If you have a large extended family, celebrating birthdays can be challenging. Lots of families opt to celebrate several birthdays at once. The combined family birthday party doesn’t have to take the place of individual celebrations, especially for kids. Children can have their own birthday parties with their peers, which grandparents can attend or not, depending upon their tolerance for large numbers of children hyped up on sugar!
Here are some suggestions for multigenerational birthday celebrations.
Start Early to Plan a Combined Birthday Party
When two or three family members have birthdays that are very close together, it's natural to honor them with a combined party. Some families go farther and plan a party to honor everyone whose birthday falls within a certain span, such as a month or six weeks. In my family, for example, we usually have an April-May celebration, an August-September celebration and a November-December celebration. We also have a couple of outliers that we celebrate solo.
You can even combine birthday celebrations with other occasions. If everyone will be in town for Easter, that's a great time to celebrate spring birthdays. Combine a Grandparents Day celebration with fall birthdays. My nephews have a cluster of March-April birthdays that they sometimes celebrate on St. Patrick's Day. That's fun!
Deciding upon a time and place is the next step. If one family hosts, other family members should be assigned items to bring. Everyone should help with serving and clean-up. Another option is to have the celebration out-of-doors, at a park, pool or similar facility. This works well for spring or summer birthdays, but not so well for winter.
Sometimes family members who live in apartments have access to a party room for a reasonable fee. Community buildings are also reasonable to rent, in most places. Event venues are likely to be too expensive to rent multiple times a year. Some families opt for restaurants, but these work best when the group is mostly adults. Large groups often slow down service so that small children end up being expected to sit still for too long.
Once the essentials are decided, everyone needs to be informed. Email or an e-invitation works for almost everyone today, or post the info on a family Facebook page. Non-wired family members can be notified with a phone call.
The menu needs to be kept simple unless there are family members who enjoy pulling off four-layer cakes or homemade pasta.
Traditional birthday cakes are ever-popular, but don't overlook alternatives. Sometimes we skip the cake altogether and go for a sundae bar or make banana splits. My family also enjoys bundt cakes, angel food, and simple cakes topped with berries and whipped cream.
Cupcakes are popular right now and are readily available at supermarkets and gourmet bakeries. Cupcakes are also one of the easiest options to make at home. Use paper liners for your muffin pans to save clean-up. Frosting only the tops of the cupcakes makes icing a breeze.
If you want a meal as well as a dessert, it is easiest to go with a cold menu. Build-your-own deli sandwiches are fun and tasty. A salad supper can be a crowd-pleaser. If you want something hot, tacos or fajitas can also be arranged with all the ingredients for guests to assemble their own. Baked potatoes with various toppings, pasta or a big pot of soup will warm up cold-weather celebrations.
What to Do?
If the guests are going to be around for an extended period of time, consider renting a moonwalk or other party equipment for the kids. We did this for years this at Thanksgiving, and it was always a hit. My grandkids are too old for bounce houses now, and it makes me a little sad!
If you want an intergenerational game, charades will work. Develop the list of titles ahead of time with an emphasis on titles that almost everyone will know. Catch Phrase is another game that fairly young children can play along with adults. Hasbro recommends it for adults, but we’ve found that kids as young as eight can play. Teenagers really love it. Another approach is to go retro with games such as Pin the Tail on the Donkey. If the weather is good, try classic outdoor games, relay races or egg tosses. Some families have a tradition of playing flag football or catch at outdoor family gatherings.
Another possibility is to start a tradition of having family sharing time during birthday celebrations. Sharing memories, plans or talents could become a cherished tradition. Birthday celebrants could be asked simple questions such as their favorite memory of the year past and their fondest dream for the year to come. Use a family question jar to get everyone talking!
Share talents at birthday parties, and the spotlight can shine on more than just the birthday celebrants. It's easy to write a tribute poem, or to help a grandchild write one, and the reading of poems written for the occasion is certain to engender some "Awwww" moments. A talent show can also be fun as long as no one is allowed to dominate. The family probably doesn’t want to hear every single song that Junior can play on the trumpet!
Singing “Happy Birthday” and opening gifts will, of course, be part of the celebration, but gifts may end up being the least important part of the occasion. Isn’t that the way it should be?