After we had our first child ten years ago, we did not have much of a plan when it came to birthdays. We didn't throw parties, but we did have cake and the grandparents came over to celebrate. Much of how we celebrated then is still the same ten years later, but with one difference: presents. The amount of presents coming into our home every year became too much, and had also become a way to "out-shine" the other gift givers. I had also noticed that the child paid little interest to the gifts after a week or so, and I was left cleaning it up and finding a place to store it. A change needed to be made, and so that is what we did.
Today, birthdays are simple. The birthday child selects a special birthday cake for me to make. The younger ones select "fun" cakes like baseball fields, trains, tractors, or layers of every color of the rainbow. My oldest, who doesn't care much for frosting, prefers something unique like a pie or trifle.
We also serve a meal to our guests, and it is typically the birthday child's favorite food, like spaghetti, pizza, or tacos.
Our guest list is very small and is typically just our family plus grandparents. I'm an only child and my husband's sister and her family live two hours away, so our family and guest-list is not very big to begin with. With just grandparents schedules to consider as far as a time for the celebration, it makes the planning much easier.
When it comes to gifts, we have asked that the grandparents refrain from giving presents. This was a hard one for my mother especially, who put up quite a fight about it (and still strongly opposes it), but we stood our ground. This rule was not intended to be mean, but was made for the sanity of our home. It has been quite a few years that we've done it this way and there are still no regrets. My children understand it, and they are completely happy with it. My husband and I do give the birthday child a gift, but it is often something that they need. Sometimes it is new underwear, and other times it's new pajamas or a church outfit. Again, the focus is more of what they may need rather than what they want.
With the simplicity of planning and of the day itself, birthdays are more enjoyable and keep the focus entirely on the child. The day really is all about them and of the love we have for them, and I know that they feel it more in a quiet and more personal setting without all the bells and whistles usually associated with children's birthday parties.
What works for us may not work for someone else, but I wanted to share how we do things in our family.