Can we bring back old school birthday parties, please?

child smiling at simple birthday party
Elzbieta Sekowska/Shutterstock

When I was a kid, my most memorable birthday party was one my mom hosted in the backyard with a bunch of neighbor kids. We played Pin the Tail on the Donkey and ate cake. It was a simple birthday party—but a good one.

By contrast, by the time my child was 10, he’d already been invited to multiple birthday parties that involved ponies. And we’re not talking a visit to a local farm either (though we did go to a party like that too, which was pretty awesome, IMO). No, we’re talking ponies—in the yard.

The child in me was more than a little envious. A pony! In the yard! This had literally been my childhood dream. But as an adult, it all just seemed a little unnecessary. And I found myself feeling a bit nostalgic for the old school, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey birthday parties of my childhood. Ah, the good ol’ days…

For the most part, I’ve managed to escape the over-the-top birthday party trend that’s been brewing for the past decade or two. Over the years, we’ve had cupcake parties in the park, a couple parties at a trampoline gym, and a ton of parties in our backyard. Now, that my kids are older—aside from the time my 15-year-old asked to take eight teen boys to Fogo de Chão (ummm… nope)—the most common request is to have a sleepover with handful of friends to watch movies and play Xbox. We order a bunch of cheap pizzas and brace ourselves for little sleep—and a good time is had by all.

Even though we’ve mostly had low-key backyard birthday parties, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I sometimes feel the pressure to compete with the birthday party brigade. I’ve splurged on a birthday party with 20+ kids at a chocolate store. I’ve paid a boatload of money for some fancy cake after I’d seen it on Facebook only to have the cake destroyed within minutes. And I’ve regretted it.

I love birthdays. I do not love the pressure to create some kind of over-the-top birthday euphoria.

Y’all, can we please bring back the ‘80s and ‘90s-style birthday parties? You know, the ones where our over-worked moms who didn’t have access to Pinterest whipped up a box cake mix the night before and then let us decorate the cake ourselves. The ones where kids left with a sugar high instead of a goody bag filled to the brim with presents as if it was their birthday. The ones where a bowling party or a trip to the swimming pool was considered extravagant.

Because those birthday parties were the bomb.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever splurge on a party for our children, or that you shouldn’t get caught up in birthday party planning if that’s what brings you joy. If making elaborate cakes is you living your best life, lean on in to that. I will oohhh and ahhhh over your skills with buttercream and royal icing. If sewing costumes for a Harry Potter or Star Wars-themed birthday party floats your boat, go for it. If you want to pay for a photo booth, a magician and a ginormous balloon arch, I love that for you.

I do not, however, love that for me.

I love birthdays. I do not love the pressure to create some kind of over-the-top birthday euphoria.

I love casual get-togethers and stress-free parties where the kids play and the parents chat over a couple adult bevies. I do not love crafting or decorating cakes or planning party themes.

I love celebrating my kids. I do not love going into debt and running myself ragged to give them some kind of over-the-top birthday party they might not even want and likely won’t be that fun.

Can we normalize giving our kids casual and simple birthday parties? Can we celebrate the unspectacular? Can we bring back the no-fuss, uncomplicated birthday parties that we enjoyed as kids?

Because I don’t know about you but I’m tired. I don’t have the time or energy to plan something glamorous or elaborate. Besides…haphazard, low-key and semi-chaotic birthday parties are my favorite kind of party. After all, childhood itself is already pretty darn spectacular as it is.

A version of this story was originally published on Sept. 29, 2022. It has been updated.