Michigan kids get infused with state pride early on – from the day they make their first mitten-shaped map in school. Throw in a Tigers game or two and a passion for Better Made potato chips, and they easily become pint-sized promoters of what sets our Great Lake state apart from the rest of the union.
So why not extend that hometown pride to their next birthday bash – or, heck, celebrate the state’s birthday (that’d be Jan. 26, 1837)?
Here’s a guide to throwing a Michigan themed birthday party including decorations, food and fun that will tickle the heart of any true-blooded Michigander – big or small. Then, maybe tackle Michigan-made gifts next.
The Michigan mitten
Michiganders are famous for showing where we live by pointing it out on our hands. Buy a cheap mitten or oven mitt for each guest – or cut out paper mittens. Print party details on 3-by-5-inch paper tags. Punch a hole in a corner of the tag and thread string through. Attach the string to a small safety pin and clip it to the appropriate spot on the mitten.
With over 11,000 inland lakes, 36,000 miles of rivers and touching four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan is known for its waterways. Create a label for a regular-sized water bottle with all the party details. Print out the labels on your home printer and glue them onto the bottles.
Keep it tasty
Choose a Michigan-made food product to include in a decorative baggy attached to your invite. Explain on the card that the party’s theme will be “Pure Michigan.” Try Sander’s chocolates, Better Made potato chips or even Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts.
Show your colors
Include traditional decor like streamers and balloons –just use your child’s favorite Michigan team as the guide. Like Wolverine blue and yellow for U-M fans. Or twist together green and white to dress your house in MSU style. Or go for a more-neutral navy blue and orange to show your support for the Detroit Tigers.
Light up the state
Dig out your holiday lights and hang them around the room, or wind them up banisters to add some sparkle. Make paper cutouts of a map of Michigan or purchase hot-mitts and attach a few in between the lights using clothespins.
Keep it green
Use faux vines to decorate party tables and even the mantle to foster a forest-feel. (After all, 50 percent of Michigan’s land is covered with woods!) Alternatively, use branches from outside – or get green potted plants from a nursery to decorate your home (consider giving away these plants as party favors, or plant them in your yard after the event).
Rev your engines
Michigan has a special kinship with cars. We aren’t called the Motor City for nothing! Buy cheap Hot Wheels knock-offs at the dollar store and string them from some twine. If your child has a favorite car or company (Detroit Three only, please!), consider buying a model of that auto as a centerpiece.
Better Made snacks
Leave out bowls of Better Made potato chips and pretzels as appetizers and munchies. For a special twist, look for Better Made’s old-fashioned Rainbow Chips. These dark chips with the sweet “burnt” taste are a high-demand departure from the regular pale potato chips. Or, for a traditional taste every kid will love, go for classic barbecue chips.
Garden Fresh Gourmet chips and salsa
Let this Ferndale-based food company supply the chips and dips for your party. Choose from a variety of tortilla chip flavors, including blue corn. Load up on plenty of dips, too, like all-natural sweet onion or mango-peach salsa, spinach dip and hummus – to name just a few.
Luckily, Michigan is home to two pizza powerhouses: Little Caesars (run by the Tigers-owning Ilitch family) and Ann Arbor-based Domino’s. If pizza doesn’t suit your palate, consider serving up Kowalski franks – hot dogs, brats and smoked sausage, fresh from Hamtramck.
Make some delicious recipes with Michigan ingredients, from Faygo to Sanders!
Known as the “original party pop,” Faygo soda began in 1907 when a pair of brothers from Russia decided to use their baking skills to make drinks. The original flavors – strawberry (Redpop), grape and fruit punch – were based on cake flavors. Today you can choose from more than 50 varieties. (Faygo’s Rock & Rye cream cola should rank high on your shopping list!)
Guernsey sundae with Sanders hot fudge
Look for ice cream in your grocer’s freezer from Novi-based Guernsey Farms Dairy. Make sure to top your sundae with Sanders’ milk chocolate hot fudge, butterscotch caramel or other creamy sauces. Don’t forget to offer Traverse City tart cherries to top this treat. Mmm, Michigan!
Party games and activities
Pin-the-tail on the deer
Instead of using a donkey, draw a large picture of a white-tailed deer – Michigan’s official state animal – on poster board to re-invent this party classic. Guests can attempt to pin-in the “white tail.”
Tap into the Motor City mindset with this game! In advance, help your child make cars using cardboard boxes, poster paints and a bit of imagination (2D or 3D, your choice). In your home or backyard, create an obstacle course for these cars to “navigate.” During the party, have guests go through the course with their cars – and see who zooms through the fastest.
Did you know that the painted turtle is Michigan’s official state reptile? Chances are your guests won’t, either. Help them remember by offering an activity where they decorate printouts of a turtle with watercolors or markers. This activity works well for younger children; for older kids, you might offer craft clay, so they can mold their own versions.
Froot Loops necklaces
Let your gets string bright Froot Loops – from the Battle Creek-based Kellogg’s – on yarn to create edible jewelry.
Break out the Slip ‘N Slide and let guests know that to celebrate Michigan’s many waterways, you’re going to have some slippery fun.
Using colored streamers for “flags,” let your guests divide into teams and play either flag football or flag tag. You might try pitting the U-M fans (blue flags) against MSU diehards (green).
Set up a pyramid on the ground using two-liter Faygo soda pop bottles. Purchase three- to four-inch rings for guests to toss. Make sure to set up a line so that players have to stand a certain distance away before they begin throwing. You can also use these two-liter bottles as party favors once the game is over.
This post was originally published in 2012 and is updated regularly.