Birthday Traditions

Kids birthday parties are nuts. Expensive cakes, moon bounces, performers, over the top favors… all for being alive for another trip around the sun.

Create meaningful birthday traditions


Don’t get me wrong,  we certainly want to celebrate Everly and each other, but we felt it was necessary to set the tone for how we’d approach birthdays to line up with our family’s mission. We want birthdays to be memorable, exciting and special. Those goals can surely be achieved without wasting money or worrying about appearances.


Everlys birthday outfit cost $3. We borrowed the tutu from a friend, I already owned the white onesie and another friend made the iron decal for us.

Here are some general guidelines for how we’re going about birthday celebrations for our kids: (I say kids because we’re hoping to adopt in the next few years).

Gifts from mom & dad: In general, we won’t be spending tons of money on gifts. If there are one or two special presents Everly would like, we’ll be more than happy to make that happen but in general, there won’t be a huge spending spree for a shopping cart full of presents. When possible, we’ll follow the process we’ve already outlined for buying toys. Nate and I don’t typically buy each other presents but ask to be made to feel special for the day. Currently, the list of things-that-make-me-feel-special includes letting me sleep in and not doing any parenting.

Gifts from family: We told (and will continue to encourage) family that they do not need to give a gift. If they’d enjoy doing so we’d prefer they gift Everly with an experience like a class, lesson or day trip. Other ideas are money for her college fund or a hand-me-down of a loved toy/clothing from her cousins. For her first birthday, Everly was able to open her college fund thanks to a gift from family. She also received hand me down toys from cousins, which she plays with every day.

Birthday decoration box: I once read a blog post where someone had one box of decorations that they used for every birthday in their family and how it took the stress and spending out of decorating. The night before each birthday, this blogger would simply remove the box from the closet and hang the decorations up so the kids had a festive home to wake up to. I bought a few reusable colorful banners and signs from the Target dollar spot. Other than “happy” there’s no theme for the decorations so it’s not something that will go out of style like an age-specific tv show character. I’m sure we’ll add to the collection or supplement a few decorations each year to match our kids’ current interests, but we’ve got a solid foundation. Growing up, my mom used the same birthday banner to hang around the house for years. I bet she still has it somewhere. It wasn’t any less special because it was reused, but more so because of the memories, it carried from past birthdays.

Parties: Our goal is to encourage meaningful, lasting experiences. That will certainly depend on the individual child’s personality and love language. Maybe our child loves to be the center of attention and lives for the moment while everyone sings happy birthday to her. I used to hide under the table during that part so big parties weren’t really my jam. For Everly’s first birthday, we did throw a relatively large party but I did my best to keep the whole day in perspective. I sent out free evites, bought inexpensive, reusable decorations, made the cupcakes from a box with the help of friends, and outsourced food to friends and family. Anyone who said, “Do you need us to bring anything?” I happily replied “Yes!”

Thinking of Others: My best friend, Melissa, asked guests to bring an item to the party to donate to charity in lieu of a gift for her daughter’s first birthday. I LOVED the idea so we asked the same of our guests.  Everly has able to donate 50 books to Cradles to Crayons for her first birthday thanks to the kindness of our family and friends. I obviously chose the cause this year (can you tell I was a reading teacher?) but look forward to helping Everly choose a cause close to heart in the future.

Part of me wonders if people will read this and think it’s unfair to set this expectation for our children. My self-doubt tells me that I won’t look like a good enough parent because my kids’ parties might not be Pinterest worthy. But we’ve got really big goals for our family and really big things to teach our kids. One of which is that stuff isn’t important, people are. And you can celebrate your birthday without stuff to make you feel happy, but by spending time with those who are important to you. I know that ultimately, setting this priority is the next right thing for our family.

The other part of me worries about offending anyone who loves throwing extravagant birthdays. Everyone’s priorities are different and I have no doubt that however your family chooses to celebrate will be just right for you. I chose to share our somewhat counter-cultural mindset towards birthdays to encourage others to think outside the box and not feel pressured to spend money simply because that’s what is expected.

Anyone have any tips for how they create meaningful birthday celebrations for your loved ones without throwing “My Super Sweet 16?” I’d love to hear how you celebrate!

4 thoughts on “Birthday Traditions

  1. Lindsay Hiner says:

    Hey Chelsea! I don’t know if you remember me, but I go to CCV and have interacted with you at Riot and on Sunday mornings. As a girl going to private school, I watched all of the extravagant planning and parties unfold before my eyes. My parents and I sat down and had a discussion about what was financially practical for our family. We decided that I could either have a nice sweet 16 or I could have a graduation party. I was able to decide what I wanted and going with the Sweet 16 was truly sweet and to this day was still my most memorable and meaningful birthday. It was small in the number of people, but it was a “super” sweet 16 when I look back on it. As for not having a graduation party, my family still gave and close friends exchanged material gifts, but I was able to enjoy my summer after graduation with my closest friends without having to go party hopping and spending a lot of money on gifts. It really didn’t matter to me that I missed a grad party because instead I got to spend time at a nice dinner after the ceremony, and after all, they are the ones that I wanted to spend my time with anyway. I hope this helps when it comes to the whole idea of a “sweet 16”.


    • chelseariedy says:

      Of course I know you Lindsay! That sounds like it was really smart for your parents to get you involved with the planning process and give you the choice of how you want to celebrate. I’m sure the special dinner parties are so memorable and something you’ll treasure with those friends for years to come! You sound wise beyond your years for being able to recognize that the quality of the people you celebrated with was more important than the size of your party.


  2. Jenn says:

    Kids really do love to have family traditions that they follow. Some family traditions you will end up starting by accident, while some will be purposeful as you are doing here.

    I have encouraged guests to my kids’ birthday parties to buy “experience presents” in the past–even making specific suggestions like tickets to a movie, bowling, or a local science center; and it hasn’t seemed to catch on. Everyone wants to buy toys that my kids play with for a couple days…then loose interest in. I do enjoy throwing birthday parties for my kids–mostly because my parents pretty much ignored my birthdays as a kid and I wasn’t allowed to go to friends’ parties, so I guess I’m living vicariously through my kids a bit. LOL! But I try not to go too overboard. No petting zoos or rental toys! 😉 One year my son, who was turning 12 I think, wanted to go to laser tag with some friends…but it ended up being a crazy snow storm the night of the party. Couldn’t safely drive to the laser tag place. So I did a quick change of plans–bought a bunch of Nerf guns with laser sites on clearance for $5 at StuffMart along with way too many darts…and let the boys battle it out in the snow around our house, followed by a slumber party. I think that was as much fun to them as going to laser tag would have been. Nerf darts are compostable, right? Because I think about 200 darts disappeared that night…lol!


    • chelseariedy says:

      It is really hard for people to follow gift suggestions! The grandparents were like are you realllly sure we can’t get her anything? Lol. I get it though, they want to make Everly feel special so I know it comes from a nice place.

      The nerf gun party sounds awesome! I’m sure a story your kids will remember for years!


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