One of my goals for 2021 is to find a way to celebrate well. And by well, I mean REALLY well. After the hit of 2020, and for us - the hits from the last four years - this priority has been pushed up on my list much higher than it ever has been before.
We are ALIVE! We are healthy enough to throw parties! We have friends! We can find creative ways to celebrate! It's a way of living in gratitude. For me, celebrating big is an act of worship to God. (Think of how God commanded the Israelites to hold feasts in honor of what He did for them.) I have so much to be thankful for, and I want to shout it from the rooftops!
I love to entertain, and I love beautiful things. I also tend to over-simplify what it will take to pull off a party or celebration. Then I freak out at the last minute, trying to get everything together, sweating, unable to enjoy the actual celebration I'm working so hard to pull it off. But this year has been different! I've actually had four different celebrations in the last six weeks that have been awesome, manageable, and haven't broken the bank.
Celebrations are important, but the host/ess' ability to enjoy the celebration is also important. So, without further ado, here are my top three tips to making your next celebration memorable.
1. Do as much ahead of time as possible. Have all your decorations and party supplies together in one place, your groceries purchased, your invitations sent, etc. That way, the only things left to do on the day of the party are the things that actually couldn't be done any earlier. (I like to look at Pinterest for ideas, then design and print my own invitations. It's pretty inexpensive to buy white 5"x7" cards and envelopes and print them yourself.)
2. Make sure you have help. Have a friend or a family member or your teenage babysitter come over a few hours before the event to help occupy young children, decorate, and set things up. Build it into the budget. Cut corners other places if you need to. Do you know someone who's really good at art? That's the person to build your balloon arch! Your friend who has the cutest house around? She's the one to ask to create one-of-a-kind decorations to put on the gift table. Your friends and family will probably feel honored that you know where their gifts lie and that you asked them to use them.
3. Keep it simple. Identify your top three priorities and work everything else around that. You don't have to have a child's birthday party where you invite a large crowd, have intricate decorations, provide a full, hot meal, play games that require your supervision, serve cake and ice cream, have entertainment, and send every child home with a goody bag. Whew! It makes me tired just thinking of all that. I mean, if you have a big budget or a big family who will help you pull that off, go for it! Otherwise, ask yourself why you're doing this party. Will your child even appreciate everything you did? Or is this more so you can take the perfect photos for social media? In my experience, children are happy with cupcakes, simple decorations, and a place to have some creative fun.
My son, Charlie, turned seven this year. Charlie's birthdays have tended to get pushed to the side because of his little brother's needs and last year, quarantine. After a year of cancelling 90% of the things we've tried to plan, we decided to go a little bigger this year and give all his friends an opportunity to really have some fun in a safe way.
We have a large yard and a lot of play equipment for the kids. Besides the things we already have, we rented a bouncy house. Everything could be done outside, as long as the weather cooperated. On our invitations, we put the date and time with a note that a rain date would be announced, if necessary. To keep the food as safe and kid-friendly as possible, we grilled hot dogs and had buns and condiments, plus chips and drinks. Since the bouncy house was the main feature, I didn't stress over the cake. I waited too long to order fancy cupcakes from my friend, the cupcake queen, so I got cupcakes from the grocery store in our color scheme. For decorations, I found some disposable tablecloths and colorful balloons.
Of course, the weather was iffy on the day of the party and we decided to postpone it to the next week. I was concerned that people wouldn't be able to come, but we only had a couple who were unable to make it, and a couple who couldn't make it on the original date were able to make it on the rain day. Several parents asked if the party was just for kids or if they were expected to stay. I'd already spoken to several friends who had agreed to stay as chaperones, so I was able to tell the parents that they were welcome to stay if they wanted to, or they could have some free time. A few of the parents stayed, but most dropped off their kiddos and picked them up at the end.
For a younger child's party, I've found two hours to be the ideal time frame. Any less than that and the kids really aren't ready to leave. Any more than that and kids inevitably start hurting themselves and/or fighting. We had about 30 kids at the party, which was A LOT. I got a charcuterie board for all the adults who helped and put it in the kitchen. The kids were to stay outside unless they needed to use the bathroom, and I put up signs to direct them to the bathroom in a way that would keep them from going through the kitchen. One of my concerns was that the kids would all want to play on the same things at the same time, but they actually did a very good job of moving from activity to activity.
One of my main concerns with the party was that it be accessible for all of Charlie's friends. As the parent of a child who needs to be watched at all times, I wanted to make sure the parents who attended could relax and chat with the other parents if they wanted to. We actually hired someone to help out, if necessary, but she ended up not being needed for that, so she helped with other things. About 30 minutes into the party, I invited the kids to eat hot dogs. It was mid-afternoon, so they weren't all hungry, but many of them got in line. We had grilled the hot dogs and put them in a crock pot (lined with foil and with a cup of water in the bottom to prevent burning and drying out). The food was set up assembly-line style. Kids used hand sanitizer first, then got their own plates and napkins. I handed out buns and my husband handed out hot dogs. Our helper managed the drinks (lemonade and water) in small, paper cups. About 3/4 of the way through the party, I had Charlie gather up all his friends to have cupcakes and open presents. After he opened his presents, we set them up on the patio so all the kids could look at them.
Because we had the party for him and we knew he'd receive gifts from his friends, we only got him one gift from us. We had a hard enough time after the party finding places to store all his new toys! When the party ended, many of the parents stayed around to help us clean up. Our helper didn't leave until the majority of the party was cleaned up. We were very lucky that we rented the bouncy house from a small, local business and they couldn't come back to pick it up after the four hours we paid for. They actually left it until the next morning, so we invited our good friends to come over and eat party leftovers and let their kids play in the bouncy house without the big crowd. (They were invited to the party too, but not such fans of big groups.)
I think we all slept very well that night!
A couple more things to note. I considered doing a lot of decorations, but since it was outside and our farm tends to be very windy, we decided to stick with Charlie's favorite Lion King/Lion Guard-themed plates, napkins, and a balloon arch. All the decorations were set up with the food and gift table in our garage so they didn't blow away. We set up all our lawn chairs at various places around the yard and pulled out the Little Tykes picnic table. I also considered doing goody bags for the guests, but ultimately decided not to. We've done them before and I've literally seen kids dump them out, pick out one thing, and throw the rest in the trash. We are big on not being wasteful, so that was a hard thing to see. (We pulled the stuff out of the trash and kept it for our kids.) We also didn't provide individual juice boxes, cans of soda pop, or bottles of water for the same reason. Kids could have a small cup of lemonade or water, and there was plenty for seconds (or sixths!) if they wanted more. I went overboard on the charcuterie board and we had leftovers for days, but it was all really good stuff and we didn't throw away much. Next time, I will get half as much, but I loved it and can't wait for another occasion to get one.
One of my favorite things about the party was getting to meet all of Charlie's classmates and their parents (finally)! I've always been able to volunteer in the classroom before and meet the other kids, and many of their parents, but we couldn't do that this year. I was so surprised to find out that I knew many of the parents of the kids in his class already!
Charlie is our friendly, free, responsible child. He's a precious answer to many desperate prayers. He's also very easy-going and doesn't demand much of us. I felt so thankful to be able to celebrate him in this way and give all the glory back to God for the gift of this child. My heart was so full at the end of that day.