12 First Birthday Ideas to Celebrate Your Toddler (and Making It Through the Year)

The one-year mark is a big milestone—especially for the parents who survived those grueling first 12 months—and most definitely a cause for celebration. But you don’t need to pull out all the stops and spend big bucks to make the occasion special (the guest of honor won’t even remember it, after all). With that in mind, here are 12 easy-to-pull-off (but still totally adorable) first birthday ideas.

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first birthday ideas colorful
One Little Project

1. Make It Colorful

Bright and vibrant party decorations are a surefire way to make a shindig feel extra festive. In fact, there’s no such thing as too much color at a first birthday party. Case in point: This rainbow-colored bash from One Little Project, which basically delivers a dose of instant cheer.

smash cake first birthday ideas
Tatyana Tomsickova Photography/Getty Images

2. Have A Smash Cake

Smash cakes (i.e., a cake that a kid can smash with their tiny fists and smear all over their face) have been a popular feature of first birthdays for a while now, primarily because of the amazing photo-op they provide. Plus, the spectacle is plenty entertaining in real life, too—just be sure to have a back-up cake to serve the guest, since the smash cake (obviously) won’t be too appealing once the birthday baby is done with it. (Pro tip: Try a smash cupcake instead of a full-size cake to minimize the expense and waste involved.)

first birthday ideas smash cake
One Little Project

3. Or A No-smash Cake

It’s also totally acceptable to skip the smash cake entirely. Indeed, a smash cake comes with its fair share of cons—namely that you will spend a lot of time cleaning up your child afterwards (bathtime break, anyone?) and that oh-so adorable birthday outfit might end up a one-wear-wonder. Plus, having to bake or purchase two cakes for a first birthday party is an additional expense. If you’re not feeling the whole smash cake thing, you can go the opposite direction and spring for a Pinterest-worthy fondant cake instead—like this beauty featured on One Little Project. Bonus: The fondant acts like a protective shield, allowing you to snap some precious photos of your kid with their cake, without the risk of, well, unplanned smashing.

first birthday ideas buffet
Angelina Yan, @kukaka/Unsplash

4. Set Up A Finger Food Buffet

Sure, you could do a barbeque (weather permitting) and serve up hot dogs and hamburgers, but that’s a lot more work for the host (ahem, you). Your kid’s first birthday party will feel a lot less hectic if you keep things casual and low-maintenance with a buffet table instead. Before the partygoers show up, put out a spread of finger foods, featuring grown-up fare (Brie, charcuterie, olives) along with baby-friendly favorites (think: Cheerios, cubes of mild cheese, fruit cups). Bottom line: You’re better off with a snack set-up that allows guests to serve themselves while you enjoy the party.

first birthday ideas theme
A Beautiful Mess

5. Go With A Theme

A themed party takes a little extra effort to execute, but the end result will definitely be great fodder for a first year scrapbook. If you go this route, choose a theme that reflects your tot’s current interests (read: chances are your 1-year-old hasn’t fallen in love with Frozen yet), and know that you don’t need to go nuts with it—just a few decorative touches or snacks that fit the motif will do the trick. This sweet puppy-themed party from A Beautiful Mess checks all the boxes (i.e., cute, but not overkill).

first birthday ideas no theme
Phannara Thy/EyeEm/Getty Images

6. ...or Don’t

At the end of the day, the thought you put into a themed party is likely to be lost on your 1-year-old, and we guarantee the bash will be every bit as enjoyable for the guests if you forgo a theme entirely. In other words, there’s no shame in your game if you throw a regular ol’ birthday party, complete with party hats, balloons and cake. Easy peasy.

first birthday ideas photo display
A Beautiful Mess

7. Make A First Year Photo Display

Some sentimental decor, in the form of a first year photo collage, is a natural fit for a first birthday party. It’s also a creative opportunity for parents, as there are numerous ways to feature a tot’s baby photos on the big day. Of course, you can also just keep it simple and show off the birthday baby’s month-to-month development with an understated collage like this one from A Beautiful Mess.

photographer first birthday party
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

8. Designate A Photographer

The host of a first birthday party has to wear many hats, but a photographer shouldn’t be one of them. That said, unless you designate a guest to take on this job in advance, there’s a good chance that you’ll find yourself more focused on documenting the event than actually enjoying it; equally unfortunate is finding you don’t have any snapshots of the special day. Avoid both these scenarios by appointing a family member or trusted friend to be photographer for a day. (Hint: The best candidate for the job is someone who doesn’t also have their own very young child to wrangle.)

first birthday ideas photo shoot
Westend61/Getty Images

9. Have A Pre-party Photo Shoot

In addition to a designated guest-photographer, we strongly suggest you take advantage of the pre-party calm to snap a few pics of your own. Once the bash is underway, there’s a strong possibility that your baby (and maybe you) will become overstimulated—and an overstimulated baby is far less likely to flash a charming four-toothed smile for the camera.

first birthday party ideas baby clapping
kyonntra/Getty Images

10. Keep It Short

As previously mentioned, young toddlers are easily overstimulated—and with all the decorations and people, a first year party is sure to have that effect on the birthday babe. For this reason, you and your child (along with any other guests in the same boat) will enjoy the event a lot more if you keep it brief. A first birthday party really doesn’t need to (read: shouldn’t) be more than two hours from start to finish.

first birthday ideas napping
twomeows/Getty Images

11. Don’t Mess With Naptime

If you’re the parent of a soon-to-be 1-year-old, we probably don’t need to tell you that naptime is sacred. Assuming you’ve got a fairly consistent nap schedule, try to plan the party so that it doesn’t interfere with one of your child’s snoozes. You might be tempted to throw the schedule out the door for the special occasion, but when the birthday baby is well-rested, everything will run more smoothly. Plus, if you plan it such that your child is napping right before the party begins, you’ll benefit from some baby-free time to set up before the guests arrive.

help cleaning up first birthday ideas
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

12. Get Help With Clean-up

Obviously, bigger bashes generate bigger messes, but a party of any size will require some clean-up—and if there’s one thing you’re short on as a parent of a 1-year-old, it’s time. For this reason, we recommend you tag a close friend or family member to stick around and help you tidy up once the party’s over (you know, so you can put your overwrought birthday baby down for nap #2 and toast your hosting success).

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Emma Singer

Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...
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