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Nine Great Themes for a First Birthday Party


Let's be honest: Your one-year-old doesn't know a birthday from an elephant. But that's no reason not to have a first birthday party! A first birthday party is a chance for you to celebrate your first anniversary as parents, as well as your child's milestone, in a way you can all enjoy.

 From a First Zoo Trip to a Time Capsule Gathering to a Birthday Brunch, here are nine birthday celebrations that do not involve cartoons, clowns, or goodie bags.

1. A Birthday Brunch

pancakes in a fry pan

Who It's For: Baby and family

Plan It: Organize an intimate celebration with just the grandparents or your closest friends at a local brunch spot, preferably somewhere a little bit special (and with a high chair, of course). Morning is most babies' sweetest time of day, and giving the birthday child some extra attention will make him feel like a little king. This might even be your baby's chance to log a new first: first taste of pancake or waffle, first bite of bacon, first syrupy hand in the hair. Bring a new small toy or two and a snack to keep baby happy until the food arrives.

Why It Will Be Great:  No clean up plus a chance for adult conversation, need we say more?

Extra Credit: Bring your own cake and candle. Be sure to let the restaurant know ahead of time and ask about plating fees – the charges added to your bill for cutting and serving your cake.

2. A Birthday BabyQ

a family having a bbq

Who It's For: Baby, family, and friends

Plan It: Host a family barbecue to celebrate this one-year milestone in a big way. Hot dogs and burgers are easy and inexpensive party foods that everyone loves (note, though, that one-year-olds can choke on hot dogs, along with chips and popcorn). For the birthday child and his friends, set out a "baby buffet" of finger foods. Instead of a large cake, serve mini-cupcakes; they're just big enough for one candle!

Why It Will Be Great: Babies and kids get lots of space to crawl, run, and play; you get to celebrate inexpensively with a crowd.

Extra Credit: Decorate your yard with streamers and Mylar balloons, and give each child a balloon as they leave (unlike traditional balloons, Mylar ones don't pose a choking hazard for babies).

3. A Grown-Up Cocktail Party

some pink cocktails

Who It's For: Baby, family, and friends

Plan It: Give yourselves a treat by gathering with friends and family for a real, grown-up party to celebrate not only your little one's first birthday, but also your first year as parents. Prepare a variety of appetizers and some specialty drinks, and ask everyone to dress up, baby included!

Why It Will Be Greats: You get to re-experience life before baby (yes, that was just 12 months ago), and s/he gets lots of grown-up attention.

Extra Credit: Make sure to have your phone ready and charged, and take a picture early on during the party. Who knows when your toddler will be dressed up like that again!

4. A Zoo Party

a dad and his son looking at a goat

Who It's For: Baby and family; friends optional

Plan It: Head to the zoo for a day to remember, whether the "party" consists of just immediate family or includes some of baby's playgroup friends. Your local zoo might offer special party services, but these are generally geared to older kids. For a one-year-old, plan your own short tour by picking a couple of exhibits. A best bet is the petting zoo, where babies can get up close to animals like chickens, lambs, and goats. Bring your own snacks and cake and have a celebration at the start of the party so guests can leave whenever.

Why It Will Be Great: Having a planned activity and destination cuts down on the stress of entertaining.

Extra Credit: Give each baby a bag of animal crackers to munch on during the stroller tour.

5. A Time Capsule Gathering

a toy train

Who It's For: Baby and family or close friends

Plan It: The goal of this gathering is to create a collection of things that you can give your little when he turns, say, 21 – a gift for the future from the people closest to him, that will show him both how loved he was as a baby and what the world was like back then. At the same time, you're enjoying a warm, low-stress celebration. So put on a large pot of soup or order in, and invite family members and friends to bring something that represents the "now" for them – some ideas are a magazine clipping, a recent family photo, or a flash drive loaded with a couple of songs or music videos. Collect it all in a special keepsake box with a card signed by the guests. Then, seal it and stash it somewhere safe for a decade or two.

Why It Will Be Great: In ten or twenty years, your child will have a unique memento of this day.

Extra Credit: Make this an annual tradition by adding new stuff to the "capsule" every year.

6. A Baby Carnival

candy floss

Who It's For: Plenty of family and lots of friends

Plan It: Creating your own carnival, whether indoors or out, may seem like a lot of work, but the payoff is a ton of fun especially if baby has older siblings or cousins. That said, you can keep it simple by setting up a few tables with games, contests, and activities like:

  • Guess and Win: Fill up a jar with Hershey’s Kisses and have people guess how many are in the jar.
  • Ring Toss: Make a ring-toss game out of soda bottles (learn how here)
  • Create a Prize Walk: Tape numbered feet in a circle on the ground and have your guests step from foot to foot while the music plays. When the music stops, each guest stands on a foot. Draw a number from a hat and the person standing on the matching number wins a prize.
  • Face painting: Ask an older kid or one of your friends to adorn kids' faces with basic animals, rainbows, or flowers.

Purchase inexpensive and cute little trinkets or travel-size games from your local drugstore as prizes. For food, request guests bring a dish to share, potluck-style.

Why It Will Be Great: Who can resist a festive carnival atmosphere with games, prizes and tons of fun?

Extra Credit: Hand out bags of cotton candy.

7. A Birthday Garden

some plants budding in a garden

Who It's For: Baby, family and close friends

Plan It: Gather loved ones to plant perennial flowers and shrubs, or even better, a flowering tree, that will grow as the baby grows. If possible, pick a species of plant that blooms around the time of baby's birthday. Ask guests to come prepared to get a little dirty before celebrating with cake and treats. Be sure to take many photos of your baby playing in the mud. Then every year on your child's birthday, snap a photo of him or her in the garden. If you want, make this a “green” themed celebration with reusable or recycled plates and flatware, and ask your guests to bring seeds or plants as birthday gifts.

Why It Will Be Great: It's the party that keeps on giving through beautification of your baby’s future environment and the start of a living photo tradition.

Extra Credit: Make a little plaque for your garden or tree with your baby's name, age, and the date.

8. A Mommy Group Gathering

two moms posing with their babies

Who It's For: Babies and mommies

Plan It: Turn one of your regular playgroups or baby classes into a chance to celebrate baby’s first year. If other kiddos in the group have a birthday the same week, share the party! You can plan special activities – a sing-along, cake time, and even a group trip to a nearby kid-friendly cafe or ice-cream shop – and talk about how you feel making it to this major milestone.

Why It Will Be Great: It's a low-key, DIY way to let mom hang out with her friends and baby with his, but with some extra-special vibes.

Extra Credit: If the other moms don’t mind, ask your partner if he can stop by. His presence, even for 10 or 15 minutes, will make the occasion feel all the more special – and he won't feel left out.

9. A Baby Dance Party

a baby dancing

Who It's For: Baby, friends, and family

Plan It: Organize an afternoon dance party for friends of all ages, complete with music, snacks and beverages, diaper-changing stations, and areas where little ones can chill out or play.

Why It Will Be Great: You get to relive your pre-baby days and get your groove on with your little one.

Extra Credit: Get the whole family dressed up, decorate with disco balls, and hand out glow sticks.

Which one of these first birthday themes is your favorite? How will you celebrate your baby's first birthday?

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