Children’s birthday parties – 7 reasons for a ‘retro’ party revival
The ‘Good old days’.
I love the whole ‘Retro’ resurgence that’s going on at the moment. We’re embracing ‘retro’ clothing, ‘retro’ furniture and listening to ‘retro’ music on the very same vinyl we were marching off to the charity shops decades ago.
The scary thing is I’m old enough to remember those fashions and trends the first time around because I was born in 1971, the year a shilling became a five pence piece. Hopefully you are now looking at my profile picture and thinking, ’Hang on, you can’t possibly be that old!’ Well, big admission, I’m forty five this year. If that comes as a shock to you then my Boots Protect and Perfect Beauty serum must be doing the trick! On the other hand, if you were thinking I look much older, I want a refund!
I have such fond memories of my childhood. We lived on a fairly new estate in the North-east of England with lots of families with children of a similar age. We were always in and out of each other’s houses and were never short of friends to play with or things to do.
Nevertheless, my kids find it incredible that I managed to have such great childhood with only three channels on the television and no internet. The funny thing is, I don’t feel like I missed out. We may not have had the soft play areas, clubs, music groups, drama classes and sports clubs that are available nowadays but I don’t remember being bored or short of things to do. In fact, I think children today are overloaded with ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ and so much more is expected of them in terms of school work and afterschool activities.
So every now and again I get a little bit sentimental and reminisce about a time when life was so much simpler: a time when less was more.
When did children’s birthday parties ‘go large’?
‘Those were the days’ is a thought that seems to pop into my mind every time the girls’ birthdays roll around again and I find myself wondering how children’s parties suddenly morphed into something so huge! As I wrack my brain for new and exciting party ideas I find myself longing for the days when birthday parties involved having half a dozen of your friends over to your house for a party tea.
When did children’s parties ‘go large’? It’s like parents have been entered into the party version of the ‘Great British Bake-off’, where the pressure is on to come up with something bigger, better and more original than the competition, leaving the ‘judges’ (other parents and kids) feeling stuffed and happy?
More to the point, when did we start to spend more money on the party itself than the gifts we give our children (at a time when so many of us are looking for ways to make our money go further)?
Maybe it’s time to add another item to our list of retro ‘must-haves’.
7 reasons why I want to see a ‘Retro’ Children’s birthday party revival!
1. The guest list.
When I was a kid, you invited half a dozen friends to your party or as many as you could seat at the dining table. If you were really lucky you went out for a meal at a local restaurant with two or three of your friends, (or if you lived in Stockton-on-Tees, like me, you invited your friends to the restaurant in town: Borges Italian).
Jump forward thirty plus years and it’s a different story. We now feel obliged to invite the entire class of thirty kids to our child’s party. Way back, some mum must have started the ball rolling with this ‘no child left behind’ invitation policy and now we fear being ostracised in the playground if we don’t invite every classmate.
Be honest, how many of you have been tempted to choose tricky times or dates in the hope that at least half a dozen children will be unable to attend? Or, you’ve mentally adjusted your birthday guest list as soon as you hear that ‘little Charlie’ is moving to a different school? Or you’ve had to invite more children than you can accommodate and are hoping that someone will drop out so your child’s sibling can come after all.
2. Party bags.
Don’t even get me started on party bags! In my day the party guests were given a piece of birthday cake wrapped in a paper napkin. Nowadays, it isn’t just the birthday girl or boy who gets a present, the guests do as well!
I remember rebelling one year and reverting to the ‘piece of cake approach’ at my daughter’s birthday party. Some of the children looked at me as if I had offered them a dead frog! Why isn’t a piece of birthday cake enough anymore?
Even when you do give out party bags, the kids invariably eat the cake then leave the plastic kazoo and bouncy ball on the floor in the back of your car by the time they get home.
3. The party.
As I said, the 1970’s birthday party involved inviting a handful of friends over for a party tea. These days it has become an ‘event’, especially as you’ve felt compelled to invite the entire class. The’ dining room of old’ has been replaced by a sports hall, a community centre or a swimming pool. Ah, the infamous swimming party! Is it just me who, faced with a swimming party invite, fires off a text faster than Wyatt Earp can draw his Colt 45, begging my husband to go in the pool instead of me?
4. Party games.
Even though we still play the same party games we played in the 1970’s, they’ve morphed into a politically correct version where everyone’s a winner. When I was a kid there was only one winner in ‘Pass the parcel’! Who started this ridiculous nonsense about putting a present inside each layer? Who decided we needed to wrap the parcel in enough layers to give every child a chance to unwrap it when the music miraculously stops in front of them?
One year, in a moment of weakness, I submitted to this new version of the game and ended up using more wrapping paper on that parcel than I’d used on all of my Christmas presents! The parcel was so heavy and unwieldy by the time I’d finished, it was a miracle they could pass the parcel at all!
5. Party food.
The variety of food offered at birthday parties has also changed over the years. When I was a kid we had a few Tudor ready salted crisps and one or two types of sandwich, (Primula cheese spread, Princes beef paste or Spam…I’m glad we’ve moved on since then!) followed by a bowl of jelly and ice cream. In fact, a party wasn’t a party in the 1970’s without jelly and ice cream!
These days, there are so many options and even the parents are offered a snack. There are plates laden with sweets and savouries that didn’t even exist in my youth. What’s more, today’s parties have to cater for vegetarians and kids with food allergies or intolerances. Frankly, I’m amazed we survived the 1970’s childhood when party food may have contained nuts, gluten, meat or dairy.
6. Party clothes.
These days, children have ‘fancy dress’ parties. In the 1970’s, every party was a ‘fancy dress’ party because we all had a special party dress that we wore to every party…For years! Mine was a brown nylon full length dress and my sister’s was a matching green one. If you don’t believe me then have a look at the photograph below.
The sepia tint does nothing to lessen the horror of the outfits. I mean, look at the little white aprons…Aprons! If you look carefully you will see that I ‘put my foot down’ and made my mum trim the decorative shoulder caps (!) on mine. My sister is modelling the ‘untrimmed’ version. It’s a shame I couldn’t stop mum from giving us matching Princess Leia hairdos, though.
It’s a good job that we tended to play sleeping elephants after the party tea. If we’d opted for disco dancing whilst I was wearing my nylon party dress, the friction from my overenthusiastic dance moves could have killed me!
When my mum wanted to take a photograph of me and my sister and all of our party guests, it may have taken three days to get the photos back from Boots but she didn’t have to get the signed consent of every parent before she could press the button on her little Kodak camera.
Mind you, looking back at the party outfits we wore in the 1970’s, we had even more reason to object to our photographs being taken.
Are you with me?
Now don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some wonderful parties, large and small, for our girls over the years. We’ve made lots of food, made dozens of party bags and seen the inside of sports halls, community centres, swimming pools and our own front room. However, it does leave me wondering what the future holds. Is it sustainable? Is there too much pressure on parents to spend more than they can afford or spend their money on the party itself rather than spending it on the gifts?
When I look back over the years at the parties I have put on for my now thirteen year old and nine year old, they have enjoyed decorating digestives biscuits in our front lounge just as much as bouncing on an inflatable castle at the local community centre.
So at a time when everyone is falling in love with all things retro, why don’t we bring back the Retro Children’s party where: the venue is our home; there’s a selection of sandwiches and jelly and ice cream; there’s a ‘pass the parcel’ game where the winner takes all and there’s a piece of birthday cake to take home…Nylon party dresses optional.
Over to you!
Is it just me who likes the idea of going ‘back to basics’ and adopting a ‘less is more’ approach to children’s birthday celebrations?
Do you prefer children’s parties ‘Then’ or ‘Now’?
Do you feel under pressure to go for whole class parties or book an event or an experience?
Have you resisted the ‘event’ style of birthday party and managed to do your own thing?
As always, I’d love to know what you think.
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