Milestone birthdays signify important life achievements that are worth commemorating. Whether the milestone year is 21 or 50, these birthdays are the ones we tend to celebrate in creative, unforgettable ways.   

According to researchers at The Wharton School, recognizing temporal landmarks such as a birthday or new year is motivational because they provide an opportunity for reflection and gratitude. It’s no wonder people look to honor these milestones in big ways! Here are memorable celebration ideas for each major milestone birthday.  

Fun ideas for throwing an 18th birthday bash

The 18th birthday is the first big milestone in our lives. It comes with many adult perks, like being able to vote or purchase a car. “It’s the one in which western culture bestows young people with rights they will enjoy for the rest of their lives,” said family therapist Kyle King. “They are excited to flex some of their new independence and privileges.” 

harry & david gift basket

One way to celebrate this new independence is with a sophisticated party to mark the occasion. Encourage attendees to get dressed up in formal wear and if you can, try renting out a party venue to make the day extra special. You could even plan a “bon voyage” cruise-themed party as you watch your childhood years sail away, with a cruise-themed menu and snacks. 

Go all out for a 21st birthday

Twenty-one is a milestone that grants new privileges, so it’s usually honored by indulging in these fresh abilities. To feel luxurious, rent a limo on the way to a casino or 21-and-up nightclub. If the honoree would prefer something small, then an evening at home with sophisticated cocktails or wine and a few friends can make the night special. You could even hire a mixologist (or buy a mixologist kit) and keep the night intimate as the honoree celebrates their new freedoms, and keep the decorations simple with a Girls’ Night Out floral arrangement.  

blowing out candles on a birthday cake

Celebrate 30 in style

If your honoree is feeling particularly old at this milestone, you can throw an “over the hill” party. Ask guests to dress in black to “mourn” their youth and bring gag gifts like fake teeth. If they’re not up for the joke, the 30th birthday can also be a time to celebrate a refining of tastes and interests. Organize a dine-around your local city, where you try a different course at each restaurant. Or you could find a private chef to cook an intimate meal at home for a gourmet night in. If your honoree would rather their 30th still feel youthful, you can throw a classic slumber party, full of cheesy movies, pajamas, and plenty of snacks.  

Get festive for the 40th 

A fun way to honor the 40th is by throwing a 1940s big band-themed party. Guests can dress in ’40s-era clothing and the party can feature swing music or vintage movie classics. For a more low-key event, try an at-home spa weekend for your closest friends. You could set out wine and cheese pairings (or wine and chocolate – it’s a birthday celebration, after all!), do mani/pedis, or even hire a masseuse. Complement the weekend with a Lavender Spa Basket for a luxurious experience.  

The best ways to bring in the big 5-0 

Aside from the 21st birthday, the most popular birthday for adults to celebrate is their 50th. According to Matt James, an award-winning professional event planner, most people turning 50 prefer a tasteful party, with good food and good company, rather than a cheap joke-shop style theme party. He recommends activities that celebrate the person, not just the age, such as a personalized crossword puzzle or even a piñata bust created in their liking. If your honoree wants to skip the party route, then create a to-do list with 50 tasks to complete over the year. Or, select a destination 50 miles away and spend the day exploring the area for a peaceful retreat.  

Celebrate 60 to the max 

Birthday milestone gifts on a table.

Each decade that passes provides even more reason to cherish time with loved ones. A 60th birthday (or even 70th or 80th) should be full of smiles and laughter, celebrating old friends and new family members alike. You could arrange a birthday around old childhood favorites, including classic birthday sweets. If the honoree is up for it, try childhood activities like a bike ride, ice skating, or a visit to a local amusement park. For an at-home event, surround the special person with stories and memorabilia from their youth, taking time to share stories.  

Make a 90th birthday memorable 

At such a special milestone, this birthday can be commemorated by planning an event where new or distant family and friends have a chance to reconnect with the honoree, either in person or over video. You could have attendees write a short note honoring their life, or even gift a Personalized Message in a Bottle. If you can, visit a favorite childhood location or neighborhood and hear old stories. If you’d just like to provide some company and conversation, an outdoor lunch at a new café or restaurant can offer a lively afternoon.  

Honoring the ultimate milestone birthday: 100 years old 

After 100 birthdays, there’s less value in material gifts, and the gift of time and love from family and friends can be more valuable. Center the theme of the party around their life. Create a pictorial timeline of the honoree’s milestone moments, and ask friends and family to contribute photos and videos for a “this is your life” presentation. Allow guests time to toast with their fondest memories, or you could even roast them with funny jokes and stories. And make sure to eat lots of cake!


Rachel is a freelance writer and teacher. She writes personal essays on wellness, technology, beauty, family, and self-care. Her writing has been published in Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Bustle, The Inquistr, The Tech Viral, Sinkhole, and others.

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