Lavish Birthday Parties For 1-Year-Olds Are A Massive Time Waster So I’m Going Minimalist

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1 year old birthday partyThere’s a single baby in a high chair, bracketed on each side by her parents. They eat dinner and cake and sing “happy birthday,” followed with the opening of a handful of birthday cards. The family of three opens gifts on the floor. It’s 1987, and this is a video of my first birthday party. Minimal decorations, no guests, no theme, just two parents and a baby enjoying the day together. What’s wrong with this?

Quite a bit, apparently. Chalk it up to first-time parent enthusiasm or whatever, but birthday parties for babies, 1-year-olds especially, are getting increasingly more grandiose. And they seem to be way more about the parents than the baby, considering a 1-year-old, like a cat, generally enjoys the wrapping paper better than the actual gifts.

One thing that seems especially over-the-top is the birthday baby registry. I get having a registry for a baby shower: new parents are obviously in need of a lot of stuff they don’t have. Registries are helpful for letting others know what you need and what you don’t. But by the time a baby is 1-year-old, I’d like to think most parents have the basics covered. I’d also like to think that the people attending the party know your baby well enough to pick out a gift she or he will like. If not, why is that person on your guest list in the first place?

I remember reading a message board in which moms admitted to planning baby’s first birthday when baby was still a newborn. There are entire books on throwing birthday parties for infants. There are elaborate Pinterest galleries. And I have yet to attend a first birthday party where there were fewer than 25 guests. Seriously, people nowadays put more thought into their baby’s first birthday than I had put into my wedding.

Honestly, this stuff is cute, but as a rational adult I can’t quite justify using all of these resources on a baby. There are parents with children fighting to survive horrible diseases and families living in poverty and here we are, throwing massive gatherings for our special snowflakes. And as our children grow older and fatter and more spoiled, what are we teaching them each year on the anniversary of their births? That the world will always cater to them? That they deserve a hundred presents each birthday just for being here? And we wonder why American children are notorious for their sense of entitlement.

I must sound like a total scrooge. I swear I’m not against celebrations. I’m just determined not to be one of those parents who shells out the big bucks for an elaborate first-birthday party.

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  1. ipsedixit010

    November 12, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Yes! I agree on the minimalist trend. In fact, we asked for no presents, just time to hang out, eat, and celebrate. Our kid is incredibly blessed with generous grandparents who spoil him throughout the year. He doesn’t need an overflow of toys, but he does enjoy spending time getting hugs and kisses and read to.

    After seeing the stress my Sister and SIL went through planning their kids’ parties, I just couldn’t do it. Plus, it felt weird having a huge party….like a gift grab. I was also afraid that having so many people, small children, and yelling in the house would lead to a meltdown. It was much more enjoyable having a small party. Sometimes I think when people go overboard with kids parties, they’re doing it for themselves or to keep up appearances rather than for the kid.

  2. Ashley Austrew

    November 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    TOTALLY AGREE. For my daughter’s first birthday in October, we invited the grandparents and aunts over and each person brought something yummy for the group to snack on. I decorated the living room with stuff a baby would find fascinating (read: hanging sparkly objects) and we all sat around and played with her, ate, and enjoyed our time together. No pressure. No fuss. No hundreds of dollars spent. It was low key and perfect.

  3. chickadee

    November 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    You can also donate extraneous gifts to a children’s and/or homeless shelter.

  4. Ellie

    November 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Agreed. We’ve been to too many crazy parties for babies. The worst was the one that had 50+ people, and when the little birthday man didn’t oblige all those picture takers by spontaneously mashing his cake all over, his mom grabbed his hands and “helped” him mash it. Which freaked him out and he started sobbing. Which spurred more picture-taking. WTFF?
    For our kids’ first birthdays, it was just us and a couple of cupcakes. For their second we invited the grandparents and godparents over for dinner. For their third we had their two little best friends over to play and eat pizza. They are only just getting the idea of parties now that they are almost 4, so we will do something small. But the big lavish outdo-the-neighbors bashes are right out.

    • Justme

      November 12, 2012 at 8:09 pm

      I was happy when my child didn’t smash the cake into her face! Less mess for me to clean up!

  5. Meagan Senesac

    November 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    TOTALLY agree! I had to be subjected to TWO 1 year old birthday parties this fall and it was two too many. My baby will be turning 1 in January (time flies!) and we will be having a simple celebration with just my husband, baby, and I. Cheers!

  6. Jules

    November 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    The way you described your first birthday is exactly what I would want for my child. Family, very, very close friends. Come over, have some food, sing happy birthday, and I do love the idea of a smash cake (or just do cupcakes and give the baby his or her own to destroy). Sounds like the best first birthday ever.

  7. Mary Renee Reuter

    November 12, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    There are really different cultural theories on that. I live in Hawaii where an elaborate Baby Luau for the child’s first birthday is not a new thing, it’s been a tradition for centuries. Why? Because hundreds of years ago it was no small feat for an infant to SURVIVE the first year of life, and generally if a baby could make it to one, it meant the likelihood of it’s survival increased (even now that can be true, as risks like SIDS decrease once the child is old enough to move around on his or her own) I see nothing wrong with making a big deal out of this. Another difference is the fact that it’s become increasingly common for people to move away from their families. People used to move out of their parents house to a house… I don’t know, maybe five miles away? If that. So you could throw a first birthday party, invite family only, and still have 50 people there (that’s how first birthday parties in our family went when I was a baby in the 80s). I think a 1st Birthday is too special to let pass with out a few balloons, but to each his own. I don’t have any family in Hawaii (as the other family members generally help pay for the Baby Luau). We invited her entire playgroup and some close friends so it was probably about 20 people (including babies and kids) I filled baby pools up with playpit balls, brought some of her bigger toys down to our apartment’s picnic area, got some streamers and party platters and let the babies crawl around and do their thing. She may not remember it, but had I not done something because I’m trying to be a trendy hipster minimalist, I would have totally regretted it.

    • Mary Renee Reuter

      November 12, 2012 at 2:31 pm

      But I would like to add that anyone who has the means of creating a registry for their child’s first birthday is probably not hurting financially enough to deserve one. Also, I don’t disagree with “no presents.” I just think it’s a milestone worth celebrating, whether it’s with 8 people or fifty.

    • AugustW

      November 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      My daughter is turning 2 right after Thanksgiving, and as she has several pairs of very generous and loving Grandparents and we have a very tiny one bedroom apartment, this year I’ve asked them to consider giving “experience” gifts rather than physical gifts. For example, certificates for swimming lessons, or an IOU for a day at the park. Things that will give them time with the kiddo and won’t bury us in presents.

    • [email protected]

      April 1, 2014 at 9:17 am

      That’s my reason for having a registry, the parents can pick what’s needed for their child. In these times, if I buy a $30 dollar offit, and my granddaughter doesn’t wear it, my daughter can sell it at a second hand store, she may get only $5 for it. My granddaughter has about 30 stuff animals, a registry the parents can pick out books, I don’t understand why this would seem tacky.

    • ipsedixit010

      November 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm

      “…to each his own…” but you’re probably a “trendy hipster minimalist” if you don’t. Hmmm….

      It is a milestone to be celebrated, but you don’t have to have extended family or your one year old’s play date “friends” over to make it a worthy celebration. I don’t think anyone is saying not to recognize the date at all, but that spending hundreds of dollars on party decor, cakes, foods, etc. and inviting your Facebook friends list – as is the trend in the US – isn’t the only option either.

    • Mary Renee Reuter

      November 13, 2012 at 1:05 am

      Honestly, I just feel like some people have a small intimate birthday party just to tell other people how they had a small intimate birthday party. I just think it’s disappointing for the rest of the family, who if they’re anything like my Italian family, would want to be a part of the event and celebrate it with you. I would have given anything to have had my whole extended family there, but I live so far away. I just think families for the large part are becoming more and more like islands, intentionally isolating themselves from the rest of society, and it saddens me.

      Also, I don’t think inviting your whole facebook friends list is the trend in the US. Granted, I’m as far away from the mainland as I can be while still being in the US, but most of my friends still on the mainland had cake and BBQ on a picnic table in a park with their family and other friends with kids. I think having extended family at the first birthday party is the norm, and having a small intimate birthday party with just your family is the “trendy” thing to do. I also see the first birthday as a way of thanking the people in your life that supported you and made the first year great… and not including them is kind of a snub.

    • Neo

      November 13, 2012 at 12:52 am

      In Filipino cultures it’s common to have big celebrations with all the family so I’m with you. I feel like I get pulled to do things smaller and smaller because of other peoples concepts outside of my culture but I’m glad we had a big to do.

  8. Cassy C

    November 12, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Agreed. My daughter’s birthday party will consist of cake and presents from grandparents. Done.
    Although, I will admit to a rather elaborate Pinterest board, just because it’s fun.

    • AugustW

      November 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm

      Pizza, cake and a few cousins running around Grandpa’s house. That’s our ideal birthday party for my soon-to-be 2-year-old. I am going to buy about a dozen balloons though to blow up and kick like soccer balls, because she’s obsessed with them.

  9. Blooming_Babies

    November 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I’m all for a big party as long as we can all be honest, the one year party is for mom and dad.
    I’ve asked at party after party that people not bring presents and they always look at me like I have two heads so we just keep gifts until the holidays and donate them to toys for tots.

    • Gifts

      November 13, 2012 at 10:02 am

      Same thing happened to me. I asked people (very nicely) not to get gifts. Every single guest came armed with huge toys. We donated most of them or gave them away to relatives.

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  11. Justme

    November 12, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I don’t think I had an “over-the-top” birthday party for my daughter. We had our family and close friends with kids her age (guest list was under 25 people for sure). There was a spread of sandwiches and dips….and of course the cupcakes. It was at our house and I made most of the decor (thanks Pinterest!). We had a St. Patty’s Day theme and there *might* have been Guiness involved. Not for the birthday girl of course.

    I agree with the other poster who said that the first birthday was about the parents. I wholeheartedly agree. I suffered through months and months of PPD and the birthday party was definitely a “we made it” moment for my husband and me.

    But I’m of the mind that….if other people want to spend the money for an outrageous first (or any other) birthday, go for it. I’ll come and eat food and cake and join in the celebration. NBD. I guess you just can’t let yourself get wrapped up in the “competition” aspect of birthday parties (and other things related to parenting and child-rearing).

    • Tinyfaeri

      November 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      I think that sounds perfectly reasonable. There’s no mention of ponies, clowns, bouncy castles (though those do make for a fun Tuesday), balloon rides or elephants. If throwing parties is your thing, I say rock on with your bad self, and any excuse will do – it’s just the parents who go way over the top that scare me a little. But then, so do clowns. 🙂

    • Justme

      November 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      I think it comes down to intentions. If your intention is to impress your neighbors and friends with a spectacular party….that’s no good. But if you like throwing parties and just want to get your friends and family together for a good time, what’s the harm?

  12. Tea

    November 12, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    ” I’d also like to think that the people attending the party know your
    baby well enough to pick out a gift she or he will like. If not, why is
    that person on your guest list in the first place?”

    So a big cardboard box and we’re good to go? I have no idea how one gets to know a 1 year old that well, aside from that if it’s colorful or forbidden, they want it.

    • Tinyfaeri

      November 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      YEAH! Boxes are the best!! Now everyone knows what to get me for Xmas.

    • [email protected]

      April 2, 2014 at 9:07 am

      Plus, all children are not made the same. My granddaughter is bigger than most children her age.

  13. Neo

    November 13, 2012 at 12:45 am

    ayayaya yai…Yeah, felt the same exact way. But then. My sweet little girl turned one. I just couldn’t resist a celebration. More for me and her daddy then for her. It was just a fun way to celebrate with family and friends and I got carried away with the decor, food. etc. but it was a blast and worth it.

  14. Venessa

    November 13, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Do people really create birthday baby registries? Please tell me that was a joke! It is one thing to inform the kid’s grandparents what would be best, but a registry is way over the top.

    • [email protected]

      April 2, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Why is it over the top, to make a list of things a parent needs for their child?

    • Justme

      April 5, 2014 at 10:14 pm

      “A list of things a parent needs for their child” is what happens when you throw a baby shower and the parents are registered. Beyond that, a registry is ridiculous.

    • [email protected]

      April 5, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      Children grow, and what was given at a shower, will not do much good when the child turns 3. A registry is nothing more than a list of items. What makes is so special, it should only be “adults only”?

    • Justme

      April 5, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      Children at three are not difficult to shop for. If you are invited to a birthday party you most likely know the parent or child. Ask what they are interested in and then buy accordingly. And when in doubt, go with something simple that is loved by most kids – blocks, legos, books, puzzles and art supplies.

  15. MommyK

    November 13, 2012 at 10:40 am

    My LO is turning 1 in 4 weeks, and we’re not going all out in the sense of spending hundreds of dollars, but we’re inviting over 30 people for sure. We have a large family and group of friends who have shared in my son’s first year in many ways, and most of them would feel slighted if we did not invite them. It’s close to Christmas though, so if some people can’t make it, no big deal. We’re having somewhat of a polar bear theme, with a few decorations. All the kids will be little, so we’re not going to worry about games, etc. We’ll have some toys out for them to play, and a kiddie pool full of balloons. We’ll have hot chocolate and other drinks, some appetizers and snacks, and cake. We’re sticking within a small budget. I don’t think this is over the top. And yes, the party is definitely more for the parents than for the kid, but this is what our family and group of friends does for birthdays, so I’m looking forward to it.

  16. Anna

    November 13, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    We had big parties for both my kid’s first birthdays. It was fun. And yes, it was in large part for me. I love entertaining. I love gathering friends and family at my house and cooking for everyone. I don’t see any harm in that. Was there a birthday registry? Good lord, no. Was it a fancy catered event with ponies and clowns? No. For kid 1 it was a really fun backyard BBQ with about 30 people. For kid 2 it was a lovely curry night at our house. Lots of fun and family and friends. I prepared all the food myself. I did the decor and made the cake. I wouldn’t call it extravagant but I suppose some would. We have a big house with room for everyone and we can easily afford to feed everyone had host a fun party. I see no harm in that at all. Have a big party if you want. If you don’t want to, don’t. No harm in that either. No one should be guilted for either choice. Do what you wand and don’t worry about what other people do. Unless you’re paying for it it’s not really your business.

  17. Katherine

    November 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    I hear you on this one! I knew people who had 100+ people at their kids’ first birthday parties…which is okay if you just want an excuse to get everyone together, but exhausting if you feel like it’s some kind of requirement. My son’s first birthday fell on the day that all of my mom friends and I had our regular playdate, so we just had it at my house that day; I made a “kid cake” and a “grown up cake” (I wasn’t going to share my dad’s famous black forest cake with one year olds!). Then, that evening, my parents were there for dinner and we did a Skype call with my in-laws so they could watch him mash a piece of cake. It was perfect.

  18. K.

    November 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Gift registries for a toddler?! Or a child??

    Someone who has the attention span of a goldfish and/or sh*ts in their pants regularly can’t be all that particular.

    • Justme

      November 14, 2012 at 9:28 am

      I always try to ask the parents what kind of gift they would prefer. I want to make sure that whatever I buy them will be enjoyed and not thrown into the corner or just another piece of crap that clutters up the playroom. But a registry is a little much…figuring out what a child (or their parents) would like is as easy as a text or an email.

      Although I did go to a graduation party where there was a registry….I just got her a gift card anyways – college kids get hungry.

    • [email protected]

      March 30, 2014 at 10:51 pm

      If you know what your baby needs, isn’t it easier to have a registry, than put all the information on the invitation? My grand daughter will be 2 in July, if ten guest buy summer outfits, there may be 3, she would never wear. With a registry, my daughter can pick out some fall and winter items, her daughter can grow into, and a lot less tacky than putting ” cash only” on the invite.

    • Justme

      March 30, 2014 at 10:57 pm

      No. A child does not need a registry for their birthday. Period. It’s tacky.

    • [email protected]

      March 31, 2014 at 9:43 am

      Why? I gave you a good reason to have one, give me a good reason not to. Tacky isn’t a reason.

    • Justme

      March 31, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Tacky is reason enough for me.

    • [email protected]

      April 1, 2014 at 9:09 am

      If that’s the best you can do, than it’s not tacky, you just don’t like the idea.

    • Justme

      April 1, 2014 at 6:22 pm

      I don’t like the idea because it is tacky; it is in poor taste and makes it seem like you are demanding presents for your child. I invite people to my daughter’s birthday party because I want them to join in our celebration, not because I want the to bring her presents….which is the implication of a registry for a child’s birthday.

    • [email protected]

      April 2, 2014 at 9:09 am

      If that’s the case, the same will aply to baby and wedding showers.

    • Justme

      April 5, 2014 at 10:13 pm

      Those are far more practical and socially acceptable. Wedding and baby showers are traditionally centered around setting up young adults with all the necessities they might need for their married and parental life. Creating a registry for your child’s birthday (an event that occurs each year in addition to other gift-giving extravaganzas) is not necessary. And besides…it’s not that difficult to return presents and let your child pick something else out.

    • Justme

      April 5, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      Ahh…now I see it. Upon further inspection of your original statement, you are clinging to this idea of a registry because you feel the need to defend your daughter’s terrible manners. It all makes sense.

    • [email protected]

      April 5, 2014 at 10:52 pm

      Don’t pretend you know me or my daughter. I asked why you claim it’s” tacky” and you still have no valid answer. Your a snob that believes a list if items should be reserved for adults only. I have ask my friends, and think its not a bad idea. Times change maybe you should change with them.

    • Justme

      April 5, 2014 at 11:00 pm

      I’m not a snob…just someone who has common sense and tact. Just because “times change” (which is crap because I’m not old and in the several child birthday parties I’ve been invited to, have NEVER had a registry attached) doesn’t mean that the new stuff being implemented is good.

      If you read through the rest of this thread, (or the rest of this website) you will find that you are in the minority. Most people believe in a certain level of behavior regarding children’s birthday parties and none of the commenters I’ve encountered here are “snobs” – just normal moms trying to do the best for their children. Which includes teaching them to NOT be an entitled little snot by creating a “wishlist” of crap that people must buy them for their birthday.

      So here’s a good reason for not creating a registry – my job is to teach my daughter to be gracious and grateful for gifts that are presented to her, not demanding and entitled. That means she appreciates the company of her friends at her birthday party and sees the gifts as an added bonus, something to be grateful for and not the focus of her special day.

    • [email protected]

      April 6, 2014 at 1:37 am

      Going beyon the scope of this feed, I found that there are many registries for children. Do I think a 7 or 10 year olds should pick out gifts for themselves? No, but for children between the ages of 1-5, there is nothing tacky about it. This is a free country, no one is under any obligation to buy from the list. Why do you believe my daughter, or anyone for that matter, would not be grateful for any gift they would receive for their child, because it would come off a list? Now, that you passed judgment on me and my daughter, I will set you straight, my granddaughter does not have a registry, but it is something to think about. There are more people, than found on this feed, in this country and others, who don’t have an issue with it.

    • Justme

      April 6, 2014 at 8:35 am

      You asked everyone in the entire country their opinion on birthday registries for their children? Impressive. Do tell what your secret is to organization time management because that MUST have been quite the undertaking.

    • [email protected]

      April 6, 2014 at 9:03 am

      You do know, America isn’t the only country with Internet? You do understand your opinion isn’t the only one that matters? While your teaching your child, ” not to be a snot”, maybe you should try, ” insulting people just to get your point across isn’t nice” This topic isn’t black and white, for every person on this feed who thinks its “tacky”, somewhere
      there’s one who doesn’t have an issue. There is no law that saids you must buy something off a registry, if there is one.

    • Justme

      April 6, 2014 at 9:11 am

      But there are rules about using excessive quotations in a run-on sentence.

    • [email protected]

      April 6, 2014 at 9:30 am

      WOW! Your the sentence structure police as well. It’s nice to see, your doing your part to make this world a safer place. I’ll sleep well knowing your on the job.

    • Justme

      April 6, 2014 at 9:33 am


    • [email protected]

      April 6, 2014 at 10:54 am

      You do realize, being obnoxious isn’t a virtue, nor is it good manners?

    • Justme

      April 6, 2014 at 11:01 am

      But you sure are making this a lot of fun.

    • [email protected]

      April 6, 2014 at 11:26 am

      I’ll pray your child grows up to be like its father.

    • Justme

      April 6, 2014 at 6:00 pm

      Aww. Did you get your feelings hurt? This was all in good fun! I admire your dedication to birthday tackiness – there’s a whole industry geared towards materialism like yours. Huzzah for capitalism!

    • [email protected]

      April 6, 2014 at 7:05 pm

      It would take a lot more than a snob to hurt my feelings, but I do feel for the child your raising, if you believe insulting people is fun. If you think you lead the example of what is socially acceptable, I will proudly wrap myself in the “tacky” flag, and socialize with respectful kind hearted people.

    • Justme

      April 6, 2014 at 7:22 pm

      Meh. It was a boring day today and you provided some entertainment. Outside of this conversation, I’m not too bad …but you attacked from the get-go, so I made a game out of it.

      And by the way…I’ve read some of your comments in other places around the internet – you’re not so respectful and kind-hearted yourself, dear.

      Good day.

  19. Kat

    November 13, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    My kids are 2 years apart with their birthdays being only 5 days apart, so we do a lot of joint parties. For my daughter’s 1st birthday, it was just the family, some carrots/celery with ranch, and some chips and dip. We had a cake, just one, and she could mash her piece all she wanted. For my son’s 1st, and my daughter’s 2nd, we had a BBQ at the park, more people (friends as well as some family), but still under 15 people. We asked family to help contribute to the party (we bought the cake, my parents bought the hot dogs, grandparents brought the drinks, etc) so it kept it simple, inexpensive, and everyone had a great time. By the way, my family often does celebrations pot luck style, including birthdays, so it wasn’t something new.

  20. JT

    February 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    — 1st year birthday parties aren’t just about junior turning one. It’s about celebrating the survival of the first year as a family. Some families are large and close knit. If you want to celebrate with the people in your life that matter most, how will you decide with meaningful relationship means more than the other? Some people get a lot of help in their first year as parents and it’s awesome to show that you appreciate them and want them to celebrate with you. If you want a small party, have one. Don’t criticize those who want to spread the love, though.

    Registries are great for families with grandparents (like mine) that will act like it’s Christmas and buy mounds of presents. It’s hard to tell someone what your kid would like if Grandma already bought half of Toys R Us. Registries make it easy to see what gifts your kid would like that haven’t already been purchased three times over. The people attending parties that haven’t had kids before may have a general idea of what your kid likes, but do they really know what’s age appropriate? While the heart was in the right place, I wouldn’t know what to do with a box of legos from Cousin George that he got when he found out junior likes to stack things. Just sayin’.

  21. Kmm

    March 18, 2013 at 2:14 am

    Oh my gosh, genius article. I feel the same way! So ridiculous what people do these days!!! Family & some friends, no gifts, that’s it for us!!!

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