spontaneous “happy birthday” song singing throughout the day.

    I love all the ideas above – the streamers on the door – really really cute!

  18. Hayley G
    August 15, 2008 | 5:40 pm

    We’ve always done a simple breakfast in bed for b-days.

  19. Jennifer
    September 21, 2008 | 2:14 pm

    I think—if it’s at all possible–they should get to skip school on their birthday, and mom & dad stay home, too, and give the kid a list of choices of what the family should do that day.
    Ours this year were, zoo, picnic, hike at local mountain, pool, etc. My son picked the zoo, and we had the BEST time, and there were hardly any people there since it was a weekday!
    My parents did that for my birthday one time when I was young, and we took an hour drive to a carnival that was going on…I was 8 that year, but I still remember it!
    That said, I know that’s not feasible for all.
    It sure is fun though!!
    We also did a treasure hunt for gifts this year that he really liked.

  20. Julia
    October 12, 2008 | 8:38 am

    My best friend lives out of town (i just moved so I dont know how to make her birthdya special!) What are some ideas without breaking the piggybank?

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