Carnival Birthday Party: Details and Decorations

It’s my last post about the birthday party; I promise.  Now for my favorite part of it: the details and decorations.  This part was SO MUCH FUN to complete.  Let me begin by revealing that I am really not the most creative person I know. I am simply good at stealing someone’s ideas and adding my own thing to it a little, and all of these little crafts are something anyone can do. So easy.

One simple thing was the sign near our mailbox that greeted guests as they arrived.  I actually made three signs but only managed to take a photo of one.  We live on a hill and our driveway is long and steep, so this one was at the bottom near the mailbox.
yard sign
As guests made their way up, there was one that said “Step Right Up” and further on, there was one that said “Almost There” because you sort of need a cheerleader to make it up our driveway.  We tied bright balloons to some of the signs and to the front porch, and I hope it set the tone for guests before they even entered the party.  Once they came inside, our guests saw this table in the foyer.

favors and guest book

I placed the favors here next to a book I ordered from Amazon that worked with the circus theme and could be signed by the guests as they left.  I know Jude will appreciate it one day as he reads the sweet messages left by all of our friends and family who celebrated with us.  For the favors, I used Oriental Trading Company for all of it.  Each bag contained some candy, a clown nose, some carnival-themed stickers, some circus-themed temporary tattoos, and a small box of crayons, so all of the kids at the party could leave with something fun.  I designed the little labels using my scrapbook program, and you can have a closer look at them by looking at this earlier post.

I also made a high chair banner using the free circus font I found online.  I simply cut circles and glued them to bright cardstock and then tied it all together.  Super simple but helped to bring the theme together.

high chair

Now for the bigger things.  I sewed A LOT of bright party pennants that we hung everywhere.  I sort of forgot to take photos of them, but you can see them here behind the table.
table details

I used cloth rather than paper so that I can easily reuse them in the years to come.  I figure boys are always having parties that use some combination of primary colors, so if we do trains or cars or superheroes or dinosaurs or whatever in the future, I can always use these flags and maybe just sew a couple of new ones to add to the mix and bring in something fresh.  If you don’t sew, you could use heat n’ bond or something and make the flags that way.

I also made a birthday onesie I’ve already written about in an earlier post. I used the leftover material I had from the flags, added a little freezer-paper stenciling, and sewed it to a onesie I found for $4 at Target. Birthday Boy looked so perfect in it.  He’ll continue to wear it this fall, I’m sure.

toy train
It's my birthday, and I love my new toy train!

Lastly, my favorite part of the party was the photo booth. It was incredibly simple and served as some great entertainment.  I simply used blue fabric as a background and strung some party pennants and lights over it.  I spent about $5 at the dollar store to buy  various funky Halloween type dress up things – a large tie, funny glasses, a feather boa, etc.  I also tossed a few clown noses in there and placed some balloons next to it so it looked bright and circus-like.  This photo booth idea could be great for all sorts of parties though.  I can totally imagine it with a fairy or princess theme for little girls with a pink background and wands and tiaras.  Or even an adult holiday party with a Christmas-y background.  So.  Much. Fun. In fact, my new problem will be avoiding the urge to have a photo booth at all my parties.

photo booth

As excited as I was, I honestly wasn’t sure how this would go over because sometimes the things you are most excited about are not so loved by other people, you know?  In the end, I think some of our guests did love it after all.  I hope to print out some photos and mail them with the thank you notes so guests can remember fun times.

So that’s it!  I think I’ve told you almost everything I can about our circus birthday party.  Feel free to recycle these ideas for yourself, and I hope you have as much fun party planning as I did.  If you want to read more about the details of this party, you can see my archives here and here.

Carnival Birthday Party: Food and Tablescape

So yesterday I wrote about what I learned throwing my first kids’ party, and today I’ll get specific on some of the details.  The most important detail, of course: FOOD.

I wanted to keep things simple, and the party was held at four in the afternoon so I wasn’t exactly responsible for feeding people dinner or anything.  Keeping with the carnival theme, we served all finger foods. I didn’t even have flatware on the table!  Here was the menu we decided on for Jude’s Big Top Circus Birthday Extravaganza:

  • hot dogs (We chose kosher, all-beef since that’s kind of where we are on our “food journey.”)
  • corn dogs (So not healthy or kosher, but I bought them from our warehouse store here and they were fast and easy in the oven.)
  • sandwiches – chicken salad; sunbutter & jelly (for 2 peanut allergy kids who were there)
  • Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies(First time I tried them and they were delicious!)
  • fruit sticks (just bites of melon, grapes, and pineapple on a skewer)
  • chocolate-covered pretzels (I used store-bought chocolate candy coating.)
  • cupcakes! (more on those later)
  • various classic and colorful candies to go with the circus theme

So for the general tablescape and basic look of things, I wanted to go bright and celebratory. I was also careful to use varying heights on the table with the cupcakes, pretzels, and the lollipops.  The cupcake stand is this basic one by Wilton, and I love it!  I can reuse it again and again for any birthday parties or showers I host and just redecorate it each time.  To decorate it, I used scrapbook paper I found on clearance at Hobby Lobby and simple blue grossgrain ribbon.  I had a hard time getting the ribbon to stick at first, but when I decided to use Elmer’s traditional school glue, it worked easily and washed right off.

table details

Food labels are necessary for me, and I know that allergy mamas especially appreciate them.  I hate being at a function and not so sure about what you are putting in your mouth.  I found a circus font online and downloaded it for free, and I used it on the invitations and all of the signs and food labels at the party.  There are a ton of free simple graphics and fonts if you look for them online.

table details

For the added color and backdrop to my table scape, I used bright red wrapping paper from the dollar store  and topped it with a blue tablecloth from the dollar store as well.  We folded that tablecloth like a runner and topped all of that with $1 confetti and voila!  Three whole dollars and the table is done.

the spread

We also had a candy corner because what carnival doesn’t have sweets?  I bought all of the glass containers from (you guessed it…) the dollar store, and I racked up on candy there as well.  I chose candy that was either colorful or nostalgic or both – Mary Janes and Sugar Daddies for retro flair; gumballs, jolly ranchers, and ring pops for color.  The oversized lollipops I found at Oriental Trading Company for pretty cheap. I set out a few treat bags I had from a shower I hosted once and encouraged guests to take some home.  Luckily, almost all of it disappeared and I am only left with about 10 lollipops, but I’m thiking I can use them to adorn birthday packages this year.

table details

table details

Lastly, the cupcakes!  I went back and forth SO MANY times about what kind to make because I wanted something different and a variety.  Because we took a trip to the apple orchards a couple of weeks ago and because nothing says fall like apple cinnamon, I finally settled on apple cupcakes with cream cheese icing.  For variety, I also baked Ina Garten’s chocolate cupcakes (my old reliable favorite!) and topped them with homemade buttercream frosting.  I baked them all the night before and iced them in about 15  minutes shortly before the party.  It honestly took the same amount of time as calling to order a cake and going to pick it up.  So simple.

table details

I also found some awesome toppers on Etsy that added a special touch.  Some of them even had his name!


Did you know that even a simple grocery store cake is something like $40?  All together, I would estimate the cupcakes and toppers were something like $20, and they were cute, tasty, and personable.  At the end of the day, we fed a crowd of about 35 people on less than $100 including tableware!  An accomplishment in frugality for sure.

Tomorrow I’ll post on details and decorations – my favorite part of the party!


For other posts about this carnival birthday party, see my archives here, here, or here.

Lessons Learned: Throwing Kids’ Birthday Parties

Party: The word conjures up a few specific images for me.  Kitchen conversations.  A frosty beer on the porch with good friends.  That glorious I-ate-just-enough-but-not-too-much full feeling you get when you talk with friends around the table after a successful dinner.  Whether it’s a big shindig for a special occasion or a small impromptu gathering we threw together the night before, I love hosting and preparing for parties. My usual ritual is to designate a specific playlist on my iPod and stand over the stove with a drink waiting on that first knock at the door.  Just before a party is one of the few times that my house is in order and is one of those moments when the anticipation factor is palpable.  I love it.  Cleaning for it.  Planning for it.  Cooking for it.  Love it all.

But I found out last weekend that hosting a kid’s party is a little different.

The internet was a wealth of information for me when planning Jude’s first birthday party, and I have so much I want to write down before I forget it all.  Rather than posting one huge, long, overly wordy and photo-heavy post that nobody wants to read in one sitting, I’m dividing it up, so I’ll be writing all week to capture every little detail.  I figured a great place to start would be with some basic lessons I learned or things that surprised me because this was not a cocktail conversation, dinner-makin’, feet up relaxin’, before-I-had-a-child kind of party.  Not at all. It was still a GREAT time though, and I finished remembering why birthday parties seemed like such magic when I was a kid.  They are for sure a special kind of magic – and a chaos all their own.  So things I learned?

  1. In terms of party prep, everything takes at least 10 times longer when you have a kid around. I did the vast majority of prep work in the days before.  By the time the morning of the party rolled around, all I had left to do was clean my house, assemble sandwiches, and ice cupcakes.  Easy right?  Not so much with a toddler around apparently.  The party started at 4:00 and we were slapping sandwiches together at 3:56.  No joke.
  2. Once guests arrive, if you have more than a handful of children present, it will erupt to absolute craziness at one time or another. Deal with it.  Embrace it perhaps.  But there is no point in fighting it.
  3. The dollar store can be your best friend. I made numerous trips to the dollar store to get most everything we needed for details and decor – ribbon, the makings of my tablescape, candy, glass containers, paper plates…. I’ll be posting specifics on all of this later, but it seriously saved us A TON of money.
  4. They are SO MUCH FUN to plan. I am not the most creative person on the planet, so I really just scanned the internet for ideas and copied most of them, adding some personal touches along the way.  It was such a fun party to prepare for! I’m already contemplating next year’s theme. I shouldn’t admit that.
  5. Present opening, even if you don’t want it to be, will be the focus of the party for at least a good portion of it. Short of not opening gifts at the party, I am not really sure if there is any way you can prevent this. And you guys know how I feel about gifts and excess. I honestly didn’t even want to open the presents at the party simply because he is so young and can’t even open them and honestly wasn’t all that interested at that present moment (although he loves them now).  My husband said though, and it’s true, that if people did bring gifts, they’d want to see him open them, and I didn’t want to be rude.  Luckily many of our guests abided by my rude request and either did not bring a gift or brought a simple book or two.  We did get a handful of toys but nothing crazy large that I don’t have room or need for.  I enlisted some kids at the party to “help” Jude open gifts which might or might not have been smart because they got REALLY in to it, but at least they had something to do instead of staring at a baby and watching me open the presents.
  6. Be sure you take lots of photos, but most importantly, be sure other guests do as well. We got a ton of photos on our cameras, but we also missed whole portions of the party (like Jude eating cake for instance) because we were in the moment or right there with him.  Luckily, my brother-in-law was snapping photos the whole time, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s got.  It might be a good idea to even designate a guest as the “picture person” so that he/she keeps snapping and can give you all the images after the party.


I feel like future parties will be easier now that I know more about what to expect, so for what it’s worth, that’s what I learned on this first go-around.  Tomorrow I’ll post on food and tablescape!