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October 25, 2017

Some practical advice for planning baby’s first birthday party

Parenting Children
10252017_KillianBIrthdayCake3 Katie Gagnon/For PhillyVoice

Killian celebrates his first birthday with a Cookie Monster smash cake. When planning your son or daughter's first birthday, don’t sweat the small stuff. Just keep it simple and make sure to have a good time with your child.

Your baby is turning 1! Congratulations! If you’re like me, you are probably approaching this milestone with elation and nostalgia.

Seemingly overnight, our babies have transformed from teeny, tiny newborns to chatty, active little kids with their own unique personalities. What a joy the first year of a child’s life is, watching your son or daughter learn and grow, develop and advance. It is like they go from baby to toddler in the blink of an eye. While I lament the rapid passing of time, I am also so proud of my little man and feel so lucky for all the joy my family has experienced since his arrival. I wanted to go all out for Killian’s first birthday party to mark this momentous milestone.

His autumn birthday gave me the idea for a theme: Our Little Pumpkin is Turning One! I envisioned a casual Sunday party at our home with family, friends, football and food. An entire farm’s worth of pumpkins. My home looking like the fall cover of "Martha Stewart Living." You know, just a small gathering that people would write songs about. All kidding aside, I wanted the day to be fun for Killian, enjoyable (and low stress) for my husband and me, amusing for the kids in attendance and pleasurable for the adults.

Like everything I have experienced over my first year of motherhood, planning a child’s birthday party was a first for me. I had some ideas about how I wanted to celebrate my son, but I also sought advice from other parents and their children. Here are some of the strategies I employed and priorities I kept at the top of my mind to make my son’s birthday party a special day for all.


We parents can never be too organized. I did not want to get stressed in the weeks leading up to – and most importantly, on the day of – Killian’s first birthday, so my planning for his Oct. 1 party began over the summer. From a budget to invitations, from a menu to decorations, I laid it all out in an Excel spreadsheet. I shared this with my husband to ensure the party would meet his expectations and we were on the same page. Doing this advance work made everything a lot easier for me, especially during the week of the party, when we had out-of-town guests arriving. Being prepared also helped me to delegate to our family, who arrived early to help us set up for the big day.


There were a lot of considerations to factor into my son’s birthday party, but the biggest priority was him. I planned the day so it would work with his schedule to be the most enjoyable for him. On the morning of his birthday, we opened presents in our pajamas with Killian’s grandparents, aunts and uncle. Once he was down for his morning nap, “Team Killian” switched into prep mode. The party started at noon because Killian would be up then and ready to play. His Cookie Monster smash cake was given to him by 2 p.m. so he could still stay on his afternoon nap schedule (after an earlier-than-usual bath to get all that icing off). The photos of my happy, smiling baby don’t lie: Killian had a great time at his party!


It is really easy to get carried away when planning a birthday party. You want the day to be perfect for your child and your guests. You want innumerable Pinterest-worthy photos for Instagram and the baby book. You want everyone to leave saying, “That was the greatest party ever!” Take a deep breath. And keep it simple. Set your priorities. Put back half the things in your Amazon cart. Do not buy everything in the seasonal décor aisle at Michael’s. Don’t plan to make eight new recipes. Keep. It. Simple. Your child will not know if the party store did not have the exact right shade of blue for his balloons. But he will be affected by your mood and disposition. Keep it simple to keep it easy on yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff; just make sure to have a good time with your child.


A child’s birthday party needs to be centered around and especially fun for the kids in attendance. I asked for a lot of advice from my friends and their little ones to ensure our smallest guests would have a great time. The weather allowed for the children to play games, hang in the sandbox and run around in the backyard. If we needed to be inside, I had the playroom ready to go with toys, games, coloring books and movies. The kids decorated pumpkins with foam stickers (no paint or carving necessary!). We had a kid’s picnic table loaded with snacks, plus mac and cheese, chicken fingers, apple cider doughnuts and cupcakes. And candy, lots and lots of candy. The children all seemed to have a good time, and Killian absolutely loved playing with his friends and cousins.


I think good food and alcohol for the adults is a must at a kid’s birthday party! We kept the lunch menu pretty simple and low stress, which allowed me to stay out of the kitchen. I had catered sandwich platters and homemade salads, a charcuterie and cheese platter and lots of snacks. I also put together a pretty extensive bloody mary bar, tapped a hollowed-out pumpkin to serve spiked apple cider and had plenty of beer and wine for our guests. For those who were with us for dinner, I had catered trays of meatballs and baked ziti. We had the football games on and music playing, plus lawn games like KanJam and Cornhole for the “big kids” to enjoy. If the weather did not cooperate, we would have played pool, Ping-Pong and darts inside. I wanted the party to be fun for all ages.


If your little one is like mine, they have more toys than they know what to do with. Our family and friends have been incredibly generous, and Killian has been showered with gifts since he was still in utero. My husband and I encouraged our guests to simply bring themselves, writing on the invitation that their presence at his party was the best present for Killian. Of course, many people still brought and sent gifts, which was very kind. Some of his new favorites include cars and musical toys, a sandbox and new books. Some friends brought Champagne and beer for my husband and me; some sent flowers that helped us decorate our home for the party. My sister Colleen made an epic photo banner that showed our favorite moments and photos of Killian throughout his 12 months. Every gift was appreciated and will be cherished, played with, worn and shared for years to come.

Celebrating your little one’s birthday is not just momentous for them but also for you and your partner and all who love your child. The day my son was born was the day that my husband and I became parents; it is the anniversary of the birth of my family. It was also the day that my parents became grandparents and the day my sisters became aunts. I wanted his first birthday to be special for all of us. Killian’s party was great because my son, husband and I had an amazing time; the children were happy and entertained; and our family and friends all seemed to enjoy themselves. That is really what it is all about: having fun, loving and laughing together.

What are your recommendations for a child’s birthday party? What is your favorite moment from your little one’s party? Share your thoughts with me and other parents in the comments section below or Tweet me at @ThePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.

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