‘Kids’ birthday parties are nothing like they used to be’

Aug 19, 2021
Gay recalls how one of her children's birthday parties had a pony, but it doesn't compare to some of the elaborate celebrations thrown for kids today. Source: Getty Images

My how children’s birthday parties have changed. I had one. Yes, only one. I have no resentment because of the scarcity of celebrations for the birth of wonderful me. My parents worked every hour God gave them, I think. My dad was doing the baking and deliveries and Mum managed the shop and the books. As young as I was, I saw the weariness in them.

It’s possibly what lead to my over the top attitude towards the ‘fun stuff’, which I must admit I’ve passed on to my children and grandchildren. However, I digress.

The first Birthday Party to End All Birthday Parties was for my daughter when she turned one. Everyone was invited. My purse was quite thin for ages after her celebration. Adults definitely require more sustenance, though a few lingered around the table for the bread and butter covered in 100s and 1,000s.

It was a formal affair. My father-in-law hired a video camera to record the occasion, and my little girl was perched high in her chair needing only a royal crown. She set the standard for the rest of the offspring.

When I married money was tight, which was not dissimilar to many in my age group during the 1960s. Young mothers I knew were all quite poverty stricken; we squeezed every coin for what it was worth. However, we all invited as many children and families as we could to our little darlings’ birthday parties to ensure the day was as special as it could be.

I was a child at heart. I loved the games. One favourite was when we’d give the kids toilet rolls to wind around themselves, turning them into ‘mummies’. That was a good one! My gutters had loo paper in them for ages.

When my children were growing up, they went to a few birthday parties every year. Their own parties became more sophisticated with time, they had sleepovers and naturally there was always the annoying little brother or sister being told to ‘Stop looking at us’ from the teenage guests.

My eldest daughter assumed the ‘party planner’ role when she was old enough. There were matching colour schemes and beautiful cakes, kids were allowed to be kids and not the ‘starched grubs’ as my nan would say (she was very easygoing, my nan).

I often worried that someone would be left out so invitations were sent to all classmates. There was no volume button to turn down their squeals and screams, but it never seemed to bother the neighbours because they and their children were part of the festivities too. The highlight of one such spectacular was a pony, an aunt had horses and produced a pony for the day.

Of course, technology has simplified things somewhat (electronic invitations have saved time and expense, photographs and videos can be taken on smartphones and shared almost straight away with family and friends, party supplies can be ordered online). Pre-coronavirus, children’s parties had some elaborate themes, decor and entertainment. Backyard parties had been replaced by special venues. The stakes were raised and things had become somewhat competitive (at least in my opinion). Sounds stressful, not fun.

Perhaps coronavirus and all of these restrictions (visitors, parties etc.) has returned the spotlight to where it belongs — on the child whose birthday we are to be celebrating.

I was in lockdown for my 80th birthday celebration. I’d planned on a large celebration, but it wasn’t to be and I was a bit sad about it to tell you the truth. On my birthday, I opened the door to be greeted by my children and grandchildren. There were gifts. Those who couldn’t attend (restrictions) were able to join us by video call. When ‘Happy Birthday’ was sung, it was loud enough to startle the neighbours. It mightn’t have been what I wanted, but it was memorable just the same.

My grandchildren and great-grandchildren are celebrating their birthdays in this Covid-19 world. Their parties are quieter affairs, but we are committed to giving them something they will remember. We’re muddling through, having family parties where we can, and serving trays of 100s and 1,000s.

Do you think children's birthday parties today are over the top? What were celebrations like for you and your children?

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