Back-to-basics with birthdays – Many moms are choosing simple celebrations in lieu of the elaborate extravaganzas of recent years

Weeks after the party held for Isabella and Sophia’s fourth birthday, family and friends were still talking about how much fun they had.

The twins celebrated their birthday throughout a March afternoon. The festivities went on, past sunset, long after the last piece of princess cake had been cut, into the backyard and down the halls.

Lindsey and Chris Stelly didn’t rent a bounce house or an 18-foot-tall pile of snow for the party. They didn’t head to a flashy venue for this day. They wouldn’t have dreamed of it.

“I like making people feel comfortable,” Lindsey Stelly says. “Having a party at home does make people feel comfortable.”

Stelly says she’s always gone the basic route for her three children’s birthday parties. The twins and their brother, Alexander, age 8, love having birthday parties at home, with family and friends.

Months after the parties are over, Stelly says, she feels a sense of happiness when she recalls celebrations at home. Her kids tell her, “This was the best day ever. Thank you so much.”

As many as 70 people—including 25 to 30 kids at any given party—have tumbled into the Stellys’ average-size, south Baton Rouge home. It sometimes gets a little cozy. But they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I said, ‘You know what? Small house or big house, my friends love me,’ ” Stelly says. “Afterwards, the kids’ rooms are trashed, but it’s OK. We pick it up.”

Increasingly, families around town like the Stellys are opting for back-to-basics parties with minimal production values.

Memorable themes replace complex contraptions or expensive rentals. Charming, often homemade offerings are a cut above anything that could be catered. It’s all about expressing love and getting creative.

“I have definitely seen people who have the means to throw a lavish party are now going the more simple route,” says celebrity event planner Andrea Correale, with New York City-based Elegant Affairs. The company’s clientele includes A-listers such as Donald Trump and Mariah Carey.

The economy is one driver behind the simple party trend, Correale adds. Even families who can afford big tents and rented animals are opting not to throw elaborate bashes.

“They don’t want people to talk, and are sensitive to the economy and the hardship of others,” Correale says.

For the Stellys, the home-based birthday tradition is deeply rooted within their families. Both Lindsey and Chris celebrated birthdays at home growing up. When they had kids of their own, they continued the practice.

Other local families have switched to home-based parties as a matter of practicality.

“We decided to have the last couple of parties at home because the boys wanted to invite their school friends, neighborhood friends, friends they have grown up with and friends they have met along the way,” says Alycee Sunstrom, mom of Camden, 6, and Grant, 4.

“It was getting out of hand when we would have parties at venues, so when we moved to a home that had a larger yard, we decided to start hosting the parties at home.”

One of the most important steps to a successful, simple party is coming up with a memorable theme. Work with your kids to develop an idea that will have a pizzazz.

“The first theme we had was a construction party,” Sunstrom says. “Camden was turning 5 and was very interested in the roadwork being done on Brightside Lane at the time. At this party, the boys decorated construction hats and tool belts as soon as they came through the door. We had a pin-the-dirt-on-the-tractor game and they also played relay games with trucks.”

When it comes to the party menu, many parents are going the do-it-yourself route.

At Partiz & Cakes in Baton Rouge, pastry chef and owner Cassy Benoit’s cake-making courses have been packed with parents who want to make their children’s cakes themselves.

“Themes are very big when they do their cakes,” she says. Zebra prints for girls and Superheroes for boys reign, Benoit adds. Cake balls are also gaining popularity, she says, but they can be tough to master, so many parents end up outsourcing them.

Timeless games and simple favors—preferably ones that kids use up (bubbles or sidewalk chalk, for instance) so parents aren’t left wondering what to do with a pile of plastic tchotchkes, Lindsey Stelly says—round out the day. The most basic party line still works, though. Be generous with your spirit. And get in on the good times, yourself.

“Put yourself out there,” Stelly says. “It’s really fun.”