It’s a little bit of a vulnerable thing to throw yourself a birthday party. I turned 36 this year, and with my birthday arriving at the end of a year that held both significant loss and much growth, I was ready to celebrate big. Most years insecurity has kept my celebrations and my invite list small, but this year I felt ready to have a big party and when a good friend with a passion for event prep offered to come along for the ride, I decided to go all in!
Parks and recreation has been off the air for a few years, but still lives on as a pop-culture icon. Parks and Recreation is still one of my favorite shows and I have not stopped loving it at all since it went off the air. Having a Parks and Rec themed party was surprisingly perfect for adults, it was a playful way to theme an adult party.
My friend group shares an affinity for Rarks and Rec, and are constantly making references to the show, so it seemed like a fun theme for a party. I recently decided that costume parties are a great way to do a party when your friends are mostly introverts but prone to commit heartily when they agree to something. My invite to my Parks and Recreation themed party included the invitation to come in costume and in character. Everyone had a lot of fun playing the part of their chosen role- especially since the Parks and Rec has such great characters that personify the alter-egos of many of people!
My Parks and Recreation birthday party included a themed menu up snacks, amazing decorations and even a parks and rec game/activity for my grown-up guests. I thought I’d share a little bit about our decorations, menu, signs, and props in case anyone out there is still a diehard fan of parks and rec trying to host their own themed event.
Parks an Recreation Themed Menu
MENU & SIGNS
food signs were displayed on the buffet table using vintage clipboards and the transparent sleeve on the front of a binder (binders being, of course, classic parks and rec reference)
Andy’s mouth surprise – “it’s nice because the flavor of the starbursts to really bring out a similar flavor of the skittles” – Andy Dwyer. For a sweet addition to our buffet, we added Andy Dwyer’s classic combo of starbursts and skittles.
Calzones (aka Pizza Rolls)– Ben Wyatt’s favorite food, calzones, were a natural choice for this themed party, but who’s got time to make calzones!? In a burst of inspiration, my party planning friends suggested we sub pizza rolls for calzones and it was a perfect party pairing.
Also on the menu: BACON, Chicken Strips, Waffles, and Veggies.
Eggos and Frozen Chicken Strips made a “chicken and waffles” option easy.
Themed Party Decor
Pawnee Indiana is overrun by raccoons. In keeping with this theme, we filled the venue with raccoons. An artist friends came over the night before and drew 2 foot tall raccoons on posterboard which we then pasted around the building, but you could do the same thing with pictures or even stuffed animals – just make sure the raccoons don’t run you out of your party like they ran Leslie Knope’s mother out of the Pawnee hospital when she was going into labor with Leslie.
it just isn’t Pawnee without little Sebastian, and during our party planning sessions we dreamed of lots of different ways to have a version of Lil’ Sebastian present- even checking into getting a live miniature horse to show up! But a few days before the party when we went to a thrift store to try and score some party supplies, we found the perfect little Sebastian: A FurReal animatronic horse.
Initially, at the store, where the giant stuffed horse was priced only $12, it appeared to just be a large stuffed horse- it wasn’t until later that we realized all it needed was a package of new batteries to come back to life. It was the perfect Pawnee Indiana party decor, and it spent the entire party flicking its tail, tossing his head, whinnying, and following conversations with its head and ears. This used giant fake horse was maybe more popular than me, the birthday girl, at the party.
Ben: “I’m sorry, are you eating turkey chili off of a frisbee?”
Andy: “Yeah. We’re cute, right?”
Ben: “No. Do you know what cute means?”
April: “What have you got against turkey chili for breakfast?”
Ben: “What have you guys got against washing dishes?”
April: “We don’t have any dishes, okay.
As a nod to April and Andy’s plate-less kitchen, we subbed frisbees for party plates. Frisbees were more expensive than I expected online, but at a nearby thiftstore we were able to score a dozen for under $10. After a trip through the dishwasher and paired with cheap paper plates, these made fun themed plates for the party.
When you think of Parks and Recreation waffles are a no-brainer. In a stroke of luck, my December birthday coincides with the exact time of year that retailers panic about keeping summer inflatables in stock. I was able to score this 5-foot wide inflatable waffle on clearance on eBay a few weeks before the party, and he made the perfect hiding spot for the cutest of Pawnee’s raccoons.
Additional decor was provided via some printable signs I made in advance and balloons. The signs were super easy to make and I’ve provided a couple of PDF versions of my posters below.
For frames, rather than purchasing new ones I just visited a large thrift store, where black thin-rimmed frames can easily be scored for about one dollar each – cheap when it comes to party decor!
Free Downloadable PDF Sign: Sometimes you gotta work a little so you can ball a lot – Tom Havorford
Free Printable PDF sign: you poetic noble land mermaid
Club_Swanson (not my sign, and I’ve lost the source if it’s yours PLEASE let me know)
Frankly, once little Sebastian was in place I was convinced the party was perfect. But when a friend arrived a few minutes later bearing a homemade DJ Roomba the party was really complete. Paired with a Parks and Rec themed Spotify playlist, it was the perfect finishing touch.
Venue – An actual community room
for the sake of authenticity w, actually looked into posting this party at one of Seattle’s community centers or a library, but it turns out any of these public spaces are free require that the events be open to the public. When my friend offered a room at her church I was initially skeptical, however the community room turned out to be the perfect venue. A bulletin board covered with signs posted on how to apply for a job if you’ve been convicted of a felony, and flyers about hepatitis A symptoms posted around the room actually made for an ironic and totally appropriate backdrop (I did add my own “Pawnee’s most wanted pests” sign to one of the bulletin boards)
Picking my costume was hard, I definitely channel Leslie Knope opted in my excitement about projects and intensity about and for the people and things I care about, but it was also very important for me to be ME at my party. After a little bit of thought, I decided to be a “Pawnee goddess” the feminist Scout group headed by Leslie Knope on the show. With a purple vest from Amazon, a little bit of rick rack, and a few patches I sourced from the craft store (and one Pawnee goddess pouch I found online) I made a perfect version of the Pawnee goddess uniform.
For the most part, my Parks and Recreation party flowed like a typical adult get-together, with one special edition: contests and prizes! In true Leslie note fashion, and challenged my partygoers to form teams, and with their team to make a collage birthday card for me in five minutes or less. The winning team, I promised, would win prizes.
Ultimately (of course) I named no winner, however conducting the contest was a delight and gave me an excuse to exercise one of my favorite ways that Leslie note and I are similar: giving presents. Before the party I’d been collecting small gifts from clearance and even thrift stores, and had enough to gift these small tokens to everyone – but it was particularly fun to be able to give other, specially chosen gifts to those who worked so hard to make my birthday party special.
I hope this post has been helpful for planing your own Parks and Rec themed event. In the end, we brain stormed many ideas we weren’t able to implement at the party, so I’m including a list of even more ideas below:
- 3 Ring Binder Party Favors, with clear inserts filled with goodies.
- Making “Sponsored by Sweetums” signage
- Giving Awards, like “Pawnee Woman of the Year” and “Best Chair”
- Creating mock-ups of Tom Havorford’s many inventions, for props.
- Making a simplified Cones of Dunshire game using chocolate and vanilla ice-cream-cones on an oversize checkers board.