Party on, Wayne. Party on, Garth.

The other day Hannah’s son received a Save the Date for a birthday party. Save the Dates…they are not just for weddings anymore! Do I even have to point out that Hannah’s son just turned eight?

Well, it got us thinking about things that have changed in the birthday party scene since we were kids. It’s also timely since my birthday is next week and Hannah’s is the week after, so we have birthdays on our minds.

Now, I’m not going to be judgy about what kind of birthday party you want to throw for your child. I’ve done everything from inviting the entire kindergarten class to the gymnastics centre to having one friend over to eat cupcakes and play video games. I’ve hired a clown for a group of five-year-olds, and I’ve created an obstacle course in my basement for a bunch of preschoolers. The last party we had consisted of a dozen eleven year olds in my basement, hanging out, eating pizza and ice cream, and making so much noise that my dog hid in his crate for the entire four hours. So I’m not going to get all up in your grill about how you celebrate birthdays.

What I am going to do is reminisce about birthday parties of years gone by, before gift registries and Save the Dates, before Pinterest and ensuring every last detail was consistent with a “theme,” before every place in town, from the fire station to the children’s barber shop, advertised itself as a “great venue for birthday parties.”

In my neighbourhood, birthday parties generally followed the same schedule: guests would all arrive on time and would be ushered to a table where a craft was set up. The craft was generally decorating a party hat, but some friends whose birthday was near Christmas would have a cookie-decorating table. After the craft, a number of games would be played, such as Pin the Tail on the Donkey (and it actually was a picture of a donkey) and musical chairs. There would be winners to these games, and those winners would get a small prize. Not everyone was a winner! This is an important detail. Therefore, these games were taken seriously. We all wanted that candy necklace.

Post-games would be the food. Often parties would take place after school and therefore would push into the supper hour: food would then be Kraft Dinner and hotdogs, followed by a homemade birthday cake. Afternoon parties would feature chips and pretzels, and then birthday cake. I remember one party in which we all went to McDonald’s; whether the whole party took place there or only the food portion, I do not recall. I’m not sure what we would have done at McDonald’s other than eat, but maybe there was a party room that I cannot remember.

After eating, it was time for presents. My children have had parties where guests bring food donations in lieu of gifts, but back in the 80s that would have been unheard of. I think it was easier to buy gifts back then, because not every child had everything imaginable, which is what it seems like now. Also, simple gifts like new markers and a colouring book were greatly appreciated. After the gift opening, there would be time to actually play with the new gifts, or maybe to run around in the backyard if weather permitted, before our parents picked us up or – alternately – we walked home by ourselves.

There’s something to be said about this approach. My children have attended parties at laser tag places, movie theatres, gymnastic centres, bouncy houses, and community centres, but their favourite party remains the one they went to in our neighbourhood, in which they played games like Balloon Stomp, Freeze Dance, and Toilet Paper Mummy, and ate Jello Jigglers for dessert. There’s something to be said about the simple, old-fashioned birthday. Maybe – like acid wash jeans and Flashdance sweatshirts – it will come back in style.

As I said, it’s almost my birthday! And Hannah’s! For a birthday gift, we’d love it if you would comment and tell us your memories of childhood birthday parties. xo

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9 thoughts on “Party on, Wayne. Party on, Garth.

  1. Birthday parties of my youth usually involved lots of cheezies and kool aid. someone always spilled the kool aid and then i just enjoyed whatever toys were present in the birthday kids house until my mom hauled me out of there with half a ham sandwich in my hand. Good times with nary a loot bag to be found.

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  2. I’m guilty of issuing Save the Dates for my daughter’s parties. I do it because I limit her to a set number of guests and if someone can’t come we’ll know before the invitations go out and I’ll let her invite another friend. But that’s not what you asked about…

    My favorite childhood party (10th I think) was at a state park and featured a ride on a canal boat pulled by a mule. You know, the kind of boat with people in period costume on deck. Is that a thing in your part of the world? Anyway, then we had a picnic with a pirate chest cake my mom made. It was sort of tangentially related, I guess, having to do with boats. My sister always broke down at her parties because someone wasn’t doing what she wanted and she’d lock herself in her room until her guests begged her to come out. Good times. I also remember a lot of Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board at those parties.

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    • Well, that Save the Date totally makes sense!

      I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing here…I’m wracking my brain and coming up with nothing. Maybe it’s an East Coast thing? I just remembered – I once had a birthday party at the wave pool, I think it was my tenth. Fancy!

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  3. A canal boat… pulled by a mule. I can’t even make that make sense in my head. Is the mule swimming? Is it a dry-land boat? I have so many questions!

    I love this post so much, from the title to the ‘getting up in your grill’. As usual, my birthday party memories from my own youth are hazy. I remember cakes with a barbie doll head and torso stuffed into an iced skirt (I actually made one of those for Eve at one point – it’s kind of creepy). My favourite party game was the one where you ran to a clothing chest and had to put on all the clothes item by item, ending up wearing a ridiculous assortment of things.

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    • Oh yes, the creepy cake-skirt Barbie! I also remember one made with a crocheted skirt meant to cover an extra roll of toilet paper. I was quite concerned that the Barbie had a skirt BUT NO LEGS.

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  4. I had a few at-home parties with Kool-Aid and cake (for one, my mom hired one of my babysitters to dress up like a clown and turn cartwheels and the like). I also had some at a place with indoor rides (it didn’t last) and at a pizza place with arcade games. Once I was about 11, I wanted to have a couple of friends spend the night–something my kids like, too. I let C have something like 8 girls sleep over one year and she was the one who ended up sobbing. The next day she vowed, “Never again.”

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    • Oh, Angus had a four-boy sleepover party in the basement one year and stomped angrily upstairs to his bedroom at ten o’clock because they were laughing and farting and wouldn’t let him sleep!

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  5. Possibly my most memorable birthday party was the one where we went swimming and my friend fell awkwardly into the pool and broke her wrist and we ended up in the hospital with her. But that was not my best birthday party.

    For my 18th I threw a dinner party for my closest friends and cooked a three-course meal which one attendee disdained to eat, and instead mashed it up into an inedible goo and shaped it into a heart. Oddly enough, we aren’t friends any longer (she also excelled herself in the friend department a few months later when she came to visit me at university, drank enough to kill a horse, threw up in a taxi and never repaid me the £100 the taxi fare and soilage fine cost me).

    I used to nanny for a lovely pair of boys who turned 6 and 9 within a few weeks of each other. The littler one had a traditional birthday party with party games, food, pass the parcel, that weird game where you have to get a balloon between everyone’s legs in a row and run round to the front with it, and lots of noise. Lots and lots of noise. Those are the best parties.

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