Do you remember your third birthday party when the theme was third birthday party? Will Jack remember his, ‘I am three, welcome to my bakery?’ Today birthday parties are a big business with equally big expectations. Parents are trying to outdo themselves and each other and the bar keeps getting higher.
Birthday parties are yet another way to strut your stuff. Endlessly tying balloons in bunches to resemble flowers? Baking banana cupcakes with agave and a sprinkle of cocoa powder? Or working with Mount Street Printers on the invitation to Ella’s first birthday party at the Arts Club? There’s no chance she knows those engraved cards match her thank you cards. (Which also coordinate with her birth announcements.)
So what happens once children are old enough to appreciate what birthdays mean and the party becomes important to them? Do you throw in the towel and head to the church hall with the magician knowing well that you cannot have hot canapés? Not to mention the crumbs on the floor from the last four parties the same week. For your budding soccer champ, do you really let all your parent friends stand on the field while the pro’s direct party drills? Cake on the grass – eeek! (Unless of course, you erect a marquis with a parquet floor in your garden.)
Eventually, you hit the turning point from parent social to making your child the happiest he can be. Which often means biting your tongue and heading to a venue that is not of your choice.
Nothing is spared when it comes to a child’s party. Even in a tougher economic environment, parents prioritize their children. So although they may be wiser about where they spend, it becomes a matter of making a choice as to how many animals come to your ‘at home zoo’ or whether or not you take five or eight best friends to cirque du Soleil.
According to Sharkey and George, “the children are not particularly interested or wowed by visual set up, location, elaborate food, size of party or vast extravagant decoration.” But they do admit, “the parent are able to steer their children a little bit, but the initial ideas, themeing and outline of activities definitely come from the children.”
They mention a recent trend towards ‘decorate your own Converse or canvas bag’ parties which is an original take on traditional arts and crafts themes.
For the domestic goddess, there is something to be said for old-fashioned party games. For the kids (and the parents) who have never seen pin the tail on the donkey or a home-made piñata, this is definitely one way to show them heaps of good fun.
Irrespective of whether or not it will be eaten, plan an impressive spread for the kids and the parents. Consider your goddess factor when putting together a buffet of seasonal, organic, produce and serving of sustainable fish goujons with celeriac mash.
And for the ultimate 21st century birthday, how about suggesting to your child a donation to a charity in lieu of some gifts? Make them donate a few of their gifts but don’t make the whole party a lesson in civic responsibility.
The big trend is to get real competitive with creativity. And getting particularly creative with color schemes can earn you placement in Elle Decor. Considering an entire party revolving around pale blue elephants or pink cupcakes. How about a “hello yellow” third birthday? Complete with a lemonade bar and a cascade of yellow streamers willowing over an entire table covered with varied height glass jars of yellow candy.
Jordan Bariesheff of Polkadot Prints is a mum and creative designer who is at the forefront of the trend for themed and colour-coordinated kids parties, but she is quick to stress that mums shouldn’t go over the top. “I’m not a big fan of spending your whole family’s food budget on a child’s party, but I do believe in making birthdays a day that makes the child feel loved, and that for one day everyone’s eye is on them,” she says.
“I come from the angle of creating parties that are themed and coordinated,” Jordan reveals. “I enjoy putting the time & creative detail into a celebration that reflects their personality, favourite colour, foods or interests. If you focus on this, it gives you opportunity to be as unique as your child. As we all love reading a book to escape to another kingdom, making food, games and take home treats tie in to the one theme, creates a complete experience your little guests and guest of honour will remember for a lifetime.”
Goody bags are a standard line item – right after theme and cake. But the standard bags are bad for the environment and are often filled with items that kids don’t need or cherish.
Try alternative designs such as paper boxes and cartons that can be recycled or hessian bags that the children can use again.
Or how ‘bout ditching the bag altogether? The idea of a going home gift is a lovely thank you to friends for celebrating with you – and it doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming, and, you can one up the other parents by doing something different.
A few alternative going home gifts:
- T-shirts: roll up a printed logo t-shirt and tie it with a great matching ribbon that has a personal note from the birthday boy/girl attached.
- Photo: an old-fashioned Polaroid photo from the party in a frame
- Seed and pot
- Personalized pencils
[picture credits: Jessica Harris; Polkadot Prints; Sharkey and George]