Combined Family Birthday Parties

Multi-Generational Celebrations Can Be Fun for All

Family giving birthday party to grandmother
David Sacks / Getty Images

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 and noise!

Here are some suggestions for multi-generational birthday celebrations.

Start Early to Plan a Combined Birthday Party

When two or three family members have birthdays that are very close together, it's natural to honor them with a combined party. Some families go farther and plan a party to honor everyone whose birthday falls within a certain span, such as a month or six weeks. In my family, for example, we usually have an April-May celebration, an August-September celebration and a November-December celebration. We also have a couple of outliers that we celebrate solo.

You can also combine family birthday parties with other occasions. If everyone will be in town for Easter, that's a great time to celebrate spring birthdays. Combine a Grandparents Day celebration with fall birthdays. My nephews have a cluster of March-April birthdays that they sometimes celebrate on St. Patrick's Day. That's fun!

Deciding upon a time and place is the next step. 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. If the weather is warm, look for a local splash pad. Sometimes called spray parks, these facilities are safer than other water activities but rank high in entertainment value.

Sometimes family members who live in apartments have access to a party room for a reasonable fee. Community buildings are also affordable, in most places. Event venues are another possibility, but they can be expensive if you are renting multiple times a year. 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.

Once the essentials are decided, send out an email, text message or an e-invitation. .

Games to Play

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. If the children are mostly school-age or older, play bocce, ladder ball, washers or bean bag toss. These games are great for all generations. 

If you need an indoor game for multiple generations, charades will work. Develop the list of titles ahead of time with an emphasis on titles that almost everyone will know. You can also download an app for your iPad or tablet that replicates the charades experience well. One is simply called Charades, and another is Heads Up.

Catch Phrase is a similar game that some young children are surprisingly good at. Hasbro recommends it for adults, but we’ve found that kids as young as eight can play. Teenagers really love it.

Family Feud is another game that's perfect for family groups. You can buy a home board game version, or a creative host can devise the questions.  

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.

Other Things to Do

Include some more meaningful activities along with the games. For example, start a tradition of having family sharing time during birthday celebrations. Sharing memories, plans or talents could become a cherished tradition. Birthday celebrants can be asked simple questions such as their favorite memory of the year past and their fondest dream for the year to come. Use a family question jar to get everyone talking!

Share talents at birthday parties, and the spotlight can shine on more than just the birthday celebrants. It's easy to write a tribute poem, or to help a grandchild write one, and the reading of poems written for the occasion 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!

Simple crafts are also great for multi-generational groups. Painting rocks to hide is a trending craft that all ages can enjoy. Rocks will need to be washed and painted with primer ahead of time. For easier prep, order Inexpensive craft kits from companies such as Oriental Trading. 

Let's Eat

The menu needs to be kept simple unless there are family members who enjoy pulling off four-layer cakes or homemade pasta.

Traditional birthday cakes are ever-popular, but don't overlook alternatives. For a nice change of pace, skip the cake altogether and go for a sundae bar or make banana splits. Even if you decide on cake, classic layer cakes aren't the only way to go. Consider bundt cakes, angel food, and simple cakes topped with berries and whipped cream. 

Cupcakes are popular right now and are readily available at supermarkets and gourmet bakeries. Cupcakes are also one of the easiest options to make at home. Use paper liners for your muffin pans to save clean-up. Because only the tops of the cupcakes require frosting, that final step is a breeze.

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. Other crowd-pleasers include pasta or baked potatoes with various toppings. A big pot of soup will warm up cold-weather celebrations.

What About Gifts?

Gifts are a part of most birthday celebrations, but they don't have to be. Some families collect donations for a favorite charitable organization instead, or bring toys for a toy drive. This strategy is especially appropriate if child celebrants have already had one party with their friends.