There is nothing wrong with having a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese or a place with bouncy houses, but with just a little planning and effort, you can give a birthday party that people will be talking about for a long time. My husband and I consider planning our 2 sons yearly parties as a hobby. We work on them all year long and are able to take our time as well as spread the costs out. If you pick your theme early enough, you can afford to wait for sales, clearances, and coupons to buy a lot of the supplies.
The most important thing to decide on is the theme. Your child will most likely have 2 cents to put in on this unless he is young enough to let you decide. With our older son, we decided as soon as he was born that each year we would choose a different continent as his theme. When he turned 8, he finally got to pick his own. With our younger son, we are doing different periods of Americana starting with the California Gold Rush c.1850.
Once you have the theme, you can use a simple outline of what you will need, and start filling it in.
The first thing you will need is an invitation to send out. Most people are computer savvy enough to do simple desktop publishing from their own computers for this. All you need is some nice paper or blank note cards, and you can give the details inside. We always liked to steer clear of the ho-hum fill in fields look, and rather make it pertinent to the theme. For our son’s Egyptian party, it was a 1920’s telegram announcing the discovery of a new tomb and asking fellow archaeologists to come and assist with the dig. The invitation should set the stage for the actual party. For example, the telegrams were printed on tan parchment paper and used an actual telegram font for the printing. They were slipped into window envelopes just like the old time ones. An Egyptian sticker sealed the envelope, and we printed CAIRO in faded red letters on the front as if it had been stamped. The stamp itself is very important. Do not use any new postage stamp just because it has the correct postage. You can use any US stamp ever issued as long as it has not been canceled. eBay has tons of vintage unused stamps, and I bet you can find many that suit your theme. You may just have to use multiples or get different ones to equal the correct amount.
Next, you’ll want to put some thought into decorations. You want to transform your house into a location of your theme. Using the example of the Egyptian party again, we created an archaeological site roping off the yard and setting up tents. The tomb was the largest tent and inside was a cardboard sarcophagus, canopic jars, animal print blankets, and anything we thought looked like it would have been in a tomb. Try to keep this in mind when shopping, do not go for printed “theme” items. Ask yourself what people would have really seen and used. For example, Indiana Jones would not use plates, cups, and napkins with his face on them. He would most likely use some sort of metal mess kit, bamboo plates, coconut shells, etc.
Here is where my husband and I disagree. He thinks we should serve kid friendly food no matter what the theme. We invite the entire family of each child who receives an invitation, so the food is not just for the kids, and I want it to be an educational experience also. (Definitely, plan on having enough food for adults too. I have been to parties before where the food “is just for the kids” and the adults stand around hungry.) For the Egyptian party, we had kebabs, hummus, baklava, and yogurt drinks. I just looked up Egyptian recipes online and went with what sounded good. The cake we made to look like the 3 pyramids on a cake board sprinkled with crushed graham crackers, and added little figurines and trees. Make sure you have plenty to drink especially if the weather is warm. Allow for 3-4 servings of punch, water, soda per person. Be sure to prepare whatever you can ahead of time so that you aren’t rushed on party day.
Nothing sets the mood of a party like music. For the Egyptian party we got a cd of the music they played at King Tut’s tour (from 30 years ago, not the current tour). It sounded ancient and mysterious and a little eery. For the games, we revved things up with the Indiana Jones theme and “Walk Like An Egyptian” by the Bangles. For the Indiana Jones party, we had old 1930’s jazz playing in Club Obi Wan and an Indiana Jones soundtrack in another area of the house.
This may seem strange, but there is a variety of scented oils, candles, and incense you can get that really enhance the setting also. Think what it would smell like. Are you by the ocean, in the desert, in the forest? Make the smell of your house match. Remember you want to indulge all 5 senses to evoke the feeling that they have traveled through time and ended up smack dab in your theme.
GAMES AND ACTIVITIES:
Have you ever been to a party where there is absolutely nothing to do or maybe just a rented bouncy house? The kids get bored after a little while or start to run crazy and get into trouble. Am I right? Have you been there? You want to keep your party structured structured structured. I actually give out an event timeline at the start so everybody knows what is happening when. I plan for at least 3 games, and then a craft or coloring activity also. Some children will refuse to eat and will need something to keep them busy. For an Indiana Jones party we gave, we had the kids decipher a code, choose the correct Holy Grail out of several choices, find a diamond and an antidote vial in a pool filled with ice, paint necklaces, play a steal the grail game, and walk on stepping stones in the correct order to spell I-E-H-O-V-A-H. It’s better to have too many activities than not enough.
You will probably want to invest in a few special prizes for the winners of the games. Again, you can find really nice things at deep discounts sometimes.
GOODY BOXES OR BAGS:
Make these as unique as you can. For Indy, we found mini wooden crates on Craigslist. With a little stenciling, they looked just like the crate the ark of the covenant was placed in. We put in a museum tag, a mini sankara stone, a small cross of Coronado, antidote vial, plastic diamond, gold coin, spider, snake, rat, bug, and an archaeology club pin. We also gave each child a plastic goblet (grail) to take home. Give one to each child. Adults do not need to receive one.
Yes, favors are different than goody bags, and you should have enough for all guests. I usually make cookies and place them in those nice clear bags you can get at Michael’s. Again using the Indiana Jones theme, we purchased a replica headpiece to the staff of Ra on eBay. My husband made an impression in sculpey (just like Toht did with his hand). I used this to make springerle cookies and even melted crushed orange lollipop into the centers so it looked like a jewel. After baking, I brushed with edible gold petal dust and they looked pretty neat. Instead of using the silver twist tie that comes with the bags, we tied museum tags on them with rough twine.
Lastly, you will need some nice thank you cards to send out after the party. It is nice if you can find time to take photos of the guests at the party to include. For a Pirates of the Caribbean theme, we took head shots of everyone as they entered and didn’t tell them that on the DVD there is a special feature that allows you to turn pictures into the “cursed”. It was really really creepy, but funny too. Our guests were shocked when they got those in the mail. You will probably not need to have as many Thank You cards as you did invitations because not everybody was able to attend. You can spend a little more time to make these personal especially if you have scrapbooking skills. Use stickers and cut outs and make it a little 3 dimensional if you can.
That’s it! Whew! If you made it to the end of this, you are probably feeling tuckered out already, but take your time and focus on one thing and you’ll get it together.