Birthday party smackdown: big parties vs. small parties

After last year’s huge birthday bash for our daughter, I swore that we were finished with big birthday parties.

I don’t know what pushed me over the edge, whether it was the prep work, the money, the 50-odd people in the venue or the hired entertainer, but I felt certain we would only host small parties going forward.

We just held our first one, however, and it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

Big party vs. small party
Round 1: The guest list

I stuck to my guns and told my daughter, who was about to turn five, that she could invite five friends. I knew we were in trouble when she started rattling off names of kids she barely knows, in no particular order.

“No, just five,” I explained. “Five friends. We need to pick five because you’re turning five.”

It was excruciating — mostly for me — as I helped her narrow down her selections. This was a foreign concept to us. We have always thrown both kids large birthday parties where nobody was left off the list.

Except for a few instances where there was a hard cap on the number of kids permitted, like gymnastics, it’s always been fine for their younger or older siblings to come along, too. There was a “the more, the merrier” vibe because we didn’t want anyone to feel left out.

But this time it felt like we were leaving out the whole world. The final guest list was tiny with just her close friends from preschool and/or ballet. I texted the parents the information and then slipped them printed invitations like I was a spy with a dossier.

I was racked with guilt over every child we couldn’t invite. I almost threw in the towel and decided I would suffer through another big, loud, expensive party just so we didn’t have to decide.

The winner: big party. No hurt feelings! No awkward guilt!


Big party vs. small party
Round 2: The prep work

We booked our local Clay Cafe for the party, which we’d visited often to paint but never to host or attend a birthday. It’s brilliantly colourful — even the light fixtures are rainbow hues — so no decorations were required. I didn’t buy a single balloon or package of streamers and I certainly didn’t make any Pinterest-worthy decor. It was quite a time saver.

Since outside food isn’t allowed, that saved me not only time but money, too. There wasn’t any fussing over a fruit tray, cutting up cubes of cheese or ordering sandwiches. I was feeding far fewer people — and no parents — so I bought popcorn, snack mix and suckers right at Clay Cafe, along with a few cans of apple juice to pour into paper cups.

Crumbly cake doesn’t mix well with painting, so I just boxed up a cupcake (decorated by my kids) for each guest to take home at the end of the party. Loot bags? Heck no! I swore I’d never do those again, either. Each guest would be getting their ceramic masterpiece about a week after the party, once it was fired in the kiln.

The winner: small party. It’s far cheaper and so much less work.


Big party vs. small party
Round 3: The hosting

We strolled into the party about 20 minutes early with a single tote bag including paper plates and cups, plus the cupcakes, and there wasn’t anything to set up or organize. We had a reserved table at the back and it wasn’t long before our little group of guests filtered in.

Once the parents took off, I was on my own with the girls. They were all angels as they painted their ceramic trolls; everybody wanted to paint Poppy, naturally, and ate their snacks.

It was so eerily quiet, after all those years of loud parties with kids screaming and running everywhere.

It was almost too quiet, actually. I found myself trying to make conversation for a while, asking about who’d seen the Trolls movie (all of them, duh) and their favourite troll (Poppy, double duh). Then I realized the girls — all of them four or barely five — didn’t care about small talk, so I mostly concentrated on painting a little dish.

Everything was calm and enjoyable. We talked about their costumes for the upcoming dance recitals. We laughed over the memorable “No troll left behind” bum joke from the movie. I admired their painting techniques and refilled their snack plates. It was over before I knew it and I didn’t have the run-over-by-an-anxiety-train feeling I normally have after hosting a birthday party.

The winner: small party. It was way more enjoyable than a chaotic crowd (for me, at least).


As difficult as it was for me to accept that we couldn’t invite everybody, I think we’ll be holding small birthday parties from here on out.

It was nice to do something special with my daughter and a few close friends — something that wouldn’t have been affordable with 20 or 30 kids. I feel like I know her friends much better after hanging out with them in such a small group. Plus, I didn’t turn into Manic Mommy trying to organize, fund and host another huge party.

Remind me of this next year, please, when I’m agonizing over the guest list again.


You might also like …

Loot bags are AWFUL and here’s what I do instead
Why we love celebrating half birthdays in our house
How to sew reusable fabric snack bags (and use them as party loot bags!)

Why I’m done with big birthday parties
Mickey Mouse birthday party on a tight budget


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