The other day while waiting for our children in ballet class, some other parents and I were discussing birthday parties. One of the miniature ballerinas had just celebrated a birthday, which prompted the conversation focused primarily on the way these blessed events often become overwhelming. When asked if we did big birthday parties for our girls, my answer was a needs-more-explanation "kind of."
Yes, we throw our daughters birthday parties every year, but no, they are not the elegant, elaborate, extravagant parties found on Pinterest. I have always enjoyed playing the hostess, but any gathering at our house would be best described as "simple."
Don't get me wrong--I love those fancy parties that strictly adhere to an adorable theme. I am impressed by the meticulous attention to detail and the immense creativity behind those soirees. However, I also know myself and my (hopefully recovering) perfectionist tendencies. I know how quickly things could go overboard and how stressed out I could get.
For me, at this point in my life, it's just not worth the extra time and energy to perfect every detail. My kids are still pretty little, and they really don't care yet. My older daughter thinks she had a butterfly party last year...which consisted of a butterfly-shaped cake (made from scratch because that actually is important to me) and butterfly fairy wings from the Dollar Tree. The fact that one of her friends coincidentally also wore butterfly wings was a serendipitous bonus.
Besides not really having a theme, part of keeping it simple includes hosting parties at our house. We have the good fortune of living across the street from a park, so when the weather allows, we head outside and use the park for (free) entertainment. Boom. Activities planned. I know that having a party at one of the many, many awesome birthday party locations around town would be simple as well, but I'm also cheap and not yet willing to pay for that convenience.
Other ways that we keep things simple revolve around gifts...or the lack thereof. Like a lot of kids, my daughters already have way too much crap stuff, and I know they are going to receive more from their loving grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins. Therefore, we kindly ask our guests to refrain from bringing gifts. If they feel compelled to bring something--because some people do--we accept (gently used) books to keep the Little Free Library at our church well-stocked.
Keeping with this idea, we also don't do treat bags. We are very appreciative of the friends who have come to celebrate with us but don't feel the need to distribute a bag of candy or trinkets as a parting gift. Preschool and elementary school teachers have the market cornered on "treasure box items," and we have no interest in competing.
I know the absence of gifts and goodie bags can be contentious for some because it bucks tradition, but it makes life so much easier for everyone. We're saving our friends time and money, helping them clear out their bookshelves, and giving back to the community (in a small way). And we've already provided cake and/or ice cream, so no need to take that sugar high home in the form of more candy.
Speaking of food, we have found ways to keep that simple as well. The time of day dictates the menu, so when we first started this birthday party business, we felt compelled to feed our guests a full meal, like lunch (or brunch when planning around naptime). But our crowning achievement was having a party smack dab in between lunch and dinner, when we were able to get away with just serving ice cream and some snacks. That's it. The kids loved making their own ice cream sundaes, and it took some of the pressure off, especially when we decided to invite the entire preschool class.
So now that I've revealed all my cheap and lazy hostess secrets, I'm afraid no one will want to come to our birthday parties nor invite us to theirs. I jest, of course...I hope. Really, though, the most important part of any birthday party is to enjoy celebrating with friends. If we can achieve that goal as simply as possible, then we can focus on making the guest of honor feel as special as she is. I consider that a win.