Are first year birthday parties really necessary?

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Birthday Cake

Emira, (author of The Boss of You: Everything A Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run, and Maintain Her Own Business), recently sent us a submission questioning birthday parties celebrating the first year of life. This is what she says:

One of the many beliefs that I held pre-mommyhood, which is now being right and properly challenged, centered around the first birthday party. Why, I naively questioned, would a bunch of adults want to sit around for an afternoon wearing funny paper hats watching a one year old try to stuff cake into her mouth? Who is the party for? If adults really want to have a party, don’t they want to maybe have a glass of wine and some adult conversation? And do one year old’s really notice that there’s a party going on just for them?

I did, in fact, have a whole theory/plan about what my one year old’s party would look like, when and if I ever got here. It would be a cocktail party in celebration of the parents, who had successfully made it through the first year of parenting in tact. It would be a chance for dressing up. There would be champagne. It would be glorious. The baby? Would be at home with a babysitter/loving grandparent asleep. There would be no paper hats and faces smeared with cake icing on the first anniversary of my baby’s birth. That ritual could begin somewhere around year two or three when the kid actually clued into the party thing.

I’ll admit, part of my concern about forgoing the first birthday party is — somewhat ridiculously — bound up in the loss of the photo opp. I worry that my daughter will look back on photos of her as a baby and wonder where the one of her smiling cake smeared face with the iconic “1” candle in the foreground is. We already failed to get a decent (read not blurry or very poorly lit) photo of her in front of her first Christmas tree, and I didn’t even think about braving the mall Santa.

I’m currently thinking I’ll probably try to have the best of both worlds. A small family party, complete with the cake, candle and balloons at her birthday. And then sometime later that week and evening out for her dad and I, with friends, to both celebrate our lovely daughter and to ensure that I get that well deserved glass of champagne.

To party or not to party — what do you guys think?

Comments on Are first year birthday parties really necessary?

  1. I gotta weigh in on this one! I’ve gotten two bits of helpful advice on this issue.

    From one friend: “You know what gift my daughter was most excited about on her first birthday? A MARGARINE TUB.”

    From another: “My rule of thumb with birthday parties is that we have as many kids attending as there are years being celebrated — and that includes the birthday kid.”

    Based on these two perspectives, Tavi’s first birthday was spent with us and some grandmas, him playing with stuff in his Nana’s kitchen. I dressed him up for the occasion, but he didn’t really seem to care. He was mostly interested in the kitchen supplies:

    Tavi's fancy suit

    While I’m all for fancy parties, I just didn’t feel my 1-year-old cared. If you want to have a party, have the party!

    • Ariel,

      The margarine container cracks me up. My daughter’s favourite bath toy (after sucking on a facecloth) is a sour cream tub. Endless fun times. Perhaps we’ll give her a yogurt tub for her birthday…

  2. I love birthdays, and the parties are the best part. For my daughter’s 1st we did have a party, with all her friends “read the kids of people we are friends with” we had free play activites like home made play dough, blocks, finger painting and ended it all with a pinata. It ended up being a big play date and parents got to sit together, drink coffee and visit. I know she wouldn’t have missed it, but her dad and I sure would have!

  3. While it’s not typically my style, it’s a cultural tradition for Asians to celebrate reaching the first year of birth. This is much more important than even preparing for the birth (therefore no baby shower).

    We also performed her “zhua zhou,” a little ceremony that is supposed to foretell her future occupation. Totally Chinese superstition, but it was fun and basically a game a 1 year old can actually participate in for all of 2 minutes.

    We compromised and threw a nice little party for just immediate family. I baked a cake. We ate some pasta and drank a shit ton of wine. There were presents, but she was more interested in the wrapping paper. The most important part was that we all celebrated reaching a milestone – together.

    • We did something similar, well the Viet version called Thoi Noi (or quitting the cradle) that’s usually done at the baby’s first lunar new year birthday, though we did it on her real first bday.

      We did a naming ceremony where we announced here Viet name (she’s half white, half asian). We also did a bit of a baby “blessing” ceremony where my bf and I read speeches about our hopes and dreams for our daughter, as well as our promises to her.

      It was a nice way to fill the time and make it more special than just a bunch of adults standing around watching a kid stuff cake in her face ;D

      Oh and we also had a little quiz, somewhat reminiscent of the kind you see at showers. Basically a test to see who knew our daughter’s habits best (or at least who had been reading the family website updates, haha)

      Here’s a full post about the party in case anyone is interested 🙂

  4. I chose to have the party for the child. I made this choice and was immediately bombarded with people telling me how it didn’t matter what I did, I should just do what I enjoyed, be selfish, because the kid isn’t even aware, blah blah blah. My son loves noise makers and instruments, always has. He loves color and people, and attention. His first birthday was for him entirely. I centered it on things he would love, especially the instruments, people he adored, and stimulating circumstances through color, music, textures etc. His little brain went through a great day, and he was a little rockstar the whole time. Not one ounce of it was ‘for me’. In fact, I was exhausted, but satisfied that while he wouldn’t have a conscious memory of it, the experience definitely had a positive effect on his spongey little brain. This year was his third birthday, and I had the same theories working, but this one he might remember, and finally, that’s the aspect that’s all for me!

  5. We had a party- tons of people were invited, 40ish were in attendance. We kept it simple and reusable as far as decor and food goes, but we wanted to have a huge celebration with all our loved ones. I don’t know why people get hung up on the “they won’t remember it anyway” issue. My son doesn’t remember his first Christmas, and likely won’t remember his second birthday though he will “get it” as far as cake and presents go. It is cause for celebration- something we don’t do enough of, if you ask me. What’s the harm in a little fun? I would not change a thing about our son’s first birthday party. It was simple yet everyone we loved was there, and that was what was important. I wouldn’t say it is “necessary”- to each his own- but I also don’t think that chiding parents who choose to have a party is the right thing to do, either.

  6. I really really believe that the first birthday is less about the kid and more about the parents! it’s a chance to reflect and announce, “look at us! we survived giving BIRTH and the hardest year of our lives!” Yes, your kid is cute and its funny to watch them eat cake for the first time…but honestly, its about the parents.

  7. for us first birthdays are big, we have a large family. the adults ( aunts uncles grandmas ) love to see the birthday baby, and talk to each other like adults. the children get to play with cousins and friends they dont see often. the baby, could care less.. so the party is more for us, but at the same time kid centered because we have so many friends and family with children.

  8. I don’t know if it’s a Hawaiian thing or what, but for my first birthday my parents threw a huge luau in the park, inviting every family member that ever was, and also all the people that were involved in my first year of life: babysitters, playgroup friends…I think my mom invited her obstetrician. It was a “thank the village” party. The pictures are spectacular!

    When my daughter’s first birthday rolled around, I realized the village I’d found for myself was considerably smaller. We found a Hawaiian restaurant, invited my two best friends, my brother and our parents, and reasoned that the kiddo was surrounded by the people that loved her the most.

  9. Our daughter is named after New Orleans (Nola Jean) so we threw Mardi Gras in November for her first birthday.

    She was the only kid there besides her two siblings, there were beads and jazz, plus gumbo, beer, and king cake. And all 30+ adults in attendance had a blast!

  10. My son likes Thomas the Train, so I put up a few decorations and had a blast making a gluten-free cake (So I could eat it too) and decorated it with a real train toy on top. He loved the cake and decorations at his ‘party’.

    I took pictures and we had a special dinner and everything, but I didn’t have guests. The three of us had a good time and it was relaxing.

  11. We didn’t throw a birthday party for my son’s first birthday. I was finishing surgery residency, working 80 hours a week, my husband was fulltime in his job. We were working so hard to keep our family afloat that the thought of doing a party was totally overwhelming to me. The following weekend I made at cake with my mom and we sang happy Birthday for him.

    My brother and his wife threw a huge party for their one year old. Everyone had a great time.

    I don’t think there’s a right answer, as long as you are doing what feels right for you. I think this is a classic issue where many people think they have the right to comment on your decision as a family, and they really should just keep their traps shut. Unless large quantities of bourbon are going in to the 1 year old 😉

  12. We did a party for us, in the daytime. We have a couple friends with kids, so they were there too. I really wanted to celebrate having survived one year of parenting!

    Guests were asked not to bring gifts, but if they felt that they really wanted to, Aspen would appreciate a contribution to her college fund.

  13. um first birthday parties are cute. babies diving into cakes are cute. you don’t have to invite a lot of people to make it a party… heck you could just throw one with you and your husband if you want… hand her the cake with the one on it and take pictures of her blowing it out. wash her up, give her a small gift and take pictures of her opening it. but i would not skip out on it entirely! and yes, she would notice the absence of pictures in her album. it isn’t just about you achieving a milestone it is about her achieving one as well. and i am sure she would want to see that and look back on it just as much as you would.

    and first birthday parties are very very cute.

    i have thrown five and with everyone i was just as excited as the first one. it is exciting for them to turn one… it is a great milestone to say good bye to the baby and hello to the toddler. it is a celebration of getting through the first year. and it is a great way for family to get together on a happy occasion. who cares if the baby won’t remember it? they will still have fun and love eating the cake!! my kids loved their parties, the family had a great time, and i got some great photos that my kids love to look back on and say look, this is my birthday. i was one!

    • This! We’re all about making our own traditions, rather than just doing what’s expected…so we started our tradition of birthday pie for my son’s 1st. He got a tiny pie with a #1 candle on top and then later in the day, I filled the living room with balloons and gave him his present to unwrap: a new sippy cup. He’s the first grandkid on both sides, so toys are the last thing he needed at 1 yo and none of us are big on parties (not mention, December in the midwest isn’t helpful for party attendance). We still have super cute pictures, with none of the hassle! If you’re a totally different person and love hosting parties though, go for it with no shame!

  14. We’re still a few months away from the first birthday party, but we will definitely be having one. I know that my son doesn’t entirely understand that it’s a party in his honour, but he does sense when people are happy and having fun, and joins in.
    And of course, the photo op is too good to pass up.

  15. Do what makes YOU happy. Want a party? Throw a party! Want a soirée? Throw one!

    Compromise (with a small photo opp party) or don’t.

    We had a small playdate: two other kids (we played with regularly anyway). There was a grandma or two (depending how you count). And parents. It was fabulous, just fun with no fuss. And I got great photos.

    (My son was born on Mother’s Day so I took that day to celebrate with grown up dinner. We had company — aforementioned grandmas were in town visiting — and we all went out to a semi fancy place. With our kid. Who did fine bc we ate out a lot back then.)

    I seriously do not understand why anyone would try to tell you what kind of party to have (or not have). Except maybe grandmothers, who have vested interests! LOL (I also don’t understand party one-upping, but that’s big around here, too. Sigh.)

  16. We had a fantastic party when our daughter turned 1, so much fun that I feel like her 2nd birthday will pale in comparison! I felt Really Really proud of having made it to a year old, that we weathered the storms, the anxiety, and all the ups and downs of year 1. So I rented my local community playroom and we commissioned a really fun cake and cupcakes and I invited all my friends! Friends from mommy group, single friends, people with older children — everyone! We let the kids play in the playroom while the grownups chatted and relaxed. It was really laid back but so much fun. I definitely had a great time and it was nice to have everyone celebrating our 1st year of parenthood with us. 🙂

  17. We had a potluck picnic at a park that had a petting farm. We insisted no gifts. No decorations, just playing and eating. We took pics of her with chocolate pudding on her face, and we sang the song. Even if she doesnt remember it, I do.

  18. My nephew’s parents threw him a 1st birthday party – no one but family and very close friends. The adults drank mimosas and chatted, the (three) kids ran around inside and out, and we all had a good time. His 2nd birthday party was exactly the same, with mostly the same people.

    I think having a 1st birthday party is a great idea, as long as it’s relatively small (family and family friends only), and doesn’t involve ridiculous expense (no renting a hall and hiring clowns, etc.). Just make it as low-stress as possible, and not very long – more than a couple of hours and the kid starts to stress out!

    AND, only do it if YOU want to – the kid won’t notice or care, even YEARS down the road! I have no pictures of any of my birthday parties as a really small kid, and I’ve never missed them! If you need a photo op, make a cake, put a candle on it, put on a silly hat, and takes pictures – at dinner one night!

    • I dont think any of the kids in our family have photos from our very young birthdays either. To be honest I have no idea if we even had parties or not, its never come up!

  19. My birthday is the summer, and every year until I turned ten my parents threw a big backyard bbq with their friends. The only other kids there (besides me and my siblings) were my parent’s friends’ kids. And that was totally fine. Everyone had a blast – the kids ran wild, the parents got buzzed, everyone ate hotdogs. Good times.

  20. I don’t actually have a child of my own but recently witnessed by good friend’s daughter’s first birthday. They had the hats, the cake for smashing, a change of clothes and plastic covering everything up. Want to know what she did? She screamed and cried. She wanted absolutely nothing to do with the cake or anyone watching her. Stage fright? perhaps. Needless to say my friend’s “1st Birthday photos” weren’t exactly what she wanted. So do what you want. Have a cocktail party. If you feel guilty about no having any baby photos, keep the baby home! Perhaps high a babysitter for the night. Good luck

  21. Not until I had my son did I realize how heavily debated this topic is- then again that’s true of so many topics I have found myself learning about in the past two years.

    Anyway, I agree with the sentiment of “do what you like.” My boyfriend was on the “he’s not even going to remember” train and I was sort of indifferent. My mother was super enthusiastic to throw him the biggest first birthday bash…ever (we have t-shirts, banners, all kinds of madness). Both my niece and nephew died very young so Ruben is a big deal in our circle of family and friends. Plus, my Puerto Rican family hardly needs a reason to party.

    I was relieved that all I had to do was show up and it really made an impact on me to see all our friends come together to celebrate Ruben and our little family. He had a blast and there are some seriously wonderful photos from the event.

    All in all, I don’t really gel with the “he/she won’t remember” because he’s not remembering any of this year but I’m still excited to celebrate it an document.

    To party or not to party. Do what you like. Sorry for the super long comment- couldn’t help myself

  22. I love, love to plan and host parties. Our baby isn’t quite here yet, but I would say yes, we will have a party. However, I’d say it will most likely BE the adult party with some wine and for everyone to chat about their kids or what not. I would probably decorate, because that kind of thing gets me all hot and bothered. I don’t see anything wrong with NOT having a party for your one year old. They won’t remember anyway! It’s all about whatever makes YOU feel good.

  23. We threw one. It was mostly a chance for me to make a robot shaped birthday cake, and paint an invitation with a robot riding a unicorn and shooting rainbows out of a lazer gun. So, yes, it was about me getting to show off. But my daughter has a lot of people who love her, and some family happened to be home from halfway across the country so it was a good opportunity to get everyone together.

  24. When my son’s 1st birthday started to get close and people started to ask me about a party, I was genuinely baffled. Why would adults want to go to a 1-year-olds party? And there was no way the 1-year-old would care or remember. I kept asking what the point was.

    Finally one of my friends said the point is to take pictures so that years later you can show your kid their first birthday party.

    That sounded better than the usual responses so we did the whole party thing, including cupcakes with frosting even though my son hates sweets. He refused to eat any so I had to shove one in his face for the pictures.

    Ah, nothing like staged memories ^_~

  25. You know..we totally had a party for Jasper, and it was totally hit or miss. I mean, it seemed like everyone, including him, enjoyed it, and it was definitely a celebration of both his first year and OUR first year of parenthood, which was cool. It was pretty low-key, with family and some friends invited, a few kids that he was somewhat familiar with, and we had it in the backyard of the home of two of our good friends. (photos:

    Looking back, I’m really glad we did it the way we did. I wish that Sean and I had prepared for it a little bit ahead of time, but I’m glad we didn’t go all out and theme it or anything.

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