Every birthday we celebrate is meaningful. But from cards to gifts to full-blown party themes, we always put extra emphasis on the ones that mark the start of a new decade of life. These milestone birthdays give us opportunities to look back, look ahead and make the guest of honor feel great about turning any age.
Here are some tips and ideas for planning everything from not-too-expensive gifts to not-to-be-forgotten celebrations that are just right for your favorite milestone achiever. (Spoiler alert: These ideas are great for any birthday, really.)
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When planning a milestone birthday celebration, there’s one overriding rule to follow: No matter what age someone is celebrating, take every opportunity to make that person feel good about it. The time of the “over the hill” party has passed. People today aren’t winding down their lives as they age. They approach getting older with positivity, and they embrace their changing lives and new roles along the way. Celebrations should reflect this thinking—they should be light, fun and personal. (And don’t tell people what they ought to be feeling “at their age” because they already know.)
Coming up with party and gift themes can feel overwhelming, but giving a little thought to a few specifics can help narrow the scope of your planning.
Know who you’re celebrating: You likely have a good feel for whether your birthday partier is up for activities such as karaoke, cookouts or camping. There may be activities or foods that hold a lot of meaning for your guest of honor. For gifts, tune in to their love languages to offer something meaningful. A handwritten note that shares a favorite story or offers to help with some house or yard tasks would feel great to receive. Not sure? Don’t hesitate to go straight to the source—or family and close friends if you want to keep things a surprise.
Know who’s celebrating with you: A guest list of co-workers carries a different dynamic than one of neighbors or family members or high-school classmates. Certain themes or activities might appeal more—or less—to a particular group, especially if it’s cross-generational. Tailor the food and the fun in ways that are likely to appeal to the greatest number of people.
Know the limitations: Celebrations that involve travel or personal expense look terrific on paper but may end up excluding people who would really like to be part of the festivities. Extreme weather, inaccessible venues and even inconvenient parking can get in guests’ ways, too. For a special event, especially one marking a milestone occasion, think about ways to make getting there, as well as getting in and out, easy. Your guests—and especially the guest of honor—will appreciate any level of effort you make.
And now to the milestones! Use the links below to navigate to our theme ideas as well as gift and activity ideas for specific years.
- Plan a Make a Difference Day that includes everyone pitching in to make the world better for others. You can coordinate with a local nonprofit or church, do some neighborhood or park beautification, even offer to work on someone’s house. Tasks with achievable goals allow partiers to appreciate their efforts.
- Have a Blast from the Past by re-creating the events of a favorite birthday from the years gone by. Was it a roller-skating party? A sleepover with scary movies? Sledding and an epic snowball fight? Find ways to enjoy that day all over again.
- Progressive parties can include stops at homes as well as favorite dining establishments for multiple courses of food and drink. Feeling energetic? Create a route that partiers can walk or bicycle instead of drive.
- Make it a self-care event with friends meeting for a spa day, a lunch out, a trip to the batting cages or anything that feels restorative to share with friends.
- Commit the partiers to a community task in need of doing: painting a building or cleaning a stretch of road or staffing a gift wrapping fundraiser at the mall. Work doesn’t feel as tough when you do it with friends.
- Follow the effort with a “Thirsty 30” party. Break for the day at the bottom of the hour and enjoy the guest of honor’s favorite beverages.
- Gather donations for a community cause, whether canned goods for a food pantry, clothing for a thrift store or cash for a fundraiser. Keep records to share how much was raised and donated in the name of the guest of honor.
- Make the 30-year milestone last a whole month long with a 30-day countdown of fun activities or treats (bake 30 cookies, ride 30 miles, sing 30 songs).
- Appeal to the kid-at-heart with a bouncy-house or trampoline rental. Make sure to have some fun beverages on hand for the big bouncers.
- Rough it with a campout, whether a full-blown excursion or a tent pitched in the backyard. Spend the night under the stars while sleeping on the ground (or an air mattress).
- Poll friends and family members to collect a list of 40 personal attributes that help make the guest of honor so lovable. Favorite phrases, shoe styles, activities…anything that defines the 40-year-old for loved ones.
- Break out the maps or the GPS and hit the road, whether a day trip or a weekend with an overnight at a rental house or a posh hotel.
- Explore your surroundings with a group scavenger hunt. Send partiers in search of birthday-related objects or photos with a social-media hashtag for posting.
- Offer your time in ways that free up the guest of honor to do something they might otherwise miss. Bring over a meal to offer a break from kitchen duties. Arrange babysitting for a date night or a group of babysitters to cover all child-care needs during the party.
- Gather to celebrate 50-, 60- or 70-year-olds with a party inspired by things that share the same milestone. The list is long: movies, companies, fads, TV shows, albums, historical events, famous people. (For a 50th, you could also celebrate with all things golden, if you choose.)
- Big birthdays call for big celebrations, so why not see a favorite band or do a restaurant tour—but in an extravagant or exotic location. This may be the year for that family-and-friends cruise or resort trip or once-in-a-lifetime group outing.
- Plan a Salute to the Guest of Honor by asking guests to dress as one of the “many faces” of the guest of honor—as they know or remember them. Friends and family can personify the birthday person’s professional life, personal interests, past accomplishments, future goals, a career or hobby, or a personality trait.
- Honor 50 years with a $50 donation to a fundraiser or organization that matches up with the guest of honor’s priorities.
- Compile a playlist for the celebration—but not of music from 50 years ago. Play hits from 30 to 35 years ago that bring stories and memories from high school and college.
- Gather messages from 50 people from the present and past, then collect them in a book, a video, a photo album or anything that makes them easy to enjoy again and again.
- Create a memento by collecting guests’ signatures and comments on an object to keep, whether it’s a serving platter, a matte for a framed photo or an oversize greeting card.
- What’s something the guest of honor wants to experience with friends and family one more time before getting “too old” to endure it? Do that—before it sounds like a bad idea.
- Pump up the volume on the celebration with a house or porch concert. Hire a favorite local band or musician and kick out the jams in a very memorable way.
- If one is good and two is better, then 60 is spectacular! Make a gift of 60 favorite snacks or songs or photos or quotes or cards—or anything the guest of honor might love.
- Spruce up the yard with 60 decorative flamingos or garden gnomes or balloons to get the attentions of passers-by (and a sign inviting a quick honk of the horn).
- Hire a personal chef to prepare a special meal at home for a small party or even just for two. Expand on that by having the chef teach a class to partiers on how to make the dishes that will be served later.
- Get swanky with a dress-up cocktail/mocktail party complete with signature drinks.
- Celebrate by sitting down to a favorite movie—but not on television. Rent a theater for a special screening or turn the backyard into a drive-in theater (just swap lawn chairs for the cars).
- Preserve memories of the past by transferring media to a digital archive. Photos, videotapes, audio recordings and other materials can be gathered and protected from loss or deterioration—and edited into a format that is easy to access and to share with the whole family.
- Not as easy to round up the old gang as it used to be? Video conference calls are fun ways to bring people together whether they are across town or around the world.
- Feeling lucky? Set up a few carnival-style games of skill or some Vegas-style games of chance.
- Bring out the “bucket list” of life goals and create ways to help accomplish as many as possible—but with a strict limit of $10 per item. Spoiler alert: You’re going to have to get creative.
- Cover a subscription to a streaming service, then set up a regular time for a remote watch party followed by discussion and chat. Some apps even allow for text chats that scroll next to the screen while the movie is playing.
- Protect a special possession in this milestone year with a custom frame or display case. Write a story about what makes this item so special and keep it with the display.
- Show some love to the guest of honor’s favorite sports team or movie franchise or hobby or collection. Celebrate with décor, themed snacks and drinks, and ask guests to dress the part.
- Flip the script by upending the calendar and plan a party unlike any they’ve had. Give a summer birthday the look of Christmas or turn a winter birthday into a beach party.
- Who let the dogs in? Unleash well-behaved pets in a backyard or invite a few trained therapy dogs with permission from the party venue. Have treats ready for visitors of the two-legged and four-legged varieties.
- Create a “destination” party without the need for passports and travel arrangements. Choose a favorite city or country and create a menu and and décor to reflect it. The destination also can be inspired by a favorite time period or even a fictional work. (What do birthdays look like in Gotham City, anyway?)
- Not up for going out? Arrange a garden-party lunch in a park or on the patio. Communing with nature (or just having your toes in the grass) can work a little wonder into the day.
- Organize a surprise party with the goal of tackling a needed home improvement project. Painting, landscaping and minor repairs on a home can make every day feel like a birthday.
- Ask family and friends to a fill scrapbook page or two with photos, written memories, original art and anything else that will fit on a page. Create scrapbooks with (at least) 80 total pages.
- Plan a day trip to a favorite place to visit or to the old hometown to bring up some favorite memories—or even treat your city as would a tourist and hit the places you always drive past but never stop to enjoy.
- Send reminders to encourage loved ones to schedule time throughout the year in celebration of the milestone year. Whether sharing a meal, watching a ball game or even taking a walk in a park, good connection time is a gift for all involved.
- Share the gifts of your own abilities by creating a talent show for the guest of honor. Family members and friends can show off their talents for song, dance, comedy, magic…anything!
- It’s time for a birthday shower—of cookies, cheeses, greeting cards or anything that brings some fun and flavor to the day.
- Send a birthday in a box! Can’t be there in person? Pack up plenty of fun party items (hats, champagne poppers, balloons, treats) and include your phone number. When the party is unpacked, a video call can reveal you and other guests with all of the same gear so you can party together.
- Create a biographical podcast or memoir based on interviews and memories shared by not only the subject but of friends and family members. Young people can get involved by creating art or writing—or handling the technology needs.
- Raise funds to finance a dedicated public installation, such as a bench in a favorite space or a garden plot in a park.
- Centennial birthdays are remarkable enough that no theme should overshadow this milestone. Celebrate all ways the guest of honor has influenced the lives of family and friends.
- Ice-Cream Socials are great for gathering people for a quick treat and chat.
- Organize a greeting card shower with a goal of getting well-wishes from 100 people including family, friends, neighbors and community members.
- Alert the media! Stories of people reaching their 100th birthdays always feel like good news.
- Commission a portrait, photograph or other artistic piece that captures this milestone year—or of any time of your choosing.
- Give the gift of time, whether it’s in the form of visits, phone/video calls or cards and letters. Pass along the latest news, chat about fun memories, and just be present however you’re able.
Share your well wishes in writing with one of our special 100th birthday cards.