Themed Parties vs. Non-Themed Parties (Also. How to Throw a Policeman Party in a Snap!)

March 19, 2014

Policeman-Themed Birthday Party Ideas  |  Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Paul Ferney, and a few by Gabrielle.

I’ve been thinking about birthday parties, and really, parties in general. We threw a themed party last month for our nephew, Roman, and it was delightful. I describe all the details below. The party came together really quickly, and having a theme made it feel like it was well-planned and organized and not last-minute at all. This was the first themed-birthday we’ve had since we moved back to the U.S.. In France, we did host a spa-themed-party for Maude once, but in general we adopted the local way of celebrating which was equally fun but less planned and definitely less themed.

Policeman Theme Birthday Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Birthday Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Birthday Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Birthday Party Ideas  |  Design Mom

In France, we found that people would invite kids over for a birthday party, and that there would be simple party games and activities requiring little forethought — typically very low cost, like making leaf boats and floating them down the backyard stream, or playing Simon Says (Jaques a dit). There were simple decorations, maybe a little garland or a few balloons, but again, nothing really “themed”. Now this may have been because we lived in such a rural area. Perhaps in Paris, there are themed birthday galore, I really have no idea. But regardless, we truly enjoyed these simpler parties. They didn’t take much planning, you could put them together with what you had a home, and they were very low stress. In fact the only stressful part about them, was hosting in French when we weren’t very good at speaking. : )

Policeman Theme Birthday Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Birthday Party Ideas  |  Design Mom

Both Betty and June have birthdays coming up next month, so I’ve been thinking about how we might celebrate, and wondering if we might try one of those simpler French-style parties. Then again, I do get a kick out of putting together decked out party with a theme as well! I suppose I could go either way.

What are your thoughts? Do you have opinions about the current birthday culture in the U.S.? I know that parties can get over-the-top quickly, and that some families feel pressure to put on a lavish celebration with rented bounce houses, and invitations for a hundred people. Others feel like the party needs to be Pinterest-worthy with every detail planned down the cupcake toppers. And I know others reject the whole birthday party culture out right and instead keep it really simple with family-only get togethers. How do you do it at your house?

Also, if you’re curious, or have a child who’s craving a policeman-themed celebration, you can find out all the party details below.

Policeman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design Mom

Last month we found out my sister Jordan and my brother-in-law Paul were trying to figure out how to throw their little son Roman a birthday party while their house was all torn up with a kitchen renovation. He had requested a policeman party, and Jordan was thinking she would need to postpone it for a few weeks. But I mentioned the party to my kids and their eyes lit up! We could host it here! We could decorate! We could turn the kiddie car into a police car! We could host it the next day — on a Sunday afternoon! And since there was no school on Monday (it was Presidents’ Day), the cousins could sleepover while their parents did more renovation work! Perfect.

So we made a plans and we ran errands: Party City for balloons, paper goods, police badges and handcuffs, then Michaels for duct tape and a piece of posterboard, Target for silly string and chalk, and finally Ace Hardware for a roll of caution tape. Done and done.

Policeman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design Mom

The party went like this: Guests arrived around 5:00 on Sunday. The house was decorated with caution tape and balloons in blue, yellow and silver. The kids put on their police badges and the first activity was chalk body outlines — totally morbid! — but the kids thought was awesome. I debated whether or not we should do it, but finally decided it was so old-school that it felt very pretend. So I got on board.

Policeman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design Mom

Next up was pin the badge on the policeman. I found an illustration online, then freehanded it onto the posterboard. Badges were cut from blue cardstock and pieces of blue painters tape were put on the back.

Policeman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design Mom

As pin-the-badge was ending, a Bad Guy ran into the room and stole the presents! Oh no!!

Policeman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design Mom

Luckily, he left a clue, and the kids ended up running all over the yard, and through the house, going from clue to clue on the Bad Guy hunt.

Policeman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design Mom

The last clue told the kids to get in the police car (transformed from a kid-size Jeep with cardboard and duct tape) and head to the back stairs.

Policeman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design Mom

There they found the bad guy! Our heros sprayed him with Bad Guy spray, handcuffed him, and the gifts were saved!

Policeman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design MomPoliceman Theme Party Ideas  |  Design Mom

Next it was time for food. Taco salad for everyone, and a Donut Cake (because policemen love donuts!).

It was lots of fun. And my kids were so helpful putting it together. Maude blew up balloons, decked the porch in caution tape (the caution tape was Betty’s brilliant idea), and made the clues for the bad guy chase. Olive made the cardstock badges and the donut cake. Ralph played the bad guy and even made the bad guy mask. The aunts and uncles went home for the night and we tucked all the cousins in after a movie and slept in late on Monday. Everyone was happy.

P.S. — Speaking of birthdays, I love simple birthday traditions! Find some of our favorites here and here.

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Weekend Pretties | All Sorts of Pretty
March 21, 2014 at 5:50 am

{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jan @ Family Bites March 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm

What fun! This is the perfect balance between having a theme for the party yet not making it too precious and perfect.

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2 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Thanks, Jan. I felt the same way. It was themed enough so that the birthday boy was in heaven, but it didn’t require anything too fussy — which was especially helpful because we didn’t have much time to put it together. : )

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3 Jill March 19, 2014 at 1:23 pm

So fun! I do love simple parties with cousins and few close friends. One of my favorite things is a special outing, like the tubbing park in park city Utah and then home for cocoa and pizza.

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4 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 2:13 pm

I like outings for birthdays, too! As my kids get older, they often prefer an outing or experience instead of a party.

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5 Alice March 19, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Love your (white?) specs! Can you show them better in another post? I used to hate wearing glasses and wore the most invisible ones in my teens (those awkward years…) but now I’ve embraced my poor eyesight and have big obvious ones which will probably look ridiculous in a few years…

Oh and I love themed parties, this one’s really sweet. I’m already planning my annual Eurovision party (I live in the UK). Knitted flags anyone?

Alice x

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6 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Thanks, Alice! Let me see if I have a better photo. They’re sort of a cat eye shape.

And your Eurovision party sounds delightful!

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7 Nora March 19, 2014 at 1:57 pm

This is such a sweet party with the family, but isn’t the mom Jordan of Oh Happy day? I thought she was the queen of parties. With everything she posts on her website, I expected to see something extraordinary.

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8 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Yes, Jordan is my sister and yes she throws extraordinary parties! She’s amazing at parties. But Jordan was a guest, she didn’t throw this party, it was put on by me and my kids. And we had a great time doing it! We were so glad we could help out at the last minute.

I can see from your comment you don’t think much of the party, but I can tell you the kids were over the moon about it! Especially the guest of honor and birthday boy, Roman.

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9 Amy March 19, 2014 at 2:34 pm

I think it was a lovely party. I relate to Jordan…just because I am a wonderful cook doesn’t mean I don’t want to outsource sometimes. I also have five supportive sisters who would jump in to help out and host a fun party in if a birthday happened to fall when I was in the middle of a huge project. What a fun party and i’m sure your children had so much fun helping!

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10 Nora March 19, 2014 at 2:47 pm

You got me wrong, I think it IS a sweet party. The photos show how happy the kids are. I have been reading Jordan’s website and used some of her party ideas in my kids’ birthdays. That’s why I was surprised. As I said, I was expecting something similar to what she’d been presenting on her website. But now I understand she was not involved in the preparations, and that you were helping her while she was busy with the kitchen renovation. It seems it was a memorable day for your nephew, and that’s the most important thing.

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11 Amanda March 20, 2014 at 9:23 am

If this wasn’t an amazing party, I don’t know what would be! Good grief! I think this party looks fantastic…. the police car, robbers, a bad guy hunt, cute decorations and the donut cake! Such a cute idea!…. seriously what more would you do for a policeman party!? It was extraordinary! Well done and so very creative and cute!!

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12 this girl loves to talk March 23, 2014 at 2:53 am

you mustn’t read jordans blog closely. She is the biggest advocate of keeping it simple. make a piñata or bold statement piece and order in the food, make fancy food, buy the decorations. She usually sticks to only a few elements. This party had plenty of elements and fun.

I do like theme parties Gabby because it takes away any thought for what type of piñata, colours, cake idea, etc

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13 Nikki March 19, 2014 at 2:49 pm

First off, that donut cake looks so delicious! If I didn’t have a sleeping baby on me at the moment, I’d be in the car going to my local donut shop. I doubt they would look as delicious and perfect anyway!

My son turns one in June and I started planning his party the night before my induction because I couldn’t sleep. I know everyone who makes it to the party will think it is crazy and out of control but I feel like it’s more than a birthday celebration. His first birthday party is not only a celebration of his birth but also that we have been a family for one year and that we made it a year when in the sleepless early months we worried we wouldn’t make it to 3 months.

I love a good themed party. I know that comes from my Mom who was the queen of themed parties when I was younger. I’ve always looked forward to throwing themed parties but I do appreciate the simple beauty of a party that just comes together with what you have on hand. Even though I love a theme, I try not to put too much pressure on myself or anyone helping to have everything be perfect. Throwing a party should be fun both in the planning and at the party, not stressful.

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14 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 3:27 pm

“Even though I love a theme, I try not to put too much pressure on myself or anyone helping to have everything be perfect. Throwing a party should be fun both in the planning and at the party, not stressful.”

Wise words!

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15 Anna March 19, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Is this theme-party thing something new? As a kid (in the eighties), we had simple parties like you say the French have: pin-the-tail-on-the donkey, musical chairs, blind man’s bluff, and then some cake and ice-cream. Sometimes my mom would decorate the cake according to a special request like a castle or a merry-go-round, but that’s about as close as we got to a theme.

I don’t think I really like the current assumption that there has to be a theme. It seems like it easily devolves into showing off – social status symbols for six-year-olds. Whether there’s a theme or no theme, I’d want my son to know that the party is not the theme but the people celebrating together.

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16 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 3:30 pm

I don’t think it’s new, but it does seem like it’s more common now (but hopefully not expected!). I suppose it depends on the family you grew up in. My mom enjoyed putting on parties. The first birthday memory I have was a Holly Hobby themed party — with a special Holly Hobby cake she made from scratch! My mom happened to be really good at decorating cakes. She decorated cakes at a bakery as a job during college.

I also remember a breakfast themed-party when I turned 6 years old. The invitations were sunrises made from construction paper and the text was a Kellogg’s commercial tagline (It’s gonna be a great day!), and the party was held on a Saturday morning. The cake was made of rice krispies — a sand castle mold filled with rice krispie treat — to keep with the breakfast theme.

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17 Anna March 19, 2014 at 7:46 pm

You’re probably right it’s mostly the family you grew up in – my mom, by her own admission, hasn’t got a creative bone in her body. Both your and your mom’s theme parties do sound like a lot of fun. I like how simple you managed to keep the police party – the donut cake is brilliant.

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18 Shannon March 27, 2014 at 9:01 pm

I had a Holly Hobby cake, too! And another year, a cake with a Barbie stuck in it, which they still do nowadays. I hadn’t heard mention of Holly Hobby in ages….

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19 Jocelyn March 19, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Most of my kids’ parties have been themed, although sometimes it may just be themed with a color. My daughter just turned 4 and wanted a rainbow party which I kept pretty low key on the decorations. I made pretty mobiles with just crepe paper in all the colors hung from embroidery hoops and hung them from our pergola. They were so pretty as they blew in the wind and it was fast to make them. I also just ripped off pieces of the leftover crepe paper and hung them from the branches of our trees. So the whole yard was rainbowy with hardly any money spent. She also wanted it to be my little pony themed but I just had some references in a couple places and actually ended up renting a pony for the kids to ride. We really debated whether or not to do that. We didn’t want to seem pretentious (I think I felt that way because you always think of a little rich girl getting a pony for her birthday present) or make other parents feel like they had to “beat” that for their next party etc. But my daughter has always wanted to ride a horse and I thought it would be such a great memory for all the kids. And it cost the same as renting a jump house or doing the party at a jump house place which a lot of people do, so I finally went for it. We’ll def. do her party more low key next year but it was fun to do for her since her big brother has had a couple parties at a jumpy place and we didn’t want our middle child to feel like she gets the short end of the stick. :) We also didn’t do any organized games since the kids just played in our yard and rode the pony. I did find a rainbow, plastic horseshoe set at Hobby Lobby which I thought was a fun nod to the pony theme.

I love your policeman party, just perfect! You guys are so creative and did a great job. I am sure Roman just loved it. And it is awesome that all the kids were involved with the process.

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20 mom in mendon March 19, 2014 at 3:38 pm

What fun! Fun for the birthday boy and fun for the older kids who made it happen. I especially like the way they worked together to make Roman’s police fantasy come true. Clever, considerate cousins.

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21 Christina Lacourte March 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm

It’s interesting that you bring up the difference between the French and American birthday parties. My boys go to a French school here in SF, and we have birthday parties to go to practically every weekend. Whenever it’s a French (from France) family it’s usually lovely and always, as you say, very simple. One of my favorite differences is the cakes – they’re usually some variation of a homemade, non frosted cake with some sort of whipped cream and fruit combo between the layers. Delicious! And so much better than the sickeningly sweet, overly frosted American versions…however, I’m not sure the kids would agree :-)

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22 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Simple French cake is wonderful. And they teach even very young kids to bake those simple yogurt cakes. It’s adorable!

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23 Eliza March 19, 2014 at 5:36 pm

I can feel the excitement in those pictures where they catch the “bad guy”. This is absolutely adorable!!

Growing up I don’t remember if we had themed parties or not, but I do remember some years having huge parties (everyone in my school class) and some years only having one or two friends and going out (something like the fair or another biggish event), some years I’m sure we had themes too with a larger group of friends and cousins. I think all are fun, if they vary and don’t become too stressful for the parents!

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24 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Totally! I don’t have a picture of it, but Roman’s face was pure shock and horror as the bad guy stole the presents, then glorious happiness as he caught the bad guy. So cute!!!

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25 Summer March 20, 2014 at 9:43 am

Moses’ face in that picture where the Bad Guy is being sprayed with silly string is PRICELESS! I can tell they had a wonderful time! I think this party is perfect!

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26 Jenny also March 19, 2014 at 5:38 pm

I think this party looks so fun; simple while still being very special and thoughtful. Hey, even I could pull most of that off with the exception of hand drawing the police officer.

But what truly shines through in your words and images is the love and connection shared. Your loving desire to help your sister; taking this party on so she has one less thing to take care of during a busy time. The adoring look June is giving her cousin as he readies to play “pin the badge.” The fun and excitement Ralph brought to playing the bad guy for the younger ones’ enjoyment. The joy you all had in being together to celebrate your nephew. I’m inspired.

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27 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 8:13 pm

It was a happy little gathering. It felt especially good to me to finally be able to help out when my head had been out of commission for so many months.

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28 Sharon March 19, 2014 at 6:02 pm

I love the party!! We live in the suburbs of DC and home themed parties are almost obsolete. I have two school aged kids who have been invited to many parties at bounce houses, Rock climbing, Chuckee Cheese, etc but they’ve each only been to one home party. Sometimes I wish I could go that route but there is no greater feeling than pulling off a fun, creative birthday party that doesn’t take away the college savings. For me there is a balance between crazy pinterest creative and simple basic fun. I am amazed how “pin the tail” a scavenger hunt, and a pinate don’t get old!! I loved your policeman party and especially how your older kids got in on the fun. So memorable!

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29 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 8:17 pm

There is something really lovely about hiring out a party and just getting to show up. Outsourcing can be such a relief!

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30 Tasha March 19, 2014 at 6:29 pm

1. I love the idea of someone trusting me enough to let go…my (slightly control freak in a good way)sister let me give her son a two-year old party a few years ago and my husband and I adored doing this! At first, my sis gave a few “suggestions” lol, but soon realized it would be great and it was! I still cherish that memory and being a part of such an occasion :)
2. My sis and I laugh how we were allowed parties and fun and our parents brought us to get decorations, etc., but WE did all the work at very young ages. Taping up cutouts, streamers and balloons and we still marvel at that! Perhaps why we really get into it when we have a gathering!?
3. I really can’t say I’m on board with the police theme, especially the body outlines…morbid, yes, but just why play into the violence in the world? I did, however, see the fun and creativity which was evident in pics. The old-fashioned/cartoony vibe of the criminal made me change my tune some, lol.

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31 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 8:19 pm

I know what you mean! If you’re someone who likes to throw parties and cares about the details, it can be torture to let someone else take over. Hah!

I don’t know if it was hard for Jordan to let it go. Kitchen renovations are brutal, so I hope it was mostly a relief to hand it off. And I’m sure it helped that Roman is 4, and would be delighted with almost any party.

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32 Sally from Little Hiccups March 20, 2014 at 1:21 am

I really struggle with letting someone else take over the plans!
While the idea of someone else doing all the hard work is nice I still want to be involved with every little step. A friend is throwing me a baby shower this weekend and I’m sure it will be perfect (she’s quite the party perfectionist) but it still feels really weird knowing that someone else has done all the work.

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33 Tasha March 20, 2014 at 11:51 am

LOL I get it, too! It IS too much fun and even satisfaction – an accomplishment! I much rather spoiling everyone else vs. myself, I think that’s a big part of it, it’s showing love too:)
You will be too busy being center of attention – congrats and enjoy♥

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34 Tasha March 20, 2014 at 11:53 am

BIG relief I’m sure:)
And a lot of work on your part too, of course!

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35 Shannon March 27, 2014 at 8:57 pm

I made a cake for my oldest son’s first birthday party, but after that, my mom took over! Cakes are fun to make, but it was a great way for her to be involved and it was actually quite a relief not to have to worry about it! And as the kids have grown, they’ve helped Grammy make their cakes and it’s become a special tradition for them.

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36 Amy March 19, 2014 at 6:39 pm

We love themed birthday parties in our house, and we go all out. The important part is that WE do it–the kids and the adults. It’s child-led and it’s their fantasy world brought to life for a day. The parties often book-related (Harry Potter, Charlotte’s Web) but always involve deep and immersive fantasy play, which in my mind is exactly the point of childhood.

I find that my kids have boundless energy for completing projects related to parties, just like they are far more likely to complete gifts, rather than things that feel like assignments or like pointless tasks (and because we homeschool, parties are a great way to do school while doing life). It’s a terrifically easy place in our lives for creativity. I generally have a vision, but unlike at other times of the year, it’s easy for me to let parts of it fall away as the party approaches and not everything gets done.

Most of our parties take lots of planning and scheming ahead of time, but just a day of actual work to put together, like Gabrielle’s police party. Most are very cheap (papier mache pinatas, treasure maps to find pennies). Most wouldn’t look great on Pinterest. All are intense and exhausting and totally worth it.

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37 Design Mom March 19, 2014 at 8:21 pm

I think that’s good to remember — if you know a family that goes all out for parties, they probably really enjoy it and get a kick out of it. It can be a really great whole family activity.

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38 Amy March 19, 2014 at 7:19 pm

We only do parties at home. They are very old-fashioned and simple. My favorite party for was my son was when he was 5. It was a misty April day and the kids had a blast digging for worms. There was a piñata and cake. Kids just want to play together. When my daughter turned 5, she had a doll party. All of her friends brought a doll (except for the only boy invited, who brought a monster truck and her tomboy friend who brought one of her stuffed animals:)!). I set out all of my daughter’s doll clothes, accessories and furniture and the kids had a wonderful time playing mommy. The 2 who didn’t like dolls had a great time playing with other toys. My husband even sewed each party guest a sleeping bag to decorate for her doll with fabric markers. Sweet memories….

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39 Kelly Stoker March 19, 2014 at 7:25 pm

I love parties, especially for kids and I love cake. So when going to a party I’m pretty happy to watch kids open presents and then eating cake. I think your party was awesome! Love the chalk outlines and the bad guy especially! Kudos!

In my family the kids get to decide what they would like to do for their birthday. My daughter chose a weekend in Chicago three times with no kid party. That was very fun and easy and we had already planned to go anyhow. We once had a “reindeer” party at a bounce house for her whole class. Easiest party ever. Then three years of Chicago. This year she wanted a kid party again, but only wanted to invite 4 friends. It was a Dumbo party. The hit of the party was dressing up in our dress up clothes and taking pictures in front of a “circus tent” – $3 worth of dollar store plastic tableclothes with a IKEA giant blue frame. Then we printed the pics and gave each girl a dollar store photo album and they picked which pictures to put in it. We also did pin the nose on the clown.

My son often just wants to invite 2 friends over for a sleepover. We did do one biggish party with a Harry Potter theme. We even did a whole quidditch court in the backyard. Pretty awesome. Tea readings, potions class, wand making. etc. This year he wanted a Tiger Baseball party. We took him and 5 friends to a Tigers game. Ate hot dogs and popcorn at home and then watched 42. They all spent the night.

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40 Maria March 19, 2014 at 8:57 pm

I love this policeman party! I might have to steal it myself in a few years when my little guy is older! I especially love the bad guy hunt, how fun! And what a great big brother/cousin to participate in such a way!

As for theme/non-theme, recently I jumped on the theme bandwagon as a way to actually de-clutter my party planning, as I just threw a large (60 people) party at my house, a joint 1st & 50th bday for my son & hubby. I was a little stressed about how I was going to take on such an event, as my pre-baby self would have worked into the night to create a huge extravaganza, but once you have a baby, well, as you know free time is so very different!

I chose a “moon & star” theme, my sis-in-law is a graphic designer who sells invites, etc. in her etsy store, so we adapted a very cool vintage moon one for our party. My mom (who is a portrait artist) made an awesome large hand-painted man-in-the-moon cut-out, out of foam core we got at the frame shop at Michael’s, for our vintage paper moon photo booth (such a hit). My sister organized a fun constellation spin-art project simply using a salad spinner, some circles of black paper we cut out, and a collection of glittery & gold finger paints that the kids could squeeze themselves. We had a lunar themed face painting booth with my “stellar” niece Stella face painting, and my mom organized a star wand craft. Since we had loads of kids of various ages, the projects were set up throughout the backyard and kids could wander to and from each “booth” like at a carnival, which really made it a low stress event to host. For the babies we set out all the handmade quilts people had made for my son on the lawn with a bunch of big bouncy balls. It was great! For food, I made a “moon cake,” a star veggie platter, star cookies, and easy finger foods like pretzels, hummus, fruit. For drinks we had “Starry Night Sangria” and “Lunar Lemonade” at a self-serve drink station. The lesson I learned is that hosting a party with a baby on the hip or underfoot is so much easier when everything, including the activities, are self serve! So it was a fun time for me too.

Okay, this is a very long post! Sorry! But I am now gung-ho on the theme party and am hosting a “Roman Holiday” themed sweet sixteen for my stellar niece ;) at the end of the month. Pizza Margherita, tiramisu, watching Roman Holiday on the projector in the big playroom, girls dressing up like their “inner Audrey Hepburn,” I am excited!

Anyway, sorry to ramble! Love all of your great ideas! A fan :)

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41 Sheila March 19, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Cute party! I don’t do themed parties, I have always felt that birthday party IS a theme, with pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, musical chairs, balloons and cake or cupcakes with sprinkles.

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42 Design Mom March 20, 2014 at 10:36 am

I’ve never thought of it that way, but I like it! The Birthday is the theme.

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43 Regina March 19, 2014 at 10:58 pm

I echo the comments above — love the joy and happiness that comes through in the pictures.

While I prefer to keep my own parties simple, I do like attending themed parties. Whether themed or not, I like appreciating the details that went into the party prep. But what really makes a party memorable for me is the fun and happiness to be had.

I did a polka-dot themed party when my daughter turned one. Boy, was it hard to cut out all those circles! I went to look for a circle puncher but couldn’t find one– but since I had finished half of the decorations already, I felt like I couldn’t just quit on the polka dots! :)

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44 Sally from Little Hiccups March 20, 2014 at 1:16 am

What a great party! It looks like the kids all had a great time, as I’m sure the grown ups did too :)

I love throwing themed parties for my kids. I really enjoy the creative process of working on the party prep, especially the invites, party bags, cake and thank you cards (although my kids get to write those out). Party prep is my creative outlet! Sometimes having a theme creates a little too much work for me but other times it makes things much easier to coordinate. When my oldest daughter requested a Mo Willems’ Pigeon themed party years ago the theme made it super easy to decide what food to serve for lunch – hot dogs, of course! Normally I’d spend days in the kitchen baking party food but the hot dogs were super easy and went with the Pigeon theme perfectly.

I don’t usually go over the top with making sure everything is perfectly coordinated though and still try to keep things quite personal and home made. When my youngest wanted a Mickey Mouse themed party I just couldn’t bring myself to deck our home out in generic Disney stuff. Blergh! Instead I used one of my oldest daughter’s drawings of the kids in Disneyland (wearing their mouse ears) for the invites and party bags. Still Mickey Mouse themed but not generic. I may have gone a *little* overboard with the Mickey Mouse party ears, Mickey pinata, Mickey cake, Mickey cookies, Mickey cheese slices…

We recently had a reptile themed party for my oldest as she was getting a pet gecko for her birthday. I organised a reptile show complete with snakes, lizards, turtles, even a few creepy crawlies like a tarantula. I don’t usually organise entertainment like this as it can be pricey but the kids all loved it and it was also educational. (On a side note, you should take the kids to East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley – they provided our reptile show. It’s the biggest reptile store in the country and is really popular with local kids who want to see reptiles and creepy crawlies up close). We also played “Pin the tail on the lizard” which my daughter came up with. I think makes way more sense than “Pin the tail on the donkey” as some lizards actually do lose and regrow their tails ;)

I quite like themes that are a little more broad rather than focusing just on one topic/character/book… Last year I threw a colourful rainbow party for my oldest and a bubbles and balloons party for my youngest. Themes like this allow for a lot of creativity when it comes to the preparations and can be a little more flexible. For the rainbow party I made a rainbow spot photobooth backdrop, rainbow spot invites and party bags, a rainbow layer cake covered with white fondant for the kids to draw all over, the kids made colourful bead necklaces and crowns and we had colourful flowers everywhere. For the bubbles and balloons party I made balloon invites and simple balloon pinatas (just balloons filled with candy then inflated – super easy), and the kids played with water balloons and various bubble making toys.

I also like to get the kids as involved as possible with the party prep. They always choose the theme, although I always have veto power – no My Little Pony or Disney princess parties! As soon as one birthday party is over they both start working on what kind of party they’d like next year. It certainly gives me plenty of time to get prepared!

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45 Design Mom March 20, 2014 at 10:36 am

I know from what I’ve seen of you online that you throw AMAZING parties, Sally! I love how much you enjoy it.

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46 Sally from Little Hiccups March 20, 2014 at 11:57 pm

Aww… thanks :)

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47 Fiona March 20, 2014 at 4:55 am

I try to throw traditional game parties for my 5 year old. The problem I have is getting the kids engaged and when they aren’t I lose my nerve – end up dashing for the DVR. In this way I think a theme like this one helps engergise and get everyone on board.

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48 Design Mom March 20, 2014 at 10:35 am

I totally hear you. I like to have a really solid plan/schedule so I know what’s next if the guests start to lose interest in the current activity.

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49 Amy March 20, 2014 at 6:18 am

I loved this. One great idea after another. You must have had as much fun brainstorming as you did at the party :)

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50 Design Mom March 20, 2014 at 10:33 am

So true! The brainstorming was fast and fun. When Betty came up with the caution tape idea, and everyone thought is was so brilliant, she just beamed!

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51 Andrea March 20, 2014 at 7:03 am

This party makes me wish even more that we lived by our extended family. Everything is more fun when you can have a family party that has cousins! Ralph as the bad guy – oh, I bet all the little ones will remember that forever!

I love the feel of this party. It’s simple but yet fun. Perfect!

We usually do birthday parties at home and I always like to have a theme. :) All the traditional games (pin the tail, scavenger hunt, piñata…) can easily be modified around a theme. It keeps me on track so I don’t get distracted and disorganized!

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52 A March 20, 2014 at 10:35 am

I’m a longtime reader and big fan of this blog, so please know that the following is not at all meant as any sort of attack. But I think that holding a police themed party, complete with body outlines and crime tape, in Oakland of all places is pretty problematic and could be viewed as offensive and insensitive to a lot of the residents of your city. Oakland has a long history of high levels of tension between law enforcement and residents, as well as a crime epidemic. I suspect that for many students in your childrens’ schools the sight of crime tape and policemen signifies fear, trauma, violence, and even the loss of a loved one to death or incarceration. Those kids may not have been at the party but for those things to taken so lightly in their backyard makes me very uncomfortable. There would be plenty of ways to do the same sort of activities and incorporate the same spirit of catching a bad guy, a scavenger hunt, a crime scene, clues, etc. that wouldn’t involve such real life and close to home issues.

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53 Design Mom March 20, 2014 at 11:21 am

Lots to think about in your comment — doesn’t feel like an attack at all. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

My nephew who was just turning 4, and doesn’t live in Oakland, picked out the theme — and I think it’s a cute one! Especially from a little child’s perspective. To him, police officers are heroes right along with fire fighters and ambulance drivers and Superman. And we love the idea of embracing police officers as heroes.

It sounds like you’re okay with that, but have issues with the caution tape and body outlines. I agree that the body outlines are morbid, but I don’t think they could be triggers, from what I understand the practice of making body outlines is pretty much a Hollywood thing — taking photographs would be the real way to make a record of crime. But that said, if this had not been a private family party in a private yard, I think I would have skipped the body outlines. I realize I’ve made the party public by sharing it here. The point of the post was to spark ideas on how to put a fun party together in a simple way — I did debate whether or not I should include photos of the chalk outlines, and maybe I shouldn’t have, but ultimately decided that chalk outlines is a fun activity even out of the context of a police-themed party. Meaning, at other parties we’ve thrown, tracing bodies on the sidewalk or a big roll of paper and then coloring them in is lots of fun for kids. So I thought I would include it, to help readers spark other ideas of simple activities.

As for the caution tape, I suppose that could be a trigger, but this tape is from the hardware store and is used on construction sites too. I’m not sure if it’s even the same tape that a police officer would use at a crime scene — though that’s certainly what we were trying to evoke. So again, I’m not sure if it would be a trigger or not.

I think the thing that has me thinking the most is your statement: “I suspect that for many students in your childrens’ schools the sight of crime tape and policemen signifies fear, trauma, violence, and even the loss of a loved one to death or incarceration.” Reading that, it made me realize what a scary vision of Oakland many people have — as if it’s some sort of non-stop shootout on a daily basis, which of course isn’t accurate at all. I realize Oakland has its fair share of crime, but it’s a thriving, community-minded city that the citizens (including me) are proud of.

Again, lots to think about. I sincerely apologize if this post is a trauma trigger for anyone reading.

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54 deborah March 21, 2014 at 9:24 am

I agree with A. I was really shocked when I saw the theme of this children’s party. I say this with the utmost respect – IMO, the last thing our children need is to fetishize punishment, arrest, violence, attack, and death. There’s nothing fun or funny about being handcuffed or arrested or dead, is there? And of all places, Oakland. My sons are grown now, but as kids, I never let them have play guns or allowed them to play cops and robbers, and would have never dreamed of letting them play violent video games. Anyway – wanted A to know she/he’s not alone in thinking this way.

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55 Design Mom March 21, 2014 at 10:10 am

Deborah, it’s fine for you to take exception to this party theme, but can we please leave Oakland out of the discussion? Like A’s comment, your words imply this theme might be okay in another city, but that Oakland is so crime ridden that it’s inappropriate here.

That thinking perpetuates a view of this city that is sensationalized and false. Oakland is chock full of hard-working, friendly, community minded people. It has all the things you would expect of a big, thriving city — crime yes, but also opportunities galore! It is not the felony fest people seem to imagine.

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56 A March 21, 2014 at 11:02 am

Just a quick reply here that my intention was not to highlight Oakland as some horrible place. It IS a thriving and wonderful community. I know that personally because I lived there until recently and am still nearby. But I also think that it’s important to not ignore that this place, which is wonderful and unique, also has many challenges. To me as a parent it is extremely important to try to teach my children to be sensitive to the realities of people who may have a very different world experience than we do, and in that regard I guess I agree with Deborah regarding the fetishization of violence and crime. It’s light-hearted and fun and very removed from your family (thank goodness!) but I think it’s important to remember that for many families it is not and to be able to “play” at being involved in crime is a privilege many people can’t really have (not just in Oakland- just about everywhere). I still think there must be ways to perhaps have the same adventure kind of spirit without making light of all this and even celebrating the police perhaps (e.g. in addition to working against crime they do wonderful community service things etc). Below in the comments you mention other parties with less realistic “bad guys” like a knight, etc.. Perhaps that’s the way to go? I don’t really know. The “bad guy” for this party certainly looked more charming that anything else :) It’s a tricky thing but one that I think bears thinking about.

57 sarah March 20, 2014 at 10:57 am

i absolutely love the party you hosted for your nephew! adorable :)

i feel strongly that kids parties these days are way overdone. there’s a ton of pressure to have unique parties that are fun for both kids and adults, with picture-perfect details. we ‘outsourced’ my son’s 4th birthday this year and held it outside of our home, and i still found it to be a ton of work thanks to unwittingly giving in to some of that pressure (handmade favors? never again…).

i revel in the first couple of birthdays, when the kid is too young to know what’s going on and the party is more for the grown-ups. You can set out some appetizers or have some pizza, get a few balloons, and just hang out. we’ve already discussed the fact that future birthday will likely end up being more along the lines of what we remember as kids: a pizza night with a few friends at home, or dinner out with 1 or 2 special guests.

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58 macarena March 20, 2014 at 11:49 am

Santiago is turning 5 in few weeks, and requested a Fireman theme party, as you said before in a comment, for the kids, police officers, firefighters are their heroes as well as superman or spider-man.

Here in Guatemala, piñatas as birthday party are called, can be enormous as social life is quite important for the kids. I’m expecting 80 kids more or less, and that’s the close group of friends!!!!

Pinterest can be helpful to have some ideas but with a bouncing house (a firetruck in this case) and hot dogs and of course the big piñata (again anther firetruck) with a looooot of candies, the kids will have a great time anyway.

I would love a small gathering as you just did, maybe for his 6th jajaja

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59 Design Mom March 21, 2014 at 10:11 am

Yay for pinatas! They make any party better.

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60 Linda K March 20, 2014 at 1:46 pm

It must be so gratifying for you that your kids are loving and capable and creative enough to rally with only 24 hours notice to fete their little cousin with such panache! The values you and your husband have worked to nurture in your family are on display big time in this charming party. Well done all!

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61 Katy @ All Sorts of Pretty March 20, 2014 at 2:11 pm

I can’t stop smiling! What a brilliant idea for a birthday party! So much fun and so inexpensive without a ton of stress to pull it off. I had NO idea that a policeman themed party could result in that many fun games and details. Well done!

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62 Pam March 20, 2014 at 3:12 pm

What a wonderful party! You and the kids hosted such a sweet and definitely memorable day.
My husband just walked in as I was looking at the photos and thought it was an incredible themed party but still totally focused on the guests.
Our favourite was the “bad guy” stealing the gifts…hilarious and loved that a chase ensued after him and the gifts! We may borrow that one from you.

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63 Design Mom March 21, 2014 at 10:13 am

The idea of a “bad guy” has worked at several of our parties over the years. At age 5 Ralph had a Power Rangers party where a villain stole the cake and they had to follow clues to find it. Then, at Oscar’s 5th birthday, it was a Knight theme, and a Dark Knight came in and stole the castle pinata. Luckily, in both cases the party guests were able to save the day. : )

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64 Carrie Corder March 20, 2014 at 4:10 pm

I would consider throwing a party like this one, simply because it sounds like it really kept the kids excited and involved. I love it that your kids are old enough to contribute to family parties (and it also helps you not have to do it all!). With my three children, I’m trying to make a point to occasionally do larger, more special themed parties, but mostly parties w/just cake, presents, and family. This minimizes stress and helps keep the important elements–family and celebration–front and center.

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65 Jenny March 21, 2014 at 12:28 am

A donut cake! I just now realized it was because of the theme! We’ve had lots of donut or cream puff cakes over the years. I’m all about strongly encouraging my kids to pick an outing over a friend party but my daughter was turning 10 and really wanted to do a cupcake wars birthday party this month and it was her 2nd friend party ever so I relented. There were 10 girls in the kitchen for two hours and we planned it in a week and they had a blast but it was so exhausting! My hat goes off to those awesome party moms! My kids have gone to some really fun (mainly non themed) parties and I’m grateful they get the novelty of the experience and all I have to do is find an inexpensive but cool present that the mother won’t want to toss in the trash a week later. That’s what I call winning!

I have a friend who tries to see how amazing and cheaply she can throw a themed birthday party for her kids each year and they are the most fun-looking, creative parties.

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66 Design Mom March 21, 2014 at 10:14 am

Because police officers love donuts! : )

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67 mamalang March 21, 2014 at 6:26 am

With three kids spanning 10 years between the oldest and youngest, we have done all kinds of things. We always do a family dinner so that the grands can have the kids full attention, and then a friend party separate. I am cheap. We’ve done the skating rink and bowling alley parties, and the at home parties. The kids know that the more the party costs, the less to spend on the gifts and they’re at an age where they prefer to have some friends over and just hang out, so the parties are easy now. But I love to have a theme to try to bring things together.

Isn’t it fun when your kids start getting old enough to join in the planning? My oldest is 20 and I love watching her helping her brother with parties, holiday traditions and such. :)

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68 Gabi March 21, 2014 at 11:21 am

You guys are such a wonderful family. That was so sweet of you to offer to host the party when you knew that Jordan & crew were going to be so busy. And your kids are amazing – truly my model of what families should be.

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69 Clara March 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm

I am one of the oldest from a large family, so throwing my younger brothers’ and sisters’ birthday parties was often my self-appointed job. I loved it!
Now that I have my own children, we go for the simple, at home birthday parties. As a general rule, they are allowed to have as many non-family guests as the age they are turning. This has really saved my sanity. Although I am proud of our simple parties and the kids love them, sometimes it does make me feel guilty for not following the neighborhood trend of more elaborate, expensive and/or outsourced parties.

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70 Clara March 21, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Oh, and this year my soon-to-be seven year old son has requested a “rock” party. Like the rocks on the ground, not the music. ???? I don’t even know where to start. Any ideas?

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71 Lindsay @ Shop Ella Lou March 22, 2014 at 10:06 pm

What a wonderful party! But, what looks like the most fun part to me is all of the cousins coming together to celebrate! How incredibly fortunate you are that you all live so close and your kids can get together for last minute birthday celebrations!

Our daughter’s only cousins are in France and she gets to see them once or twice a year at best. It makes my heart ache that she doesn’t have cousins closer (although we have many friends with kids of similar ages that are like family).

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72 Traci March 23, 2014 at 11:00 am

Looks like a lot of fun, the outlining idea is simple and unique. But most of all, I love the donut cake!

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73 Zoe March 23, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Blimey! I ll only be allowing my children to read any post about a children’s party in the USA once they ve left home! You guys work so hard creating perfect parties and I for one would feel so pressured . Simple party or extravagant party? I m not sure the kids would favour one over the other as long as they had fun. Sometimes I feel that all this prep is done to impress other mothers not the kids.
Thoughts of a lazy mum!

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74 Ashlee March 26, 2014 at 10:58 am

Ok having the bad guy steal the presents is genius! What a fun idea and I’m sure the kids loved it! Having a theme is fun because it allows you to be really creative in how you incorporate it. Having a theme for the fun of it = awesome. Having a theme to impress and be picture-perfect = not worth it. Then again, when I was 11 I planned and carried out a random farm themed party that I invited my cousins to, just to have a party. So maybe I am a little bit of an over achiever when it comes to celebrating ha

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75 Jennifer March 27, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Very late to the party post, but just wanted to weigh in on the controversy about the police theme. I am a social worker in some of the very neighborhoods mentioned in this post and I agree that you really shouldn’t judge them until you’ve been there. Likewise, you really shouldn’t judge traumatized children either until you’ve spent some time with them! They’re really mostly just typical kids who wouldn’t like to be excluded from parties because of adult anxieties. It is true that many children who have experienced violence, foster care, etc, have conflicting feelings about police and may be triggered by seeing, say, lights or tape, but “police play” can actually be quite therapeutic. It allows the child to play out fantasies about what they wish would have happened (like catching the robber!) as well as gain a positive mastery of the triggers to reduce ongoing stress. While, I agree, a birthday party is probably not the forum for this kind of therapeutic work, we don’t need to demonize the play (nor the children!) either.

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76 Amy March 27, 2014 at 7:57 pm

I love your robbing the presents idea! Ralph looks like he played the part so well!

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77 Shannon March 27, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Geeky English major that I am, when it comes to questions like this I like how Hamlet put it: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” If you enjoy going all out for parties, then go for it. If you don’t, then don’t. If you’re pulling out all the stops because you think you should or to impress “someone,” but it makes you miserable and broke, then it’s probably not a good thing! But if being creative together is fun for your family and brings you closer together, how can it be a bad thing?

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