All birthdays are special, but clearly some are more special than others. For adults, these are the milestone birthdays; the ones that make you feel the passage of time. They arrive when it's time for the human body odometer to turn over to the next decade.
There are two ways to approach milestone parties - kindly or humorously. If you take the humorous approach, be sure your guest of honor has a sense of humor. The purpose of this party, like any birthday party, is to make your friend feel loved and cherished. You want to cheer him up and highlight the positive side of aging, e.g. all the friends he's managed to acquire over his lifetime. You don't want to depress your friend about hitting a milestone birthday with old age jokes and gags if he doesn't really have a funny bone. Proceed with caution and make sure the guests aren't laughing at the birthday boy's expense.
The Humorous Approach
The first adult milestone birthday strikes at age 30, when you're really much younger than you feel. By this milestone you may have gotten married, started a family and purchased your first home. And if you haven't done these things, you're probably feeling the pressure that you should. This is the age when friends begin to think it's funny to host an "over the hill" party for you. And it's the only birthday, I think where it really is funny to host that kind of party since 30 is hardly "over the hill!"
When you host an "over the hill" party, ask your guests to bring small gifts that will tease the guest of honor about how old he or she has become. For example, laxatives, reading glasses, hair dye, adult diapers and denture cream. Decorations usually include black balloons and streamers. Food might include anything soft, like baby food for your poor, toothless, geriatric friend.
Another variation on the "over the hill" party is the mock funeral party. Request that guests come dressed in clothes of mourning. Ask some of them to read a eulogy. Set an obituary at each place. You can even use it as a placecard. Decorate with lilies and play organ music during the party. Black is, once again, the color scheme for this celebration. Make a cake in the shape of a tombstone. This is easy to do by attaching a rectangular cake to a half of a round cake with a diameter that matches the width of the rectangle. Frost it in gray or white and write R.I.P. on it with black decorator icing. (One word of advice for this particular party - be sure that the birthday boy has not recently experienced any deaths of a close friend or family member. This party loses its humor if it hits too close to home.)
Pick a Hobby or Interest
If your friend isn't young enough, or funny enough, to appreciate an "over the hill" party, I recommend going with a kinder approach. In this case, design the party around activities or a theme that the guest of honor enjoys. For example if you're throwing a party for your wife and she loves gardening, make that your theme. You could suggest that guests bring little things to help with the garden such as seed packets or fertilizer spikes. Ask guests to dress in gardening clothes with big straw hats. Create a cake with a profusion of real or sugar flowers on top. Serve snacks in clay pots (after covering the hole in the bottom with some foil).
Or, if your husband is interested in auto racing create a race themed party. Organize a road rally to start the party. You can find information on organizing a road rally at Road Rally Central. Have all your guests meet at your home. Then provide them with directions to lead them to a final destination in a park for a picnic. Serve the picnic on black and white checkered tablecloths. Hang a banner over your picnic table that reads "The Finish Line."
Celebrate the Best of Times
Another variation on the kinder approach is hosting a party that recreates the best times of the birthday boy's youth. Create a pictorial timeline of the birthday boy's life as part of your decor. Invite friends from the guest of honor's past and organize a small "this is your life" presentation. Ask guests to bring their fondest or funniest memory of the birthday boy to be read during a warm and humorous toast.
Another popular approach is to create a historic theme for a milestone party. You can either use the decade when the birthday boy was born, or the decade in which he was a teenager. For example, someone turning 50 this year was born in 1962. You could host a sixties theme party celebrating his year of birth or a disco seventies party for the years he was a growing teen.
A twist on a decade-based theme party is to create a theme party around the decade the guest of honor is now entering. If the birthday milestone is age 40, then host a forties big band theme party.
If you choose this decade format for your party, create the mood with the music, clothes and even popular children's games from the period. There are many props you can use such as posters of movie stars from the decade, advertising posters or vintage home appliances or furniture from that period.
Gifts - You never want to ask your guests to bring a gift to a party. That should be left to their own discretion. But as you can see, I've given inexpensive, theme-related, gag gift suggestions if they're looking for ideas. Another inexpensive gift suggestion in keeping with the milestone theme, is to ask each guest to bring a quantity of items equaling the birth age. For a 30-year-old party you would ask each guest to bring 30 of a single item. It could be pennies, sticks of gum, balloons, hard candies, etc.
Beverages - If you would like to be a little extravagant, serve vintage wines, champagnes and ports from the decade the birthday girl was born.
Memory Book - Create a memory book of the party. Include pictures of the celebration, copies of any toasts or roasts that were given, and ask all guests to sign the book with a personalized birthday message.
If you'd like to find more of Donna Pilato's advice on hosting parties and entertaining friends and family you can visit her at The Delicious Dozen.