For my son’s first birthday party, I figured you only turn one once, so we should go big. My husband didn’t agree, and it was a bit of a point of contention until after the party occurred. To be fair, he was right in the end. Twenty-five people were way too many to have at his party. In my defense, I really didn’t think everyone I invited would come. But apparently to a lot of people, first birthdays are a big deal. So it’s understandable that so many moms find themselves frantically Googling: “What do you do for a first birthday?”
Obviously, it depends on your family dynamic and what both you and your partner want to do (sorry, Greg). The Saturday after our son Jack’s actual birthday, we had 25 of our friends and family over to our teeny tiny house for burgers, hot dogs, a giant T-Rex sprinkler, a baby splash pad, and a water table in our large backyard. The party was a rock and roll theme — like Jack’s nursery — and I had "rock" candy (which nobody ate) “rockstar sunglasses” (which nobody really cared about), and little guitars on top of the cupcakes and his smash cake — which people did like.
Getting back to that too-long guest list, this is my warning to all of you: Assume everyone you invite to your child’s first birthday will come. Even if they don’t have children of their own, or if they’re from out of state. I hated that I felt like I couldn't talk to everyone and like I had to rush around. Jack had fun, though, and he loved playing in the water and seeing all the people, so that made everything worth it.
If, however, you feel like throwing a big bash at your house is a waste of money, or you don’t have the space, or you don’t feel like entertaining that many people, there's no need to feel forced into hosting a party: Maybe an outing for your family is the way to go.
For Jack’s actual birthday, I had a Groupon for our city zoo — which is conveniently also five minutes down the street from our house — and we got there right when it opened so it wasn’t insanely crowded. Jack loves to look at anything and everything, and he had a blast looking at the animals. (If I’m being honest, I think he enjoyed looking at the people more.) Plus, he adored the carousel and splash pad they had there and both were included in the ticket price.
We also took him to the Children’s Museum the day before with the money his Great Grandaddy gave him for his birthday. (So thanks, Great Grandaddy!) Jack had a blast and I highly recommend a children's museum where you live, whether it's a family outing to celebrate their first birthday or just something fun to do. The museum has so many educational activities that are super fun, for toddlers and older kids.
If an outing or big party isn’t in the cards, you can make your little one's day just as special with a small, meaningful gathering. Sarah, a mom and new business owner of a traveling photo booth company, chose a sweet treat as the center of her daughter's simple but super fun celebration.
"With our crazy year we wanted to keep our daughter's birthday low key, and we decided to let her have ice cream — her first dessert. So we all went together to Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams and I took a ton of pictures. And when she got up from her nap I sang happy birthday to her, and we had a big bouquet of balloons and her gifts all waiting for her — a few gifts sent from family, and a few from us," she says. "We also had a calendar that my partner and I filled out over the first year of her life. So after celebrating and just having special, uninterrupted family time we put her to bed. Then my partner and I had a bottle of champagne and went through the entire calendar together."
No matter what you decide to do for a first birthday, you really can’t go wrong as long as it’s something both you and your partner want to do (again, sorry, Greg), and your kid has fun. Whether you throw a huge party, go on an outing as a family, choose to keep it super intimate, have a smash cake, or serve fruit, every family is different. What’s really important is that you celebrate because you made it through a year! Here are some ideas to get your started for the big day, from tiny added touches to keepsake suggestions and more.
1. Hire a photographer.
Even though it can be as expensive as you know what, I kinda wish we hired a photographer. Managing to snap pics while fulfilling your duty as a party host is practically impossible. Plus, I put a lot of effort into the table spread, and I obviously wanted to document my baby getting into his cake and enjoying the festivities.
2. Buy a cupcake from the grocery store and a #1 candle.
Like I said, your child's first birthday doesn't have to be a huge extravaganza. If you want it to be an intimate moment between you, your partner, and your baby, go for it.
3. Create a photo book to give to your kid at the party (even though obviously they won't look at it until they're much older).
Want to commemorate a year in the life of your baby? Designing a beautiful photo book through a service like Motif takes less than an hour, and the finished product will ship to you in just 5 business days (prices start at $10, Motif.com). If you're really on the ball, you can even have it set up on a table for guests to sign like a yearbook. (I wish I had thought of this sooner, too.)
4. Have a photo slide show of the guest of honor.
I know you have approximately 1.5 billion photos of your baby throughout the first year of their life on your phone, right? I suggest starting to go through the photos about a month or two in advance, and choosing some to put in chronological order to play as a slide show on your TV for guests (or just family) to enjoy on the big day.
5. Hang chronological photos on your mantle or a wall in your home.
Talk about bringing on all the feels while you do this — but it sure will look great and adorable for the party. Plus, who doesn't want to look at your gorgeous new 1 year old grow up in photos? Duh.
6. Buy a smash cake.
For us, this was Jack's first sugar. And unfortunately (fortunately?) he hated it. Maybe your kid won't be weird like mine (I apparently was weird too and didn't like my cake...and still don't like cake) and will enjoy smashing it while smearing it all over themselves. Oh and also eating some of it. Believe it or not, they weren't as expensive as I anticipated — we got ours for under $10.
7. Purchase or make a highchair banner.
If your toddler's first birthday party has a theme, you can check out Etsy and purchase a banner, or make one at home with scraps of cloth, paper, or whatever else you have around. You'll turn that highchair into a birthday throne in no time.
8. Sign a letter for their bedroom door.
Buy a cheap wooden letter at Michael's, spray paint it, and then have guests of the birthday party sign it with permanent marker and leave a note. You can hang this letter on your toddler's door and keep it forever.
9. Finish the baby book you started.
Remember that baby book you bought or were gifted before your baby was born? After they go to sleep, spend some time going through it and filling it out with your partner. It will be a fun-filled nostalgic evening.
10. Get a ONE onesie.
The onesie we bought for Jack was a big hit. It said "One Rocks" on it with a guitar, since his first birthday had a rock theme. This little added touch is so sweet and fun, and you can even incorporate it into a cute onesie quilt later on.