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Multiple generations of family having a party

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Multiple generations of family members having a party

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How to throw Southern birthday parties for every stage of life

Every year we age, birthdays seem to become less and less welcome, but we’re taking a stand and saying that should change. Whether you’re throwing a first, 30th or 90th birthday, you deserve to thoroughly enjoy every minute of your big day!

We’re here to guide you through (roughly) each stage of life with ideas to suit each chapter.

Cake before talking and walking … obviously
You know we love cake here at Southern Kitchen and smash cake is possibly the cutest cake there is. A smash cake is a cake prepared for a baby turning one year old. The bambino is expected to dive right in, smash the dessert into bits and cover his or her face in icing. A first birthday party should be straightforward. Invite your closest family but be mindful of overwhelming your new one-year-old — don’t commit to too much time to the event and cause a meltdown. The photos of your birthday boy or girl are all you need to remember this momentous occasion.

Baby with smash cakeStart blowing up the bounce house, y’all
Birthday parties for children are the easiest to plan. There’s a standard recipe for success in a kid’s birthday party: junk food, cake, activity, entertainment and goodie bags.

Ensure that your mini-me gives an invite to every child in his or her class so that no one feels left out, and be sure to include any cousins or family friends that would like to celebrate. You’ll want to talk to the parents of the kids attending to get information on allergies or special circumstances that require extra planning and agree on drop-off and pick-up times.

We’re all about disguising homemade food as junk food, so serving a few homegrown tomato pies in lieu of calling Domino’s sounds like a happy medium that parents and kiddos won’t fuss about. Many kids will love cheese straws and MoonPie cake just as much as French fries and a store-bought confection. (Cheese! Marshmallows!) Bonus points if you use trick candles.

Planning activities for the kids is essential — you need to keep them distracted while you chat with fellow parents — but don’t let them out of your sight if they’re swimming, of course. If you don’t have a pool, a bounce house is always a classic choice. Need more ideas? Try laser tag, duck-duck-goose, Twister or paint ball, depending on the average age of the guests.

Themes are crucial to kids’ birthday parties. Turn to your child if they’re old enough to speak and ask what their favorite thing is right now. Expect an answer along the lines of unicorns, trucks, puppies, football or mermaids and roll with it. If you’re planning a princess party, plan accordingly by hiring entertainment that fits the theme. Pro tip: Avoid clowns and magicians; they will scare even the adults in attendance. Goodie bags can pull a theme together and make each child feel special. Safe candy and toys (avoid choking hazards) are essential, and make sure to keep the cost affordable, at or below $3 per bag. If you want to be the most popular family on the block (we see you, Jonses!), add small parent gifts, such as a jar of spicy-tangy fig and apple chutney tied with a bow, to your list.

Sweet Sixteen to hitting the bar scene
Planning a party for a teenager can certainly be a feat as interests and temperaments can change dramatically. The foundations of both a teen and the milestone 21st birthday party are similar, though alcohol should not be present in the former, of course.

Teenagers and young college students want a couple of main elements to be present at their parties: friends and dancing. Whether your son wants to celebrate his birthday at TopGolf or your daughter wants her bash at the Country Music Hall of Fame, you’ll need to plan tasty food and let them invite their friends.

A twenty first birthday is even simpler — bar hopping is (finally!) age-appropriate and dinner should precede because tasty food is ageless.

End an era properly
When the dreaded 30th birthday approaches, the feeling can be ominous. The twenties are possibly the decade in which the most changes in life occur and you may feel like you’re expected to end them with all of your ducks in a row. But you were just playing duck-duck-goose, right? Well, strap in because there is life after 29.

You’re no longer celebrating birthdays with classmates you barely know but are obligated to invite and you’re also no longer showing a brand new drinking-age ID to the bicycle cops in downtown Athens, GA, so what’s a newly 30-year old lady or gentleman to do? Depending on whether you’re single or married this could vary, but inviting your closest friends over for a low-key (read: low-key) house party, renting a room at a restaurant or meeting at a brewery are all great options. If you’re not satisfied with playing giant lawn games, feel free to plan a day of laser tag and bowling (not just for kids!) or a dinner cruise in Savannah because you’re an adult now and you’re free to celebrate how you please.

Themes are also welcome for a 30th birthday party; consider a mixology-themed party with the moniker “Dirty 30,” a Great Gatsby-meets-murder-mystery theme or maybe a huge Summer picnic in a park.  (Don’t forget to hide your mimosa in a Sovaro wine tumbler!)

Middle age is the new twenties
Approaching middle age does not necessitate a red Corvette; a simple family and family-friend affair to mark 40 or 50 is all you need. Whether that’s reserving the back room of your favorite local haunt after a round of golf with your buddies or a day of spa treatments with your gals, bringing together your favorite people in one space is all you need. Mix and mingle family and friends because there’s no better time in life to do so! Better yet — throw a cookout or tailgating party with barbecue and have your entire alma mater attend.

A life well-lived deserves the biggest party
If you ask most Southerners, the pinnacle of life is when you’ve reached a ripe age like 80 or 90 and you’re celebrating your birthday surrounded by grandchildren, their spouses, babies, cousins and everyone in between. A party at this age is essentially a family reunion, so plan for a big crowd, a.k.a lots of food and batched drinks. Preparing Southern classics like squash soufflé, cornbread and barbecue will please any palate.

Show the special guest how much you adore them in a unique way. I recently attended my husband’s great aunt’s 96th birthday party and she was delighted to find 96 balloons (yes, really 96) adorning her famous garden of day lilies in North Georgia. Thoughtful gestures go a long way to showing loved ones how much you care no matter what age they’re turning.

Every chapter of life deserves a celebration so never a groan about that growing number — celebrate your every minute of it in style.  

Photo credit (baby with smash cake): Fion + Boon Newborn Photography Facebook
Photo credit (adult backyard party): Lauren Conrad Facebook


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Lindsay Davis is the Digital Audience Development Specialist at Southern Kitchen. She is the czar of all things content distribution with a background in digital marketing and analytics. She has worked with brands including StarbucksVeuve Clicquot and Florida Department of Citrus. A native of the Empire of the South itself, proud former Georgia Bulldog and American University alumna, she returned to Atlanta after exploring her education and career (and the food scenes) in Washington, DC and New York City with a fresh perspective on life and dining.

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