Changing Birthday Basics

Brooke Tasovac reflects on how the world of children’s parties has changed since she was a child.

After celebrating my daughter’s first birthday six months ago, and with several of my friends planning their babies’ first-birthday parties, I’ve noticed how much children’s birthday parties have changed since we were kids in the 1990s. We all had busy parents, and our parties were simple backyard affairs, with nothing more than a cake, Pass the Parcel, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, some balloons taped to the mailbox and invitations bought from the newsagent.

They were still wonderful but took place before the influence of the internet. Websites such as Pinterest and Etsy have given modern-day parents so many great ideas, inspiring us to attempt decorating and baking projects for which we don’t have time, but want to try anyway. At one extreme are the parents who handcraft everything and spend a small fortune on supplies, and at the other are those on a budget. But we all want our kids to have fun and memorable parties, no matter what.

These are the main ways things seem to have changed when it comes to celebrating birthday parties for today’s generation of kids:

  • Popular culture has saturated the children’s market with franchises from which children can select party themes. It’s almost helpful to pick one in order to tie everything – the decorations, food, games and party favours – together. Sometimes it’s hard to choose – hence my rainbow-and-butterflies combination for our daughter’s first birthday.
  • It’s acceptable to go over the top for the first birthday. Children only turn one once, and even though they won’t really understand what is happening on the day (and may even sleep through a lot of it), they’ll appreciate looking back at the photos. Best of all, because the children haven’t yet developed their own tastes, parents can choose whatever theme they like for this first party.
  • You can’t serve just junk food. It’s expected that there will be something more substantial on offer for kids whose parents won’t let them eat sugar. But there still must always be fairy bread.
  • Parties are bigger because parents don’t want to exclude kids. Children won’t understand if they aren’t invited for budgetary reasons, and leaving kids out is sure to upset the social order with parents.
  • For all the effort involved, it’s nice when the adults stick around at parties. Among the families I know, our children are too young to be left alone anyway. But even when they are older, I don’t think any of us would feel polite doing the drop-and-run as our parents did.
  • The parties that end up in magazines and on blogs are usually styled by parents who are professional party planners or very creative. We mustn’t feel bad if we can’t replicate these parties. Indeed, the best place to display our party photos is in a family album, where they will be judged not on how well the table setting matched the theme, but on how much fun we all had.

Want to make a cake for your upcoming kids party? See 25 Favourite Birthday Cakes.