Circus/Carnival Theme Party

Have you ever dreamed of what your child’s first birthday theme would be? How it would look?

Even before you were pregnant? I have. I always said when I had my first baby, I’d love to have a circus/carnival theme for their first birthday… and so it happened!

Circus/Carnival Themed Cake Table for Birthday Party.
Cake Table

I’m excited to show you my son’s first birthday party. I had a lot of fun planning, creating and gathering ideas but as I was planning I noticed a lot of the things I wanted cost a lot of money. How would I throw this party on a budget and still have most of the things I wanted? Let’s be honest, we all know how expensive things can get… especially a first birthday party (or maybe it’s just all birthday parties lol). My husband and I are big on DIY and saving money (he’s bigger on saving money) so I knew I had to start planning ASAP if I wanted to get everything done on time for his party.

Now, I tend to go a little overboard with things, and my husband is very frugal and thinks the majority of stuff in life is NOT necessary πŸ™„… I think otherwise πŸ˜‰. Soooo I HAD to find ways to save us money if I wanted the things I envisioned. I absolutely love DIY crafts and projects, and a bit of a challenge so this was the perfect opportunity for me.

>>In this post, you will see images of the entire party however throughout the page there will be hyperlinks that will direct you to different pages within my site to show and walk you through how I made specific projects. If I didn’t have the hyperlinks, this page would be too long with step by step instructions! I like to stay organized and if you are only interested in a specific project, skip ahead (scroll down) until you see the title and image of the completed project… but I would love for you to stay and enjoy the entire blog post. Let’s begin!!! (Side note, paragraphs are labeled with a header as the ‘topic’ I am discussing in case you want to quickly find the ‘How To’ instructions for a specific project).<<

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My son’s (first and only child… as of right now) birthday is in July so we thought what better way to celebrate then outdoors in our backyard (another way to save money then rent a place) with family and friends. I knew right away I wanted to have carnival games and my husband and I love to DIY of course, so we thought why not have fun and make games for the kids to play and win tickets! After all, it is a carnival/circus theme. We had the following games:

Carnival Games

I had signs I quickly made in photoshop with each game. It said the name of the game, how to play and how many tickets you win. The children won tickets (even if they didn’t do well) which made it even more exciting to play games. Their prize at the end was the party favor boxes filled with goodies (more info on favors below). I purchased the tickets here if you were interested.

Party Favor Boxes

We hired a Balloon Twister which the kids absolutely loved. He did an amazing job by twisting all sorts of balloons. My sister in law and niece helped with the face painting. My niece drew out different designs on paper and the kids got to pick what they wanted. I purchased the face paint here.

Face Painting
Balloons from Balloon Twister

As a surprise to everyone, towards the end of the party, we hired an ice cream truck which was a huge hit! I know what your thinking — ice cream truck? Isn’t that expensive? Yeah, I thought so too. I checked in with a few companies and they wanted to charge me for gas, mileage, amount of people in addition to ice cream sold and a few other things. It was going to cost over $600 dollars. I ended up contacting a local ice cream truck who casually drives around town and they ONLY charged me for ice cream cost. I did not have to pay for gas, mileage, etc. We ended up paying under $80 including a nice tip so that was a huge score!! EVERYONE — kids and adults — had ice cream and everyone was happy πŸ™‚ (Side note — we had over 65 guests)

Ticket Stand, Birthday Invitation, Carnival Sign, Pendant Banner

For the setup, when guests walked into our backyard, we had a ticket stand displayed with a sign that matched my son’s birthday invitation.

You can find the invitation here. My husband built the ticket stand with pallets we picked up that is always FREE at businesses who want to get rid of them. We kept it simple as we were short on time but I love how it turned out.

The banner on the front I already had (I am a photographer and once had a photography business). I have lots of props to use and always made banners. You can find the FREE cut out template here if you want to make a simple pendant banner. It’s super easy to cut and piece together. The “ticket” letters on top of the ticket stand, I used my Cricut to cut out each letter and then I taped it to the wood. I have photoshop so I downloaded a circus/carnival theme font on (free download of fonts), and then figured out the size I wanted/needed for each letter and uploaded to the Cricut site and used the Cricut to cut. Pretty simple! I have a lot of card stock saved in my craft supplies so I used what I had. You can usually find card stock cheap at your local craft store.

Behind the ticket stand is a tent. The weather was showing a possible chance of thunderstorms and I was worried the games would be ruined and/or kids wouldn’t be able to play so we put up a tent to be safe. It rained here and there but nothing that stopped us from having fun! My sister owns a tent so we borrowed it and didn’t have to spend money to rent. We had two folded tables set up under the tent for games (and a bunch of other tables throughout the party that our family owns. another money saver!!).

A few of our family members helped out for about an hour or so with games. It worked out well. After about an hour, I had our family enjoy the rest of the party and if the kids wanted to continue to play games, they could on their own or with the assistance of an adult (except for the balloon pop game. The darts were sharp and I did not want any children unsupervised). The Balloon Twister stayed for a little over an hour but made tons of balloons, which was awesome.

Clown Bean Bag Toss Game

At the end of the tent, we had a bean bag toss game that the kids could toss bean bags into a clown’s mouth and two balloons with holes. We have a friend whose family owns a business and they always have large cardboard boxes, so I picked one up to make the Clown Bean Bag Toss Game.

>> Here is the step by step guide on how I made the Clown Bean Bag Toss Game here. <<

Now for my FAVORITE part… the cake table.

Circus/Carnival Themed Cake Table for Birthday Party.
Cake Table

How adorable does this look? I would have loved to add more to the table but it was a windy day and things were falling but for the most part, it looked amazing and I was extremely happy. *Open spot area was for baby boy’s smash cake. I didn’t want it to melt outside, so we waited until we were ready to sing Happy Birthday to place it on the table for guests to see!

Smash Cake
We added a #1 Candle to the top when we sang Happy Birthday 🎈

Cake Table Backdrop

As mentioned before, I am a photographer and owned a photography business so I have tons of props, backdrop stands, backdrops, cameras, lenses, etc., so I used one of my backdrop stands for the backdrop however I did have to purchase the circus theme backdrop and red curtains off amazon. You can find the circus backdrop here and the red curtains here. I decided to add the red curtains so that it would hide the two sides of the backdrop stand. If you are looking for a backdrop stand, you can find them here. Some come with clips to hang the backdrops – if not, or if you need more, you can purchase them here.

Circus Theme Backdrop

As mentioned above, being a photographer, I wanted our guests to have the opportunity to have a ‘photo booth’ so I found a fun face cutout backdrop that was carnival/circus themed. You can find it here. I used one of my backdrops to hold it in place while guests were able to stand behind (had a stool for the little ones to stand on) and snap photos with their phones/cameras!

Backdrop stand to hold up photo booth banner and then added weights to the legs because the wind kept blowing it over!

O N E Letters, Crates, Photos/Frame Display

Some of the crates/buckets used and O N E letters, again, I had already owned but you can find those at your local craft store, Home Goods, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Michaels, AC Moore, Joann Fabrics. I always find them at a discounted price and you can use a coupon at the craft stores.

The photos displayed of my son I had taken myself for his cake smash session and I also displayed a few from his newborn session and put them on a table in frames I purchased at AC Moore for under $8 each. They were having a 70% off clearance sale so I scored on basic white frames (other frames I already had).

On the table where we had the food, I had a frame that had three strings you can clip photos on. I used tiny clothespins I purchased from Michaels to display the photos I took of my son from 1 month – 11 months (Monthly Milestone Photos).

Each month I’d have my son sit on his chair with a chalkboard sign and in photoshop I’d fill in the sign with his Milestone Month, Weight, Height, and Date. It was so fun to see him grow but also so sad. It’s true when they say time flys by when you have children – geesh slow down!!

Popcorn Bags

I went to the dollar store to purchase the red and blue bins that were on the cake table, added white tissue paper to the bottom and then popped popcorn and filled up the bins. The clear popcorn scoopers were from the dollar store that guests used to scoop the popcorn into the popcorn bags I purchased from Amazon. You can find the popcorn bags here.

Popcorn Bags

Cracker Jack Box

I had been searching high and low for Cracker Jack boxes and everywhere I looked they were too expensive and just not worth it to me. I was very bummed but thought I could use my money on something else. I happened to head to my local dollar store to pick up a few last-minute items and low and behold as I was walking by an aisle, on the bottom shelf I saw Cracker Jack boxes. I was SO excited. It came 3 boxes for $1 … how can you beat that?!!! I added this to the display table as well in addition to a bucket of peanuts.

Display of the Cracker Jack boxes on the cake table

Styrofoam Cake

The cake you see on the cake stand was fake. Yup, you read that right — FAKE! I know you’re probably thinking ‘why would you ever get a fake cake?Let me explain. For a three-tier cake, it would have cost me over $400 and I wasn’t about to pay that much money for a cake. I thought what could I do to save money? Our wedding cake was made of styrofoam except for the top part, that was real. Why not do that for my son’s cake? Save money where I can. My son had his own smash cake that I ordered from my cake lady and then at Stop and Shop I ordered a sheet of cake with only white frosting on it for $48. The sheet of cake ‘they say’ feeds 50 people but if you cut it right, we were able to get 70 slices. Yup, 70! And they were big pieces too especially because we got a two-layer sheet of cake. We don’t skimp on food or cake here πŸ˜‰ haha! Also, of course, we didn’t buy ice cream for the cake since we had the ice cream truck. *Step by Step guide to the cake will be coming soon*

Styrofoam Fake Cake

Cake Smashing/High Chair Decor/ Birthday Outfits

For the cake smashing, we had our son sit in his high chair, I had a #1 balloon I ordered from Party City and a few other plain latex balloons tied to the back, with a banner in front. I made the banner myself with some extra supplies I had around the house except for some fabric pieces. I had to go to Hobby Lobby to pick those up. For whatever reason Jo Ann Fabrics did not have what I wanted. You can find how I made the ONE banner here.

#1 Balloon, Two Latex Balloons, Birthday Hat, #1 Candle on the high chair next to the hat and then ONE Banner.

I had a hard time choosing what he would wear for his cake smash photo session and cake smash session for his party because I didn’t want him ruining his party outfit so I found red bloomers, blue suspenders and a yellow bow tie on Amazon.

I wanted to order a party hat from Etsy however I found that it was very expensive – so what did I do? Yup, made it myself! *Step by step guide on how I made the party hat coming soon*

Birthday Hat

Before I forget, because I mentioned it above, my son had his ‘party outfit’ on and it was the cutest thing ever. As you know, I have a Cricut machine and I love making t-shirts and other crafts. I wanted to make the perfect shirt for him so here is what he wore…

I had to look at Pinterest and Google for some ideas and pieced together a few things I saw. I also didn’t want to go out and spend money on iron-on vinyl for the Cricut because if you know, it’s expensive and can add up. I had extra iron-on vinyl so I had to be sure the design would fit well with the colors I had. It worked out well! I was going to have him wear red shorts but my mom happened to come over a month or two prior and found ripped jean shorts on sale at H&M so I decided to use the jean shorts. For his shoes, I originally wanted him to wear red Tom shoes but couldn’t find a good deal so I went to Kohl’s to purchase a pair of converse sneakers and they were on sale for $24! I didn’t find that out until I got to the register and I was SUPER happy. I thought I’d be paying $40 for the shoes so you can imagine how excited I was!

My husband and I needed a party outfit too! How can mom and dad not be included in the festivities?! So I’m going to be honest with you here, as I am always honest. I purchased two grey shirts from Kohl’s that I found on sale. My husband’s plain grey shirt was $5 and mine was $7, however, because I took on too many tasks, I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to the shirts and yup, I ended up purchasing them. As upset as I was, it ended up working out well because honestly I took on way too much and it was one less thing I had to worry about. I found our ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ circus-themed shirts on Etsy. They shipped them fast, the quality was amazing, the fit was perfect and the shirts were so soft and comfortable. We were really happy with them! I still wear my mom shirt proudly πŸ™‚ You can find their shop here. (Dad Shirt Link | Mom Shirt Link)

Dad & Mom Shirts

And how can I forget… (I didn’t really forget I would NEVER) our fur baby, my first son, my sweet angel, I am overly obsessed with my sweet boy. He had to dress up for his brother’s first birthday party as well. He had a special ordered bandana for the party. I order bandanas from a shop on Etsy and they are truly amazing. This was my 6th purchase from their shop and every time they knock it out of the park. Such great quality, fast response time, fast shipping, just amazing. You can find the shop here. I told them my vision for his bandana and they sent me a few proofs until it was perfect (which did not take long at all. they understood what I envisioned). Very happy with the outcome and our fur baby got so much attention as he should πŸ˜‰

Fur Baby Party Bandana

Party Favors

Next on the list, party favors! I had so many ideas running through my head and wanted to buy so many favors but I had to stop and think is this really ideal? To buy small trinkets for the kids to just break and/or be thrown away? Talk about wasting money. I had to reel myself back in and think budget-wise. I still wanted to have fun with the favors but had to be realistic. Balloon Twister and Ice Cream Truck definitely were an added favor bonus, but I wanted something the kids could take home.

I knew I wanted to have a circus-themed bag for the kids to physically take home, filled with fun stuff. I googled a few ideas and came across the party favor boxes shown below. They were available on a few different sites so I narrowed down the best deal and ended up purchasing them on Amazon. They were a perfect size! You can find the Carnival Themed favor boxes here.

Now what to fill them with… geesh this took me forever to narrow down. I found so many fun things I could have purchased but again had to be realistic 😏. Now, not to go off topic but I am a Target lover 😍, yup, love strolling through Target for no reason, although it’s hard now with a 1-year-old. Anyways, I stop in the dollar section every time I go and I thought maybe I could find some fun items to fill the party favor boxes with. The age range of kids at the party varied from 6 months – 10 years (a few were 11, 13 and 15) but you have to have a cutoff. I thought I would have the cut off at 10 for the party favors. I’ll discuss the older kids later. Onto my Target run…..πŸƒπŸΌβ€β™€οΈ

I found a set of 6 bubbles for $1. They came in various colors. I thought this would be perfect to add. I also found small bouncy balls that came 6 for $1 that were also in various colors. I had a total of #20 favor boxes I had to fill so I had to be careful with my budget. Last but not least, I found glow sticks that came #10 for $1 so I bought a few so each kid could have more than 1 glow stick. I also bought candy for the pinata we had but figured I could add some to the favor boxes as a filler.

At the dollar store, I found yo-yo’s that brought back memories as a child. I feel as though kids are always on iPads, phones, any type of gadget and these items entertained me as a child, so why not give to the kids to experience. Last but not least, I found small bags of animal crackers at Walmart I thought would be perfect to include in the favor boxes. I originally wanted the individual boxes of animal crackers but they were too expensive so I settled for the individual bags. That’s all that was added! I know it may not sound like a lot, but with everything else we had at the party, I thought it was perfect.

As for the older kids, I ended up finding cotton candy in clear containers at our local dollar general store for $1 each so I bought quite a few. What I did was buy colorful clear bags, and split the cotton candy in half so one container filled two colorful clear bags. Each child, even the little ones, got cotton candy. (Parents and/or older sibling enjoyed the candy and cotton candy for the kids who weren’t able to eat it πŸ˜‰).


We had a pinata and I thought to pass out the party favors to the kids before hitting the pinata so they had something to put their candy in. I did not make our pinata although I almost, almost did. I could not find a pinata I wanted and searched high and low. By the time I found one which was a lion to go with the circus/carnival theme, it was too late and wouldn’t arrive in time. I waited VERY last minute for it.

The night before my husband and I were searching for “how to make a pinata” and I found on Pinterest (thank you Pinterest) a page on how to make a #1 pinata. It would have been perfect because we already had the cardboard and supplies but it wasn’t practical with everything else we had to do. On the day of picking up my son’s #1 ballon at Party City, I found a pinata that was blue and said ONE. It was perfect and only $20 so I ended up purchasing it.

ONE pinata

Sometimes you have to pick and choose and this just wasn’t something we had time for. Here is the pinata we purchased. The smaller kids had a few chances of hitting the pinata and then the older kids had 1 each. They had so much fun and collected lots of candy!!!

For the food, my husband and I knew we didn’t want to be behind a grill cooking and missing out on the party. My goal was to be present and be with our son. We ordered trays of food and also made a few dishes that we could make the night before so we didn’t have to the day of. Our family helped with food so it wasn’t too expensive and that worked out great.

That pretty much sums up the party! We had an amazing time with family and friends. Before I forget to mention, I’m a photographer, which you already know if you read through this post; however, I did not want to take away from being present in this special moment with my son and husband and didn’t want to be behind a camera.

We hired a photographer and it was the best thing I ever did. Hiring a professional, well-experienced photographer that has a business can be expensive and as you know we were trying to stay on a budget for the party. For our wedding, we wanted violinists playing during our ceremony and cocktail hour and hired students from college which made me think maybe I can find a photographer in school for a cheaper rate. I emailed a local college that is right up the street from us and a professor got back to me with an interested student who had just graduated. She was awesome, the photos came out amazing, and I got to be present and enjoy my son and his party we worked so hard for.

It was worth everything. It was exactly what I envisioned and dreamed of. As my husband and others say, he’s only 1, he isn’t going to remember this party; but to me, this was special because even though he is only 1, it’s his first birthday party ever. That is something so special to celebrate. We are truly blessed to be his parents and thank god he chose us. I wanted it to be perfect for him and it was! πŸ₯°

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post. I hope this helps you with ideas for your party planning. If you have ANY questions, feel free to comment below and I will be sure to answer as best as I can.

I’d also love it if you shared this post to help others who may be looking for party ideas! Don’t forget to pin for later! πŸ’™πŸŽͺ

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  1. Hi Michelle!

    This is such a wonderful post about your son’s 1 year birthday party.

    I remember you were telling me about this through email and I’m really mind blown by the results. You did such an amazing job with planning and the clown painting with the bean bag toss was so well done!!! It is one of my favorites from your DIY projects! πŸ™‚

    Congratulations on launching your blog! I really hope to see more of your DIY projects. You’re very very talented and everyone should learn from you!

    P.S. I think the mom and dad shirts look really cute and are well fitted for the theme! πŸ˜€

    1. Hi Ling!

      You are too sweet. Thank you for your kind words and taking the time to visit πŸ™‚