If your family is planning a backyard bar or bat mitzvah, Dorothy’s famous words at the end of “The Wizard of Oz” might be on your mind: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire… I won’t look any further than my own backyard.” True, many families’ backyard simchas were not what their hearts initially desired, but flexibility has become the hallmark of the pandemic era.
A backyard mitzvah can be as simple or upscale as your family prefers. But with some planning and a little creativity, you can find yourself quoting Dorothy again: “There’s no place like home.” Read on for our top tips for hosting a bar or bat mitzvah in your own backyard.
Create a theme
Bar and bat mitzvah theme ideas abound, from sports to theater to colors. Lean into your theme in your yard by transforming your space into a favorite destination (Parisian bistro, anyone?), a floral wonderland, classic movie scenes, or even an undersea-scape. Decorations can be simple or highly complex, as fits your family’s budget and aesthetic.
Keep it casual (but special)
Simple doesn’t mean boring — how could it when you are gathering to celebrate a milestone in your child’s life? You could have a sandwich-and-salads luncheon to follow the service, or serve other simple fare. Let your guests know that ties are not required, but comfort is. And remember that what your guests expect most is to experience the joy of your child’s accomplishment.
Jewish summer camp is a beloved institution, and you can bring your bar or bat mitzvah around the campfire by making s’mores over a fire pit, serving grilled camp fare, and setting out rustic seating like Adirondack chairs or hay bales for the kids. You can even play camp games and have a sing-along!
Truck in the food
Caterers are well able to manage a backyard event for any sort of food you want to serve. But a fun — and less involved — option is to hire a food truck to pull up to the house for your guests. You can beat the heat with an ice cream truck or other dessert treat, or serve an entire meal truckside, from mac and cheese bowls to dumplings or anything special that’s available in your area.
Be prepared for weather
As much as you plan, strategize and prepare, there’s always one thing no one can control or predict: the weather. Be ready for heat by setting up fans or handing out paper fans emblazoned with your child’s name or bar / bat mitzvah “logo.” Have a rain plan, including a tent with adjustable walls. Also, consider renting a dance floor to place in the yard or under a tent, in case of wet grass and to allow guests to be hazard-free in heeled shoes.
Protect your guests
The temperature isn’t the only hassle you might need to contend with in the backyard. Think ahead about bitey bugs and the blazing sun by setting out a table with bug repellent and sunscreen for anyone who forgot to spritz at home. If you use a lawn care service, consider having a mosquito-repelling treatment applied a few days to a week before your celebration.
Light it up!
If you are planning an evening celebration, you’ll need festive lighting to set the mood — and to help people see the buffet. Explore string-light options, from colorful twinkle lights to large, bright bulbs. Many string lights are solar-powered, which adds an environmentally friendly element to your decor. If you are having dancing at your party, your musicians or DJ might have additional lighting suggestions (light-up dance floor tiles, anyone?). And you can incorporate lighting into activities as well, with things like light-up ring toss games, corn hole, lawn darts, or necklaces and other favors.
Plan for smart sound
If your bar or bat mitzvah service is going to be outdoors, work with your synagogue for advice on how to make sure everyone can hear the ceremony — and if you have some guests attending virtually, make sure they feel included by ensuring they can hear the service and participate in a way that in-person guests can hear. For backyard celebrations, be respectful of your neighbors by letting them know about your plans in advance (if they’re not invited), and be sure to test all music and speaking sound systems before the event begins.
Header image by Grace Yagel