When did a young child’s birthday party become a close second to planning for a wedding? I ask myself year after year, “What happened to simple birthday parties hosted at home with cake, ice cream, and games?” In our, “more is better” society, birthdays for children have gone way over the top. Often they involve twenty to thirty other children, an entourage of adults, a place that was booked weeks in advance, and all of this is rarely achieved for under a few hundred dollars. In general, parents (and children) are generating higher and higher expectations of what they see fit for a birthday celebration, sometimes blindly following the path of others. As a result, parents are feeling the stress and financial strain, while children are overloaded and overindulged beginning at a very early and impressionable age.
On the contrary, I have nothing but fond memories of my own birthday parties and I believe this is true because my mom knew best…she kept it simple. Primarily, she went this route out of necessity and likely had no idea how her minimalist choices would instill in me such a lasting appreciation. My first five years of birthday celebrations consisted of my brothers, sister, mom, dad, and my grandma Jean. It wasn’t until I was five that I had a birthday party that I shared with friends. And then, it was always held at my home and didn’t last longer than an hour.
The menu included a cake that my mother made (I can still taste it), ice cream, and a beverage. What we did at the party varied a bit. Typically, we played traditional birthday games like “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” or a “Scavenger Hunt” held outside. But sometimes my guests and I just played as we would on any other summer day. It was wonderful! Presents you ask? There were a few. Nothing extravagant. And because there were just a few, I savored each one and played with every toy until it could no longer be used.
The simplicity of how we celebrate birthdays in a Primary environment is reminiscent of how my mom handled my parties. We make it memorable, just as mom did.
The class festivities begin with the birthday child choosing a peer who will facilitate the gathering. Since we rarely meet as an entire class of three to six-year-olds, the need for direction to stay on course is required, although keeping it child-centered is a must. Once the facilitator is appointed, the class assembles around a lit candle placed upon a quilt or mat representing the solar system. The candle symbolizes the sun. The birthday child carefully holds the Painted Globe with pride and slowly circles the sun as the children serenade him with a song such as this…
The earth moves around the sun, tra la la The earth moves around the sun
around the sun,
Now Johnny is one
The earth moves around the sun, tra la la
The earth moves around the sun
The earth moves around the sun, tra la la
Now Johnny is two
The song continues until we reach the age of the child.
After we sing, the facilitator announces that each child will now have the option of offering the birthday child an affirmation. If there are newly enrolled children, I stop to explain that an affirmation is a “gift of words”, something special about a friend that you have observed or especially appreciate. This portion of the celebration can last ten minutes or sometimes it can go on for thirty. I wish I could capture the expression of each child who is fortunate enough to experience a birthday in this way. Even after thirty years of teaching and hundreds of birthday celebrations, it’s difficult not to get emotional when I see how much this simple, no frills ritual means to each child.
So how can today’s parents mimic this unforgettable experience and create an inexpensive, memorable celebration? Keep it simple. It’s just that easy. Hosting the gathering in their home is a great first step to eliminating all of the unnecessary extras. This is a place where children feel most safe and secure, a place where the memories run deep. Parents should also rid themselves of any obligation to include their child’s entire class on the guest list. They should set the stage for others. Be today’s trendsetters! Have YOU always been invited to every party? Instead, allow the birthday child to formulate a list that consists of only a handful of friends. As a general rule, invite the same number of friends, as the child is turning old. Plan a craft that can be used as the take home party favor, eliminating the over-priced goody bag that’s often found in the parking lot of the venue anyway. Play a traditional game. Games like; Musical Chairs, Simon Says, and Telephone resonate in children today just as they did decades ago. Though they are disappearing as quickly as the laced shoe, games such as these will always remain as memory makers. Not only do they evoke endless laughter, but they also continue to teach our children self-control, social skills, respect for others, and conflict resolution. But I digress, a topic for another time.
A cherished friend once recommended to my husband and me to embark on a
birthday tradition for our children
as she once did. She suggested we present our children with an envelope
on their birthday. In the envelope,
there would be two
slips of paper, one with a new responsibility
and another with a new privilege. We implemented her idea when our first child was just a toddler.
Now in high school, he and his sister continue to receive those responsibilities
along with a well-deserved privilege. But most importantly, when planning a child’s party…keep it brief. This will
significantly reduce the risk of overstimulation and
the likelihood of meltdowns.
Keeping the length of the occasion short and sweet will allow the child to come away with so many more positive memories.
I do appreciate the pressures that come along with wanting to give our children the very best. I can only hope that we can change the current trend of birthday celebrations and get back to what is important with our children…raising thoughtful, selfless, responsible adults who understand what it means to occasionally earn rewards, not just ask for them.