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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Birthday Parties?

This morning as I prepared to take the 4yr old to a birthday party (breathe in, breathe out), the 9yr old enquired, "So, what sort of party is it?"

"What do you mean?" I asked incredulously. "It's a birthday party of course!"

He said, "Noooo. I mean what kind of birthday party is it?"

"Oh," I replied, realising what he was, in fact, asking, "You mean...what's the theme of the party, right?"

"Yes!" he answered with just a hint of frustration in his voice. I could almost hear him thinking, Geez, Mum...get with the programme already!

The old fashioned birthday party seems to be something of a rarity. Parties these days almost always have a theme or include an entertainer or are held at a centre that specialises in some form of entertainment for kids. Almost gone are the days of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, pass-the-parcel (actually, that continues to be a bit of a party favourite, although in my day there was only ONE winner - not everybody got a turn of unwrapping and receiving a gift) and the chocolate game. (Do you remember the chocolate game? I can't recall exactly how it went, but it had something to do with dressing up in silly clothes and trying to cut in to a large Dairy Milk chocolate bar with a knife and fork, and it was all done in a hurry.)

When friends of ours used to hold parties for their preschooler children, they would do the backyard thing, but would completely go out of their way to entertain the kids pretty much every second of the party. Dancing competitions, pass the parcel, treasure hunts...you name it, and all I could think at the time was, Surely these kids just want to play?

Today's party was fairly relaxed. In fact the only thing that set it apart from parties of yesteryear was the obligatory jumping castle in the backyard. (And let's face it, those things are worth their weight in GOLD.) But there was no petting zoo, hired entertainer, fancy-schmancy birthday cake...just essentially a handful of kids having some play time together.

I wondered, is it that kids have a higher expectation for their birthday parties and the parties they attend these days, or is it the parents that have set the precedence for more elaborate affairs? What would my 9yr old son think if I said, "Hey, how about next year for your birthday we just invite some kids to the local park and kick a soccer ball around and eat cake?" Would he go for it? Or would he think, What? My parents don't want to give me a real birthday party?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying, for example, colour-themed parties - something I don't really remember being a big deal when I was a kid - are terrible at all (actually, I rather like a colour-theme myself). Nor am I going to baulk at taking any of my sons to an indoor rock-climbing for a party (really...who actually wants 15 boys running around their backyard?). And Hubby and I have often taken the easy route ourselves when it comes to birthday celebrations.

When the 9yr old and 7yr old celebrated their 5th and 3rd birthdays, I organised a joint party at a fairly local indoor play centre (mostly attended by family friends and their kids). I did this because: a) I had a fairly newborn baby; and b) the thought of kids running around screaming in our backyard, and trying to get the house in order in preparation for the party scared the living bejeebies out of me. In my mind, it was money well spent. The kids had a great time. They were entertained by a very cool Michael Buble lookalike magician (therefore, the mums in attendance were also entertained), I got to sit and drink coffee with the adults and show off my new son, and we went home leaving all the mess behind.

When the 9yr old turned 7, we held his party at an indoor cricket centre, which had an adjacent outdoor oval. We paid something like $200 to hire a guy for a couple of hours to run through cricket and soccer with the kids, and the kids loved the automatic ball machine that bowled cricket balls to them. We simply provided drinks, chips and some birthday cake. It was easy and, once again, worth the cost.

When the 7yr old had his 6th birthday party, we took a bunch of kids in two cars with us to an outdoor mini putt-putt centre, where we all played a round of golf then drove the kids across the road to the local McDonald's for food and ice-cream cake. It was a long party, mostly taken up with traveling time (four hours in total), but easy-peasy and not wildly expensive.

The 9yr old celebrated his last birthday with a game of laser skirmish at a local centre. It was quick - in and out - and everything was taken care of. We just turned up.

Even parties that are held in people's homes are becoming more elaborate with themes, hand-made decorations, cupcakes adorned with luscious icing, flowers, etc - which I LOVE. I can't get enough seeing photos of such parties, and wish I could do something similar. But I am personally just not up for the task. I can't even think where to start in putting together a colour coordinated string of flags or making a castle-like birthday cake, for example. Streamers and balloons and a purchased cake is about as far as I go.

Even the older 'kids' these days are turning to themes for their parties. When I turned 21, almost every party was identical, except perhaps for the location. A bunch of kids got together to drink, dance to either a DJ or a bunch of records thrown on by whoever was closest to the record player at the time, and that was that. Talking to a young girl at a clothing store last week, she was trying to work out what 'theme' to have for her 21st. 1920s? Cocktail? She couldn't decide, but she knew she wanted an old-fashioned photo booth. At my 21st, a friend ran around taking snaps of my big night.

Whilst I'm definitely a fan of sports parties and cricket parties and ten-pin bowling parties, I also kinda miss the parties of my youth. They were no doubt a lot of work for my parents - especially my mother - who baked like crazy leading up to my birthday, but I certainly have fond memories of them.

Perhaps our kids are actually missing out by having too much, and they just don't realise it?

How about you? Do you go all out for your kids' birthday parties? Would you pay a party-planner to organise it for you, or is that taking it too far?



•´.¸¸.•¨¯`♥.Trish.♥´¯¨•.¸¸.´• said...

Enjoyed reading this post Jodie.
We've done it too with our now 18 yr old from backyard run around parties (his 5th too), the indoor soccer, roller skating/scooter at skatel , laser skirmish and a 9yr old sleepover (once ONLY), golden arches and others.
His friends held a fancy dress surprise party for him last week - even hired him a costume.

Next week I am doing an old fashioned just run , jump and play in the backyard party for my 5 yr olds. We will have a few games too and of course pass the parcel.
No theme just a bit of fun.
I HOPE it doesn't rain.

cjtato said...

We are lucky that we have three girls and disco parties work well in our house. We have a great room for it that is now finished and the girls love musical statues as their game of choice. The rest of the party time is spent running around our yard. We have one prize for the winner and I do bake a cake. That's my thing. The cake.

The girls have requested various things like horse riding and ice skating but I'm yet to oblige. LOL

We have done the indoor play centre and the park. I love the idea of themed everything but can't justify the outlay when kids are just as happy to run around as you say. They really don't care if they're drinking out of clear plastic cups or colour coordinated ones. LOL

Miss Cinders said...

We have "come and play for the day, eat junk and come tell us when you want cake" kinda parties [when we have them]. Nothing better than wild children running around squealing and playing for an afternoon :)

MultipleMum said...

I like to host simple parties. We don't mind a theme (superheroes seem to be the most commonly selected option here) and we just play games, eat food and get on with it. I have never paid for an entertainer or a venue.

Having said all that, my kids LOVE OTT parties hosted by others and my sister is VERY partial to a grand party for her kids so my kids live vicariously through others and still have a sunshiney childhood too! x

Naomi said...

The best parties my kids had was run at the park ones. I provided basic food & drink and the kids ran around.

We have had a few themed ones, fairy ones for Miss. We hired a fairy and the fairy shop also provided lolly bags and played party games while I sat back and watched. Perfect.

I do wonder at some of the parties around, and sometimes can't decide who they are for, the kids or the parents?

This year my son had a sleep over. I organised nothing... the boys made their own fun. Too easy and they loved it.

I think sometimes we forget that simple can work just as well, and means less stress for us parents!

And as for pass the parcel... what's with that? There used to be one prize, and the rule i our house was the birthday girl could not get it, because she had enough gifts thank you very much!

Manda said...

Mr 5 hosted his own birthday party three weeks ago with 18 of his (closest) friends. By hosted I mean he decided on what food we were going to have (sausage rolls, fairy bread, hot chips, chicken nuggets and magic lemonade),
what games we were going to play
- adventure course he made up in the back yard including jumping over the lawn mower box, throwing balls in the the laundry basket and climbing up the cubby ladder and sliding down the slide,
- catch the villian, which involved chasing two people and then "tying" them up with toilet paper (this game could have gone on for hours and cost $2.50 in loo paper)
- eat the donut with your hands behind your backs.
He had so much fun playing the games and everyone had much more fun playing them!

I hadn't thought I was really having an old fashioned party until one of the mum's commented on how refreshing it was for them just to be having fun not being entertaining. Initially I was a little taken aback by her comment but the squealing for joy soon put and end to that!
Yes, it was 2 hours of absolute bedlam and maddness, but only took a couple of hours to prepare the food, and about 1/2 hour to clean up (tip: play the toilet paper game near the recycling bin!) And I wouldn't have had it any other way.

(and the mother who commented has now cancelled her daughters "movie party" and they are going to have an old fashioned party at home. Mr 5 and his friends can't wait!

Corinne – Daze of My Life said...

I'm from the old school mold. We only have parties at home or in the park across the road with a handful of friends, a cake, some lollies and some sausage rolls (which my hubby makes). We only have one winner for pass-the-parcel, etc. I'm organising my almost-three-year-old's at the moment. The cake is a dodgy homemade cake, made with love. The decorations consist of balloons and some crepe paper.

In saying that, I'm planning on have my eldest's party this year at a local centre as number 3 is due five days before her birthday. So I'll either have a brand new baby or be extremely pregnant, so in any situation not up to the task of organising a party.

Miss Pink said...

Parties are important to me. I love to entertain and get right into them. I also am a fan of having them in the home because I feel like why not? I have the time to do this.
However that being said, I refuse to do a party each year for my kids. Bluey will be having his second birthday party ever for his 6th birthday next year (his first party being, well his first birthday). I'm hoping his next part won't be until we're in the teens era. I just feel like that birthdays can have sometimes too much emphasis placed on the gifts and a big party, when your day can be special without that. Letting him choose a special place to visit or thing to do and then having a homemade cake that he helps me with with just the immediate family.

I agree that some parties get too big. Really I think Whatever i'm glad i'm not paying for it, but sometimes it's like REALLY? Are you KIDDING ME? For the extremes some parents go to almost like they're competing with one another to have the "best party" when really they're all great in their own way.

Jean said...

I'm with Miss Cinders....try a "recession chic" theme??

Jodie Ansted said...

Multiple Mum - Oh, yes. I would LOVE to attend one of your sister's parties. It's her photos I salivate over! I love her work. ;)

Nomie - The 4yo went to a party last year where the older brother of the bday boy won the dance comp AND he took a treasure hunt toy off my son to switch with his that didn't work! SO annoyed. ;)

Manda - 'Catch the Villian - lovin' that!!

Miss Pink - we don't have them every year either. The joint 3 & 5 yo party was our first real party, then after that I said they could have one every couple of years, alternating the years. But we don't have big ones. About 10 kids. It may even be less than every 2 years. On the years they don't have a party, they get to invite a couple of friends over after school or on their b'day for afternoon tea - cake! 4yo is yet to have a party, but then his b'day is between Xmas & NY - that's going to be a nightmare! :(

River said...

I totally suck at parties. My kids didn't get one every year. We did a family celebration instead. The birthday child chose the dinner menu and type of cake and that was it. Plus gifts of course. The kids didn't seem to mind. An occasional party with friends over seemed quite okay with them.

jody said...

So agree, the simpler the better! Bring back the old school, i think kids get too much these days anyway.. mine included! x

Kellie said...

We haven't done big parties for our kids. Daughter is 3 and the most I've done is make her an Elmo cake and cook a BBQ. We've gone out for dinner for the other two birthdays.
Son is one in a few weeks and we are doing the same, just family and close friends at home or out for tea. I don't want to set a standard where every year they expect a carnival. Such a waste!

Ms Styling You said...

We're in the planning stages for Mr 5's six-year-old bash. We've talked him out of the indoor play centre (same centre that he currently has three invites on the fridge to!) to a "soccer" party in the park. Will see how it all pans out. I always let the kids choose a cake from the Women's Weekly cake book ... one year, I did almost poison the guests with the overly red icing ... but the photos look good. That's important, isn't it?
Good post, Jodie. I do think things in the party game have gone a little too far.

Mama of 2 boys said...

I'm with Jodie, the thought of organising parties NOW scares the daylights out of me. Pre-kiddies, I used to dream about hosting their birthday parties, doing all the games, food, prizes, lollybags myself. And so far, I have actually done that... with the exception of my eldest son's 3rd birthday party, where I hired a balloon twister to entertain the kid's for an hour. But I have to admit, I think my 'do it yourself at home' party days are numbered. My little one turns 1 next week and I have completely gone the easy option. I have decided to have one party just for our little family and a second 'brunch' party, midweek, for a handful of very close friends. All up there will be 10 kiddies and 7 adults... MORE than enough! Truth is, it's stressful, time consuming, tiring and expensive... in comparison to paying a centre to do it all for me. I still do like the old fashioned parties though, they take me back to my childhood, which I loved :o) xo

Hi I'm Rhonda. said...

interesting post...i do theme parties but generally i provide the entertainment. we often do it at a park because having all those kids in the backyard is sometimes daunting. but we've done pirates, football, baseball, cars, you name it. we also do a yearly Halloween party for kids and we have done a theme each year for that. although mostly we just let the kids run around and play. now my son is getting older and he informs me it's not play, it's hang out. i would never hire a party planner and i always let my son be part of the planning.

Jodi @ The Scribble Den said...

Yes. Bring back the old fashioned parties. Where kids ran off playing, came back for cake and then had another ball playing with each other in between the odd game. Let kids be kids.
Oh and Jodie, I used to love the chocolate game and introduced it to my girls a few years ago. Funny though, I don't think they were as excited as I....

MummyK said...

I used a play centre for her second bday because I'm too lazy! Whatever is convenient yet fun, no big things, or expensive things, too impractical!

Maxabella said...

I confess to being one of those OTT party throwers - but always at home and always as cheaply as possible. I just love a theme, love a decoration, love entertaining the kids... addicted, actually. I don't know what I'll do when they are older and don't want my parties anymore. x

Cathy said...

I actually wrote a post yesterday about the headache of "the kindergarten party"...I hasdn't read this blog post at the time. I'm hoping they get easier as they get older, especially as they develop closer friendships with just a handful of children rather than the whole school (hoping). I long for those simple backyard parties too. If you observe kids, they really don't need anything but each other to be entertained. We underestimate their ability to just have fun and use their imaginations. Of course, despite knowing this we go all out to make sure they are not bored :)

Megan Blandford said...

Yes! There was only ONE winner in pass the parcel! Everyone winning something kind of annoys me ;)