Alternating Birthday Party Years: How We Celebrate Birthdays


A wise friend once told me that in their home, they have birthday parties for their kids every other year. I can’t remember her exact reasoning or explanation, but what I do know is my husband and I adopted her idea, and LOVE alternating birthday party years, and so do our kids.

Balloons used for decorating a birthday party
Birthday Balloons

Our older daughter turned nine on April 13th, and our younger turned five in January. This is an “off” birthday party year. For us, that means we don’t have a big party, we don’t invite friends over, and each child doesn’t get a bundle of gifts.

What we do get is extra special family time.

Typically, we let each child choose something they would like to do to celebrate, for example:

  1. Indoor ice skating at Leddy Park
  2. A visit to Jay Peak Waterpark
  3. A night at a hotel with a pool, such as the Hilton or the Sheraton
  4. Family rock climbing at MetroRock or Petra Cliffs

You get the point.

Our kids love our alternating birthday party system because they feel fully in control. They choose the activity, and we, the rest of the family, go along and participate.

Not having a giant party and loads of gifts doesn’t mean that we don’t celebrate our wonderful little peoples’ special day, or that we get off easy by not having a party. It means that we celebrate in a different way on alternating years. Our kids have come to look forward to their birthday party year, and just as much, if not more, to their “off” birthday party year. Not only does our alternating birthday party year give us more family time, which honestly we are always trying to do, it makes it more enjoyable to plan the birthday party for the following year. I don’t dread the party year any more, instead I look forward to it.

Part of us making the switch to celebrating with a party every other year was that I was beginning to dread my daughters’ birthdays. Again, not because I don’t love them, or don’t want to celebrate the wonderful people they are and who they are becoming, but because I know how much work it is to host a party. We all know. I also think there is a lot of pressure on our kids to host a great party, make the tough choice of who to invite, have everyone feel included at the party, and to not play favorites when opening their gifts.

Until our older daughter was five, we had a birthday party for her every year. One year, we had a costume party, another party was held at Smugglers Notch Funzone, and another year we held a craft party. All of our birthday parties were great and our older daughter loved having family and friends there to help her celebrate, but let’s be real, they were also a LOT of work and a large expense for our whole family. A lot of work leading up to the day, a lot of work on the party day itself, and a lot of work the following days with writing thank you notes, cleaning up the mess, and finding space for the mountain of birthday gifts.

Birthday gifts

Birthday Gifts Galore

My husband and I decided to make the switch to our alternating birthday party year system after our older daughter turned 6. This is because we had recently moved to a new town and wanted to help her get to know some new friends- and a great way to do this in mass quantity is to have a birthday party.

I realize many of you may have older kids and are thinking there is no way you can make this shift. Fear not, I have faith that you can.

Here are my suggestions for ways to make the alternating party idea appealing to your older kids:

  1. Be excited: Excitement rubs off, so if they see you are excited and invested in this system, they will more likely go with it
  2. Make it a discussion, not a demand from you.  Kids are more likely to be agreeable when they get to have input in the decision-making process
  3. Pull out the computer and research some fun things they can choose from for their “off” birthday years. Remember, as with everything in parenting, the activities need to be approved by you first, so only suggest activities you agree with
  4. Explain to them how much the family loves celebrating the unique person they are, and that by doing something as a family, the focus is really on them and they get to be the leader in the decision
  5. Brainstorm some ideas of themes or places to host their next birthday on a “party year.”  We tend to let our kids decide the theme or place they want their party, because when we party every other year, it’s easier for me to give them flexibility. Have paper and pen available for ideas and thoughts, that way you can have an ongoing list of places they want to go as a family, or where they want to have their next party.

Our younger daughter has grown up with this way of celebrating, and she thinks it’s pretty special.

This year, an “off” birthday year, both of our girls shared that they wanted to celebrate by going to the American Girl Doll Store in New York City. Now, this is MUCH more expensive, time consuming, expensive (did I already mention that) and extravagant than we would normally ever do, BUT, my husband and I have been wanting to take a family trip to the city, so you know the saying, two birds, one stone? Our girls think they are getting a super great birthday trip, while we finally have the push to  plan the trip we have wanted to do for several years now. So, in June, our family will take on New York City’s American Girl Doll Store, along with all the other sights and sounds of the city. We also have a few other fun stops planned, so keep your eyes peeled for a post on how we plan and execute this trip.

How do you celebrate your kids’ birthdays? If you’re interested in making the shift to partying every other year, let me know how it goes!

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Nicole Pfende
I was born in California, and moved to Vermont when I was two, so I consider myself a native Vermonter. Married to one heck of a guy, Kelvin, who deals with all my crazy shenanigans and almost always goes along with my off the wall ideas. We live in Jericho with our two daughters, Munashe age 9, and Kuziva age 5. In life before kids, I worked in the non-profit sector working in public schools with children and families. These days you can find me chauffeuring, playing, cooking, gardening, attempting to run, cleaning or spending time with family and friends. Family time is key, and we strive to have as much play time as possible. Traveling, skiing, hiking, swimming, and eating maple creemees are some of our favorite activities. Personally, I love setting goals, writing lists, reading, gardening, organizing and dreaming of far off lands.


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