A 40th birthday marks a turning point in life. It’s a moment when we reflect on how far we’ve come, and how much more we want to accomplish. And if, as the saying goes, life begins at 40, a 40th birthday party offers a great way to usher in this exciting new phase of life.
Whether you’re throwing a 40th birthday party for a loved one or hosting your own big 4-0 birthday bash, we’ve got plenty of unique ideas to celebrate the start of a new decade and commemorate a big milestone.
I love to host parties that are really meaningful to the birthday recipient, and some of our favorite things from childhood can really bring a party to life.
Founder of the Cutefetti blog
Nostalgic 40th birthday ideas (with a grown-up twist)
For that ’80s baby turning 40, there’s a certain heartwarming charm to reliving the era of neon, cassette tapes, and classic arcade games. “I love to host parties that are really meaningful to the birthday recipient, and some of our favorite things from childhood can really bring a party to life,” explains party expert Dawn Lopez, creator of the Cutefetti blog.
One way to throw an ’80s-themed birthday party is to go all-in on the era: Play hits from the decade by Madonna or Bon Jovi, add lots of bright decorations, and ask guests to dress up in iconic outfits of the era, such as leg warmers, oversized sweaters, and acid wash jeans.
Lopez suggests going deeper into childhood memories for a 40th birthday party theme. She likes to focus on someone’s favorite superhero or cartoon character from back in the day. “See how you can bring elements of the characters and story to life through fun foods and decorations.” You could also incorporate elements from a popular ’80s movie or video game.
Recreate your favorite childhood party place
Did you, or the guest of honor, spend every weekend at the arcade? Or did an ideal Friday night consist of eating pan pizza at an iconic chain restaurant or hanging out at the local video rental spot? Then throw an instant pizza party that’s even better than you remember, with pizza kits that come with a bottle of wine as bonus! (For a truly nostalgic experience, serve cola too.) You could also pick up some old school DVDs and candy to recreate those all-night movie marathons you used to have in your best friend’s basement.
Want to make a big impression? Serve up plenty of sweet treats in the form of a breakable chocolate pretzel pizza (which comes with its own mallet for busting). That’s sure to be a smashing birthday moment worth capturing.
Was the roller skating rink your second home? Lopez suggests finding a retro roller skating rink and serving themed food items. “It would be cute to serve roller skate-shaped cake, cookies, and snacks,” she says.
‘Intriguing’ 40th birthday ideas
Make turning 40 into a mystery
Grab a murder mystery game kit and assign characters beforehand so everyone can dress the part (or just wing it on the spot by supplying some props). Of course, you’ll also want to serve up snacks and drinks. A mystery cookie box and bloody marys sound appropriate. Add a classy touch with myriad mocktails, from Espress0% Martini to Sansgria, for those skipping the alcohol.
Fortune-ate at 40
Bring an air of mystique to your 40th birthday party by inviting a psychic to tell everyone’s fortunes, or DIY the future-casting with a set of tarot cards. Gift tarot-themed plant seed packets and tarot card mini journals as favors, and decorate with some tarot-themed items like candles and diffusers.
Camp out under the stars
There’s nothing like escaping into nature to usher in a new beginning in life — and what better way to do it than with friends and family to celebrate turning 4-0. Get together around the campfire, tell spooky stories, and treat everyone to s’more making with your choice of ingredients presented beautifully on a customized wooden board. Pair it with s’mores-flavored popcorn and some chocolate-, marshmallow-, and graham-themed gourmet snacks.
Enriching 40th birthday ideas
Take an online workshop
Learning something new can be an invigorating and bonding experience among loved ones. And the best part is you don’t need to have any skills or prior experience to dive into a new hobby or interest. Whether it becomes a life-long passion or merely a one-time adventure, exploring a culinary, craft, or specialized skill can be a way to broaden your horizons when turning 40. Try your hand at a virtual group lesson, such as flower arranging, pasta making, succulent growing, or mixology.
Host a Bob Ross paint party
Take the classic paint party and make it epic with everyone’s favorite ASMR art instructor. Heck, you don’t even need to do any painting! (Although if you want to, we’ve got you covered.) A Bob Ross-themed 40th birthday party decoration package is sure to do the trick. Throw in “Bob Mob” for the lawn and a wine and light bites package, and you’re sure to have plenty of “happy little trees.”
40th birthday gift ideas
Transportive 40th birthday ideas
Choose your own 40th birthday adventure
You don’t need to travel far to find an adventure. Turning 40 means trying new things, so get out and do something new, such as an escape room, rage room, or VR lounge. For those that want to get the heart pumping, visit a trampoline gym or play laser tag. You’ll come home invigorated from the experience, and hungry from all the energy you expended, which is why an instant Italian dinner — with all the comforts of spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, and apple crostata already made and ready for you to enjoy — is the perfect birthday meal.
Your favorite book or movie birthday
At 40, you probably have very specific tastes and fandoms when it comes to your entertainment choices. Bring that pop culture obsession to life with a party that celebrates a favorite book, movie, or TV series. How about a Mad Hatter tea party or “Lord of the Rings”–inspired feast with plenty of dishes featuring “po-tay-toes“? For the Jane Austen fan, recreate the splendor of a gorgeous English garden by filling the space with springtime blooms and a stunning centerpiece. Serve up traditional English muffins, offer Regency-style dance lessons, and invite guests to dress in Bridgerton-style outfits.
Escape to another era
Time travel to the past with a 40th birthday party set in an iconic era. Picture turning your home into a roaring 1920s speakeasy with flapper attire, a posh cocktail-making station (don’t forget to offer some mocktails as well!), and indulgent delights, such as caviar and chocolate truffles. Or create some “disco fever” with a 70s-themed birthday bash. Invite guests to sport their best bell-bottoms and platforms, and add a disco ball, funky music and, of course, smiley faces.
No-school snow day for big kids
Remember those magical days when school got canceled for snow and all you did was watch cartoons, have snowball fights, and retreat in the house for hot chocolate breaks? Recreate those unforgettable times by inviting friends to come over in their best pajama outfits and fixing up a cereal bar with all your favorite childhood breakfast treats (including cereal cookies!), along with some adult beverages.
Lopez says, “I love the idea of throwing a sleepover-inspired party — basically, a celebration that brings the birthday person right back to their childhood. I once threw an old school party to celebrate friendships and served up a retro waffle bar and handed out friendship bracelets. It was SO much fun.”