What make the BEST birthday surprises?

Surprised family

(For a 2 or 82-year-old??)


A word on your birthday that may fill you with delight…or horror.

Birthday surprises are fun to organise and can be great fun to experience. They can be hugely elaborate or a quiet gesture, but whatever you decide to do, you need to get it right for the person you’re surprising.

So with my own birthday just around the corner, it got me thinking – what makes the BEST birthday surprises, and most importantly, what makes them work?

On a budget?

It can be daunting to come up with the ‘perfect’ present and surprise. And it’s all well and good if you’ve got the cash to splash on a big day out – driving round a race track, hot air ballooning, or a theatre trip – fantastic fun, but not cheap.

So when money is limited, what else can you do to delight and genuinely surprise your 2-year-old boy or 82-year-old grandma?

Here are a few fun ideas…

Best birthday surprises for under 10s

Surprised childStarting with the under 10s – for a genuine surprise, the bigger the wrapped-up present, the more exciting it is for them!

But that doesn’t mean it has to be a big or expensive present. If what you’re buying isn’t already big, finding a large cardboard box to put it in would certainly provide the birthday surprises factor. You could then pad it out with things kids love – balloons, balls, bubble wrap (I remember my boys spending many a happy hour popping that…)

And the best bit about this is the box itself – this is often more fun than the gift it contains. You can check out 50 amazing ideas for cardboard boxes here that small kids will love.

The birthday cake

Birthday cake And it doesn’t always have to revolve around the present. The birthday cake – the centrepiece of any respectable birthday – can be a wonderful surprise to young and old.

This selection of easy birthday cake ideas looks delightful and appears reasonably simple to make. But if (like me) you’re never going to cut it on ‘Bake Off’, decorating a very basic all-in-one cake, either homemade or shop-bought, with a child’s favourite small toy and some ready-made writing icing to personalise it, always goes down well.

Tweenies and teenies best birthday surprises

For children over 10, the surprise presents tend to be the reverse of the under 10s – that is, the smaller the better – with more focus on a gadget of some description. And I’m not sure that big, over-the-top surprises are the order of the day at this age, as they tend to embarrass rather than delight. But that doesn’t mean to say that you can’t do something for them that will touch them in some way.

At this age, their friends are EVERYTHING so organising something with them is probably one of the best things you can do for birthday surprises.

Sleepovers are cost-effective and can be spiced up with an activity – pampering, a movie, camping, or sports and games. Just make sure they’re safe and have enough food and then keep respectfully out of the way (I’m still trying to perfect the art of hovering just enough to make sure they’re ok and behaving themselves, to not being a total embarrassment to them…).

Parcel in the post

Girl opening parcelI have one amazing friend who always sends a parcel for my boys’ birthdays through the post. In this day and age, that is pretty unique – if friends/relatives do send gifts, it’s inevitably cash or a voucher.

So a brown paper package or box arriving is always a delicious surprise, at any age.

Taking the time to provide a gift suggestion to a long-distance friend or relative is really worth it (and they don’t even have to wrap it or post it themselves as most online stores can do all of that for them.)

Surprise birthday parties?

Surprise birthday parties can be a double-edged sword I’ve found. Firstly managing to keep it a surprise is a challenge and then making sure that you pitch it right – the number of guests, the location, the time, etc. – for the age of the birthday celebrant.

But when it works, it can be a once-in-a-lifetime, joyful event that they’ll never forget. So if it does seem appropriate, there’s an excellent WikiHow step-by-step guide to planning one here.

Best birthday surprises for adults?

surprised manThe key here is knowing the recipient and thinking carefully about what pleases them. Sounds obvious I know, but I’ve lost count of the number of presents I’ve seen given which delight the giver more than the receiver…

A ‘box of delights’ works well for all ages. I was struggling to think of something for a dear friend’s 50th recently, as she pretty much has everything she needs. I couldn’t afford to spend a fortune, but wanted to give her something that showed how much she meant to me. So I filled a box with wrapped up ‘somethings’ – something sparkly, something funny, something practical, something yummy, etc. It was great fun for her to open, she was genuinely touched by the thought that went into it and it didn’t cost the earth.

Another personal gift that is very cost-effective and will always delight is a framed photo, piece of artwork, poem, or letter, that has been written or painted to celebrate that person. We all want to be loved, and being reminded of it by someone we care about, is both moving and humbling.

And for those in the twilight years?

It’s not so easy to surprise and delight someone who’s seen 80 or so birthdays, but there are still ways.

Old lady & daughter looking through photosFamily tends to be so important and valued at this age and also wanting to feel that you’ve made a positive difference to your loved ones. So celebrate their journey through life in some way – photo books are great for this, especially if they have old photos tucked away in a box that never get looked at. It’s easy now to digitalise them for this.

Or ask friends and family to fill in a ‘This is Your Life’ book, with treasured thoughts, memories, pictures and anecdotes. I always think it’s a bit sad that the only time we voice in any detail how much someone meant to us is after they’ve passed away. So why not do it sooner, when they can see how much of a difference they’ve made to your life?

Surprise visits

For my mum’s 80th birthday, we arranged for her much-beloved sister, who lived on the other side of the world, to fly over without her knowing. I will never forget the joy of the moment when she opened the front door to see her standing there.

It doesn’t have to involve long-haul travel – a surprise visit from a dear friend or family member is wonderful at any age. But if that’s too pricey for all involved, setting up an unexpected video call can also touch and bring joy to any birthday.

To sum up…

So there you have it, hopefully a few ideas to inspire your next birthday surprises. My feeling is that they should be joyful and fun, and crucially suit the age and interests of the receiver.

Because if you get it spot on, it will show them how much they are loved and treasured by those nearest and dearest to them.

A Unique Birthday Surprise

Personalised-book-Birthday-Boo-orabge-bgFinally, for a REALLY unique birthday surprise, take a look at our personalised birthday book –  “The Birthday Boo”.

Our original, rhyming, personalised Birthday story (suitable for ages 1-7), is all about a lovable, hairy monster who turns up to surprise your child on their birthday. However, the surprise he gives is not at all what the child wants or was expecting (although thankfully, it all turns out well in the end…).

With fun personalisations including the child’s name throughout the story AND their birthday, age, most wanted gift and favourite food, it will surprise and delight the whole family.

Check it out, and all our other lovely personalised books, here

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