The Sunday before Luca turned one year old, we threw him a birthday party! The theme was “wild party animals,” which meant lots of safari and jungle animal decor and themed food. We celebrated with our closest friends and family, and felt extremely proud, blessed, and loved that day.
The first birthday party is a funny thing, because, of course, the baby won’t ever remember it, BUT the parents, family and friends certainly will. I mean, one year with a baby is an accomplishment! There are sleepless nights, non stop crying (at times!), early mornings, and just an overall total lifestyle shift. It takes about a year to get used to it! And it’s the BEST.
I have to say, I’ve loved every single month of Luca’s life – each month, I keep saying, “This is my favorite!” Each month gets harder and easier at the same time. For example, it’s so easy in the beginning when you set them down and they don’t move (they can’t crawl or walk – or even turn over!), BUT they’re not sleeping and they’re fussy and eating all the time. But now, Luca’s so mobile – it’s a new struggle!
I’ve just loved every single stage of motherhood and being able to throw a party for 35 of our closest friends and family and their children was the best way to start the next year of Luca’s life and our life as parents!
I wanted to share details of the party, in case you’re at a loss for what to do, how to plan it, the decor, and the theme. You can’t go wrong with a wild animal theme, in my mind!
Before I share the details, here are a few tips:
- Keep the food simple – I know this seems like a surprise coming from someone who makes food for a living, BUT I find that at parties, too many options gets overwhelming and at the end of the day, people aren’t there for the food – they’re there to catch up and have fun. No need to spend hours in the kitchen preparing fancy hors d’oeuvres. People will love it, but it’s unnecessary. Instead, go with something like sandwiches or pizza (or both!) More on what we did, below! Then, keep the snacks simple too – buy your favorite packaged snacks (chips, pretzels, etc!) If you put them in cute vessels with cute labels, it adds something extra!
- Keep the ages of the children attending in mind when planning entertainment – although kids can pretty much have fun in a room with nothing in it, you want the parents to have a break and the more you provide for kids to do, the more parents can just supervise while the kids play. For example, if you’re having a 1 year old party and all the kids are 1 year or younger, simple toys put out in a corner of the room is enough. But, if you have kids that are 2-3 years old, you may want to get some coloring books and markers, some stickers, etc. Something simple just to keep them occupied.
- Giveaways over goody bags- I debated one whether or not to do goody bags and I went with no. I think goody bags are great for older goods that like to have something to take home, but since most of Luca’s friends are 1 year and below, it didn’t make much sense. Instead, I had “giveaways” – free sticker packets on the table with the coloring books and markers, bubble wands for every kid, and little animal headbands from Easy. I also provided bags for kids to take home the 1 cookies that I had made – and they did!
- Make a playlist ahead of time and bring a speaker – Don’t forget the music! It makes such a difference. Lu makes playlists for everything in our lives. From a simple intimate dinner night in to my birth playlist, he does it. So, he made one for Luca’s party. He picked some animal themed songs, but generally, kept it adult friendly with upbeat songs that are great for kids. You can find his playlist here.
- Hire a photographer or put someone on photo duty – I feel like there are only so many events in your life/in a year where all the people you love get together in one room. Weddings and family reunions, pretty much! Since we had family and friends altogether, we wanted to remember the day with photos – and hired a professional photographer. I never regret this expense, because I have beautiful photos to cherish forever.
- Have entertainment decor – this is a bonus! Sometimes I feel silly spending money on decor that’s only going to get used once. However, if it serves two purposes (entertainment and decor!), I feel less guilty about it – and in this case, some of the decor now lives in our apartment! For example, we setup a tent with jumbo stuffed wild animals that fit the theme (safari/wild animal) that the kids loved to play in, too.
And my most important tip: don’t let ANYONE make you feel silly about throwing your 1 year old a party. GO ALL OUT. It’s your baby’s first birthday. It’s a big day! You are feeling so emotional and I have to say, the whole day had me in the best mood ever. Every single dollar spent and minute spent setting up was 100% worth it. We had the best time – and so did Luca!
And just as an FYI, we hosted this party in the common room in our apartment building. Residents can book the space for parties! I had my baby shower here, also – so it seemed like an appropriate fit!
Now let’s get into it!
One of the reasons I picked this theme was because I saw something on Pinterest about a “Watering Hole” at a safari themed party and I just thought it was so cute and clever! So, I had to set it up, of course! I got some cups that matched the balloons, black party napkins, some large buckets for beer, wine and water, and let people serve themselves!
Kept it simple. I ordered a big catering order from King’s Supermarkets – four different sandwiches, roasted veggies, a crudité, a tossed salad, and a potato salad. Standard lunch food! Then, I bought some snacks and placed them around the room for when people got peckish, they could grab a little snack. And of course, I gave them all cute little names on these zebra place cards. And I made a printout of all the sandwich types!
Little details like using theme-appropriate serving plates goes a long way. That’s why I went with these Palm Leaf Plates from a local Jersey City brand, Vendiquench Eco. You can find their plates on Amazon. They’re 100% biodegradable! And I found these knives and forks to match on Amazon.
I couldn’t resist custom made cookies and I had met the founder of another local business, Sugarsuckle, last year, and I knew I had to have her make cookies for Luca’s party. I kept theme on theme and they were a) INSANELY DELICIOUS and b) adorable. All the kids loved them, they kept asking, “Where are the zebra cookies?” Luckily I bought enough! I also provided these bags for them to take them home in!
More cookies! I really wanted something totally allergy free for the couple of kids who had allergies (and parents!) I am already a huge fan of Partake Cookies and I had also met the founder of this company a couple years ago – she’s a mother and a fellow Jersey City resident! We got the Chocolate Chip cookies and labeled them as “Jungle Rocks.” So cute.
We had two cakes – one from a local Jersey City bakery (the one we served to guests) and then a precious smash cake for Luca, made by Sugarsuckle (who also did the custom cookies!) Both cakes were simple white cakes – but gorgeous! I bought different cake toppers (this cake topper for the big cake and this one for the smash cake), and put little mini animal figurines on top, along with a sprinkling of natural sprinkles.
Luca actually didn’t really taste his cake. He banged on it like a drum and started feeding it to Mommy and Daddy, which was so adorable. He was giggling like crazy! He tasted a bit, but wasn’t into it! Still made for a really special moment (his first time having sugar!)
We actually had a set time for some singalong music (we hired a woman who teaches a music class at a local Jersey City music studio/kids class place), which was so great. It again, gave parents a break, made the kids so happy, and was just so adorable. The woman who ran this little mini class (for about 30-45 minutes) also sung him happy birthday as he had his cake.
Aside from that, I had bubbles for the kids, little sticker sets, crayons, markers, Play Doh, and coloring books setup in a designated table area in the back. It was great for the older kids to hang out! They ate, colored, played with stickers, and gave the parents some alone time!
Then, there were a few really young kids (7 months and under), so I setup a play area with some of Luca’s favorite toys (we just brought them from the apartment in a big bin) and some safari books (to keep on theme!) To set this up, I laid down Little Nomad play mats (that we have in our apartment, too!) They are my favorite mats because they look like a rug in your apartment (instead of one of those brightly colored kids mats) and they’re non-toxic. We have them all over our living room and I love them!
And of course, I brought Luca’s favorite walker. He was using it at one point in the party and everyone was clapping and laughing and he was giggling like crazy. I was so happy in that moment!
This is where your party theme really comes together – with the decor! I did a combination of Michael’s, Amazon and Etsy for everything!
- We bought these vases and filled them with dirt and then found palm leaf faux plants at Michael’s and trimmed them down so they’d fit in the vases.
- We placed a gold animal figurine picture holder next to each vase and printed out 4 x 4 photos at Walgreen’s from Luca’s first 3 months of life
Animals with party hats
Entrance welcome sign
When people first entered the party area, they were greeted by a tall giraffe with two party hats on! I bought a chalkboard from Michael’s and used these chalk pens to inscribe a welcome message. It was a fun touch and explained the theme up front! And now, the giraffe lives in our living room and Luca loves playing with Wanda (that’s what we named her!)
We got these My Cinema Light Boxes to add more decor to the space – and reminded me of a camping trip (or a safari!) with no electricity. They were so cute and went a long way, especially in the open space! We had one for the Watering Hole, one for the area where we gave the party hats to guests, and another to “decorate” a garbage can (just to transform the space a bit more.)
Tent and animals
This was half entertainment half decor. Of course, it’s on theme with safari and jungle animals – we setup a tent (an inexpensive one we found on Amazon) and had some jumbo stuffed animals by it (an elephant and a tiger.) The kids loved playing in it! And it looked great.
And that’s it for decor!
And just a note…. Luca wore this giraffe diaper cover and this Where the Wild Things Are-style crown, because I was worried he wouldn’t want to keep on his other crown (which I used for his 1 year old birthday photos, which you can see here.)
I’ll never forget this party and I’m so happy we threw one! I hope you have fun at your little ones’ parties! Let me know if you have any questions! Pin away!
You can shop the party here: