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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