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.
Choose the honorees. Decide which birthdays are going to be celebrated. You might, for example, honor everyone whose birthday falls within a six-week span. If some family members live a distance away, you can even combine birthday celebrations with other occasions, such as Easter or Grandparents Day.
Decide upon the logistics. Deciding upon a time and place is the first step. One family can host the celebration if willing, but be sure the offer to host is un-coerced. 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. Sometimes family members who live in apartments have access to a party room for a reasonable fee. 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.
Get the word out. Once the essentials are decided, everyone needs to be informed. Email or an e-invitation works for almost everyone today. Non-wired family members can be notified with a phone call.
Choose your eats. The menu needs to be kept simple unless there are family members who enjoy pulling off four-layer cakes or homemade pasta. You might want to choose some other option over the traditional birthday cake. My family likes to bake a plain yellow cake or angel-food cake and top it with berries and whipped cream for a dessert that is easier and healthier than most. Cupcakes are popular right now and are readily available at supermarkets and gourmet bakeries. They 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. Another option is to have build-your-own sundaes or banana splits instead of cake. Be sure to buy plenty of canned whipped cream for the kids!
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.
Plan some activities. 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 do this at Thanksgiving, and it is always a hit.) 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.
Consider family sharing time. 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. Family members could share their favorite birthday memories. It's easy to write a tribute poem, and the reading of poems written for the celebrants 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?