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20 Keys to a Successful First Birthday Party

by Amanda on May 12, 2008
category: 0 – 1 year (baby),Fun time & Toys,Inspiration

I used wonder why first birthday parties were such a big deal. The party is really for the parents, right? Now I understand that the first birthday party is a celebration of life bringing friends and family together. The party marks a milestone of surviving the difficult first year for both the little one and the parents.

Our celebration turned out wonderful. I love party planning and helping everyone have a great time. Here’s a few keys that I’ve found that will help make your first (or any) birthday party a success:

  • 1. Consider your child’s nap times when scheduling the time of the party. Plan the party around your child’s nap times so they will be happy when it is time to start. We started our party at 4:00 p.m. This allowed Ace to get two naps in during the day and all the kids that attended could eat dinner at the party and be home by bedtime.
  • sat-may-3-2008-copy.jpg 2. Every first birthday party must have cake! The theme of our party was flowers, so my husband made two cakes in the shape of a flower. We bought a cake flower pan at Hobby Lobby and used boxed cake mix. We didn’t have time to make a special small cake for Ace so I just cut off one of the petals for her to dig into. No one cared that she didn’t have a special cake to herself.
  • 3. Play fun party music! The key is not to play what you like, but what will get the party going. Just because I like alternative-folk music doesn’t mean that everyone else likes it. Nor does it make for a fun party atmosphere. We hooked up my husband’s laptop to a receiver which connected to a pair of large speakers and played music from Internet radio through iTunes. We placed the speakers outside an open window in the backyard so it could be heard both inside and out.
  • 4. Have activities for all ages. We set out toys inside the house for the little ones. In the backyard we had horseshoes and a game called Washers for older kids and adults. All these games were borrowed so we didn’t have to spend a dime!


  • 5. If you are serving food have it ready near the beginning of the party. This is one of my personal pet peeves. If I know that a party is serving food I usually arrive hungry and ready to eat. I don’t want to wait an hour while you fire up the grill. Serving food at the beginning of the party usually makes everyone happy.
  • 6. Have someone else take pictures for you. I am so thankful for my friend Kara who got some amazing shots. I was free to mingle and take care of Ace while she digitally recorded the special day for us.


  • 7. Have plenty of seating. I didn’t want my guests trying to cut their brisket served on a paper plate in their laps. I borrowed a couple of extra tables and chairs for the back yard. I covered them with plastic table clothes bought at the dollar store for 99 cents each.
  • 8. Clean your entire house the week prior. I know this may seem like a daunting task, but it is worth it. I am much more calm and clear-minded when my house is clean. I never stressed if a guest wandered into a room with a closed door. A few guests used the guest bedroom to change and I was thankful that I had picked up that room.
  • 9. Cut the cake at least halfway or two-thirds into the party so people can feel free to leave. Everyone wants to see the little one take their first bite of pure sugar cake, so don’t make them wait too long!
  • 10. Open presents at the end of the party. Opening presents can take a long time, so it is best to do it after the cake. The people who wanted to see the gifts stayed and had a great time.
  • 11. Make a slideshow of photos to play on the T.V. I put a bunch of photos on my ipod and hooked my ipod to the T.V. You can also make a video of photos and burn it to a DVD. Or you could connect your computer to the television and play a slide show. Many people wandered into the living room and watched the entire show. The party guests enjoyed seeing themselves in the slideshow. It is a great way to celebrate your little one’s first year of life.
  • 12. Enlist help to set up before the party. You cannot set up all by yourself. Have a friend or relative come early and help. I am seriously thankful for the folks that helped me.
  • 13. Carefully plan the food set up and flow of traffic before the party. Spending a few minutes to think about where the plates, food, and drinks go will help keep people moving through the kitchen and clear any traffic jams.
  • 14. Place cheerios and goldfish out for the little ones. They will appreciate the snack just for them. The cheerios were a big hit at our party.
  • 15. Have the washtub and a back up outfit ready. Ace got a quick bath to rinse off the icing and she got to wear two super cute dresses to her party. It was handy knowing I had a back up in case the first got covered in cake.


  • 16. Don’t make people feel obligated to stay more than two hours. I really like to respect people’s time and they appreciate it too. If people want to stay they will stay, but I think a party is much more fun if it doesn’t drag out the whole day.
  • 17. If you have a party at lunchtime or dinner then you should serve food. If you are just going to serve cake and snacks have it mid-morning or mid-afternoon. I think guests will be hungry if you have the party around a usual meal time.
  • 18. Save money and time by serving lemonade and tea made from instant powder. I spent about fifteen bucks for the drinks and cups for fifty people. It was a lot cheaper than serving sodas! Honestly, the instant tea wasn’t that bad.
  • 19. Don’t stress if everything isn’t perfect or you forgot something. The party will go on and everything works out. The focus is on your family and the new little one, not that you ran out of cups.
  • 20. Be in the moment. Once the party is going – enjoy it! Don’t forget to eat, mingle, and be proud of your accomplishment – your family has survived the first year!

Did you have a large first birthday celebration? How did it go? Do you have party pet peeves or any rules that you usually follow when you host? Do you have any money saving tips for parties?

3 Responses to 20 Keys to a Successful First Birthday Party

  • Comment by McKenna
    May 12, 2008 @ 8:45 pm

    We had a large first birthday party for Darah and a small one for Connor. Darah’s first party was at our apartment clubhouse and pool. I love your suggestions of having someone responsible for taking pictures. I also love your suggestion of being sensitive to your child’s nap times (and your guest’s bed times!) :) We had so much fun at Ace’s party! You did a great job!!!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Trina
    May 12, 2008 @ 10:27 pm

    We loved being at Annabelle’s first birthday!! Sorry we had to leave so early but I think all of the kids had a great time together.
    For Brielle’s big number One we had two, the one for the family in California was large and fun. We did a cupcake station, all the kids and Adults decorated and frosted their own cupcakes. It was fun and everyone loved it. Bonus, everyone loved taking home their made cupcakes so there was no left over cake, which I hate since I will eat it all. :)

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Isabella
    January 12, 2009 @ 9:28 am

    These are great points and I agree with almost all of them! I am talking from experience since I celebrated my child’s first birthday last month.

    Regarding serving lemonade instead of sodas, it actually worked the other way round for me. I got 2-liter bottles of soda at throw-away deals from my local grocery store and that was cheaper than any other drink I could have had. Also, I kept a few juice boxes for the kids.

    Also, regarding playing a slideshow on the TV, I tried to make one myself but what I made wasn’t exciting enough. So I searched the internet for any professional service that would do it for me at a reasonable price. I found a few and I chose to go with Smilingsnaps and the lady there created a beautifully choregraphed musical slideshow from my baby’s pictures with special effects and a personalized Happy Birthday song. We played the DVD just before cutting the cake and it was wonderful!

    Also, I would like to re-emphasize the last point made in the article- do not stress yourself out and enjoy with all your guests- celebrate the beautiful day when your bundle of joy was born with all you can :)

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