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80th Birthday Ideas – Throwing Papa’s Party

An 80th birthday is a milestone event worth celebrating. Come see all my favorite 80th birthday party ideas for throwing a loved one an unforgettable party. They won’t be disappointed.

A Happy Birthday banner is hanging in an entryway as part of an 80th birthday idea.

It’s June again which means there are a slew of summer birthdays coming up in my family. Papa, my grandfather on my mother’s side, just turned 80 years old. What a milestone. Any birthday is worth celebrating, but an 80th birthday is such an accomplishment. Especially since Papa can run circles around most of the younger folks in our family. He is such a healthy person, and we’re all so proud of him and who he is.

Papa has always been an inspiration to me. My deceased grandmother and him helped raise my brother, sister, and I when my mom was a single parent. He has always been there for us no matter what. Papa can build or fix just about anything. And he even has a wicked sense of humor that occasionally gets him into trouble… but we sure do love him. He’s a soft-spoken man most of the time, but I believe the wise talk because they have something to say, not because they have to say something. Sometimes quiet is powerful. 

So, when I realized Papa would be turning 80 this year, I jumped at the idea of throwing him a birthday party. My mind was swarming with 80th birthday party ideas, but I knew it had to be extra special and unique to fit Papa.

I had no idea until the day of his party that he had never had a birthday party thrown for him in his entire life. You see, Papa grew up very poor. He is one of ten children who grew up on a small farm in Stover, Missouri. He didn’t have much growing up, but that’s part of what has shaped him into who he is now. 

A school-age child plays on his bike on a farm in Missouri during the early 1950s.

As a young adult, he moved to Kansas City to attend barber school. This was right before his time serving in the Vietnam War for the U.S. Army. After returning, he married and opened his own business, Friedley’s Barber Shop, in downtown Kansas City, where he worked for over 50 years of his life. 

A young man poses for a photo while being deployed in Vietnam in 1960.

Now retired, Papa jumps at the idea of helping me anytime I need help with DIYing something in my home. He’s helped me on countless projects, and I swear there’s not a thing he can’t figure out. 

So you can imagine how I felt about throwing him a party. It was the least I could do for him.

We ended up having quite a bit of fun, even with less than ten of us in attendance. We had some tasty sweets, a little booze, nostalgic decorations, and the best company. 

Let’s break down how I did it, along with plenty of 80th birthday ideas.

A table is set up with birthday decor for an 80th birthday idea.

80th Birthday Party Ideas

Location

The location was easy for us to decide on. Papa is a simple man, and we knew he’d be most comfortable at home–so a home party was an easy decision. I just made sure to pack all the food and decor, and headed over a little early to set up. 

A box full of 80th birthday idea decor is ready to be unpacked.

If your guest of honor would most enjoy going out, find a local restaurant, pool hall, or community center to host it at. If it’s a rather large party with every distant family member plus every community member and friend you can think of, make sure to rent out a large enough space to fit everyone. 

Be sure to always consider the season and the weather when deciding on location, too. You’ll want a fun, comfortable space for everyone to mingle at their leisure without feeling rushed. Be aware of set-up and clean-up times when renting spaces, as well, to make sure you have enough time to do these things within a certain time frame. 

Guests

As far as guests go, we knew we would just be having a few immediate family members over to join us for Papa’s special day. He doesn’t like big, fancy events or having a lot of people over to his home at once. Less than ten people were actually a perfect number for him. The calmer and quieter, the better. 

However, if your guest of honor is a social butterfly, be prepared to expand this guest list. Just be aware of rising costs with every extra guest you invite. The more guests, the more you will also need to consider things like a venue, party favors, and having enough entertainment for people to stay occupied. 

Luckily, we didn’t have to worry about all this fuss for our small group.

A woman holds her grandchild under a banner at a home birthday party.

80th Birthday Decoration Ideas

Decorations were kept to a minimum. Papa would not have cared if I didn’t have a single piece of birthday decor out, but I wanted to at least add in a few things to make this day feel extra special. A little thought and creativity can go a long way, after all.

For the banner, I chose this one HERE that simply said “Happy Birthday.” The reason I went for a rather plain one without any indication of age or name was because I repurpose all my decor. I don’t like to waste money or resources, so this was a must. Choosing a practical, tasteful option such as this allows you to store it for later use. 

I also have a couple of chalk easels so I found one stored away, and using chalk I wrote “Older than dirt” on it. More about that in the next section…

A dirt cake has a sign next to it that reads "Older than dirt."

Of course, I also wanted to add a cake topper to the cake. 

I can pipe frosting using basic techniques, but I have no desire to learn how to make roses and write cute phrases on cakes. I’d rather go for a rustic look with a cake topper and/or dress it up with ganache and sprinkles over the frosting for added sophistication. I used this cake topper HERE that said “Cheers to 80 Years.” 

A cake topper reads "Cheers to 80 Years."

Who knows, maybe I can cut off the “0” and use it for a kids’ 8th birthday sometime in the future… I’ll let you know more about how that one goes later.

My favorite thing was a collage I made for him. I bought wooden numbers HERE and made copies of photos to trim down and fit onto these wooden numbers. This was so nostalgic for everyone to look at and really showed Papa throughout all his years of life. It really is heartwarming. 

As part of 80th birthday ideas, wooden numbers have been transformed into a collage.

You could make one in all black and white or keep it in color, whichever fits best. It’s especially great because the guest of honor can keep it and look over it whenever they want, so it also serves as a gift.

Lastly, I added in a few cheesy party blowers that you’d see at a child’s birthday. I’m so glad I did because not only did my two-year-old nephew enjoy this, but everyone had a laugh using these for some goofy photos during the party. It was just cheesy enough to make everyone feel like a kid again. So don’t completely rule out these cheap pieces unless you’re going for something really upscale and sophisticated. Sometimes the most joy can be brought from the simple things. 

Papa blows on a party blower to celebrate.

Food 

We almost went all out with grilling. Since Papa usually does the grilling, we didn’t want to put him to work on his birthday, though. Instead we decided to just stick to desserts. This was actually perfect for him considering he has a major sweet tooth. (Thank you, Papa, for passing on that sweet tooth to me, too.)

I made both a dirt cake (crushed oreos with a light, creamy filling) and a luscious, moist chocolate cake  that he specifically requested. 

A rich chocolate cake slice sits on a plate alongside a piece of Oreo dirt cake.

I had a vision of making a sign that said “Older than dirt” to poke fun at him. You could say this was one of the main reasons I went for a dirt cake in addition to the main birthday cake. Plus, the more desserts, the merrier, right? Who doesn’t love Oreos? They’re a favorite in our family. 

I used this recipe HERE for the chocolate cake and would highly recommend it. It was so much more moist than your average homemade cake, which can notoriously go dry rather quickly. It was just what we all needed, and it satisfied Papa’s sweet tooth craving. 

A side view of a rich chocolate birthday cake sits on a table.

The cake is especially important since it is the traditional birthday dessert. Just add a cake topper for a bit of drama and personality. 

Of course, you can always serve cookies or even doughnuts alongside this, too. I always recommend getting a cake, though–the flavor being the guest of honor’s favorite flavor. 

If they despise cake, opt for a cookie cake or even a homemade pie. These are excellent alternatives that can easily be dressed up and could be made into any flavor, much like a cake, for all to enjoy. 

Drinks

Although we didn’t serve actual cocktails, I did make some strawberry lime Jell-O shots with vodka for the adult guests to enjoy. The recipe wasn’t strong, which was good since none of us drink often. 

I’d recommend finding a recipe that you feel will suit your guest of honor’s taste buds most. If they drink beer, serve beer. If they love mixed drinks, find a way to set up ingredients for people to DIY their own cocktails using a few recipe cards set out with ingredients. Or make a couple pitchers of a single recipe beforehand. 

Jell-O shots are scattered about a decorated table for a birthday party.

For those who rarely drink, Jell-O shots or other infused goodies work just fine. I’ve even heard of adding Kahlua to ice cream for a boozy treat.

Gifts

Go for a mix of practical and fun. Papa is a simple man and has at least one of everything already, so you can imagine how difficult he is to buy for. That being said, each of us had a few ideas up our sleeves to celebrate him this year.

Since I was already baking him desserts, purchasing party decor, and making a collage, I opted for the easy way out and got him a gift card to one of his favorite stores. That way Papa could get exactly what he wanted or needed with it. I usually try to get more personal gifts, but because I was already doing so much, I let myself off the hook on this one. Most people enjoy gift cards, anyway.  

My mom found a special t-shirt for him, and my brother surprised him with quite a few gifts that he could use. Included were a belt, a wallet, a new hat (he is always wearing ball caps when he’s working in the garage), and a Yeti cup. They were all high-quality pieces that were very useful, so I think he enjoyed those a lot. 

Papa sits in a chair and shows off his new gifts for his birthday.

He was also treated to dinner and a card on his birthday from his longtime girlfriend, Vona. I think he was pretty pleased with everything he received. 

Other 80th birthday gift ideas include: tickets to a museum exhibit, a night out at the casino (with a prepaid card), dinner and a movie, or a sports outing. I am all about spending more time with my loved ones, and people of all ages will enjoy a gift like this. 

If you’re looking for other gifts, search for new gear for their favorite hobby. Think: fishing, grilling, traveling, photography, or writing. 

Tips for 80th Birthday Ideas

Having a theme is not at all necessary, especially when you’re a grown adult who’s been around for 80 years. However, if they do have something they are especially known for, maybe having a theme wouldn’t be such a bad idea. If you have a grandmother who’s a diehard gardener, a garden party with plants everywhere along with tea, sandwiches, and cookies would be perfect. If your grandfather has a penchant for smoking meats, throw a BBQ with all the smoked and grilled meats, a variety of taste-testing BBQ sauces, beer, and lawn games. Get creative!

Buy enough alcohol if you’re serving it. The same could easily be said for other drinks and food, but I find that the alcohol goes the quickest. Probably because it’s more expensive and most people don’t splurge on drinking often unless it’s a special occasion. We only had six drinking adults at our shindig, so I only made 16 shots. We completely ran out by the end. Though no one complained, I bet if I’d made more there definitely would’ve been more drinking going on. Just be sure everyone has a safe ride home.

Jell-O shots and party blowers are scattered over a tabletop.

Remember this, always: You don’t have to cater to all your guests’ tastes, as long as the guest of honor is happy. This isn’t to say the guests don’t matter, but sometimes life is showing up to a party and not eating the cake because it’s not your favorite flavor. It’s about the person you’re hosting it for, not your sister’s unruly kids or even you. You cannot please everyone, so you might as well give the guest of honor the party they desire. This is the rule I always go by. 

One example of this: The guest of honor LOVES strawberry cake. The kids and a couple of adults in attendance are picky and won’t eat it. Solution: If you feel the urge, serve additional treats alongside the main cake. It’s okay to be considerate and provide food for those who have allergies or are picky. It’s not okay to plan an entire party around all the guests, though. Stand firm, don’t change the cake flavor. Those people will have their day eventually, too.

A chocolate layer cake is ready to be devoured.

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