Let’s have a party…

Image taken from Staunch Throwback's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

This month we had a birthday party for my son who was turning 6.

I’d been knocked pretty flat with a virus the week leading up to his party and was still crook on the day. So I knew that by necessity it was going to be a pretty casual affair.

The various salads and menu items I was planning (mainly for the benefit of the grown ups!) were replaced with a garden salad and pasta, some free range sausages and bread rolls. We drank water and apple juice. Luckily it was only his cousins and a close friend attending anyway so I knew these people wouldn’t be offended if the party was a  casual affair.

Whilst I was in the kitchen fixing up the salad I realised that there was not a single lolly in the house for the birthday party. And it occurred to me that it was actually quite liberating having a much simpler (and healthier) birthday party.

What was really great though was the kids did not miss having junk food around at all and never once asked for it. Neither did anyone ask for a lolly bag to take home (not that we had any!). They also had a great time without any entertainment – jumping on the trampoline and playing with lego were the two favourite activities.

Our birthday parties have always been fairly simple, but it got me thinking about the expectations that have built up around kids’ parties. It seems like it is the norm to have copious decorations and party/lolly bags, and more and more parents are buying in entertainment or outsourcing birthday parties to play centres and the like.

My son had just two expectations for his birthday party that we absolutely had to deliver on.

#1 – There had to be a cake with icing on it.

# 2 – There must be balloons around the letter box.

Hopefully we can keep his expectations at this sort of a level in years to come!

Another really nice thing came out of his birthday for me – a bit of reflection on presents and being a bit more mindful of the consumerism that is encouraged around kids’ birthdays.

Too often we buy presents because it is just what you have to do. You go to a party, you bring a present.

Often the birthday boy or girl ends up with a whole bunch of toys that are beyond the quantity needed for any kid, and quickly break apart anyway. Of course our culture (and kids expectations!) is set up that you need to give a present. Plus it’s also a healthy exercise in getting kids to think about what others would like or need, and the art of selecting a gift.

So what are some solutions to make birthday parties less consumerist?

For our party, my brother was going to be selling some wooden Thomas the Tank Engine toys and track on ebay because his son had outgrown them. My son is still into Thomas however, and I suggested instead of a new present that they give my son a few bits from their set that he didn’t have.

My son didn’t notice that the present didn’t have any packaging. All he noticed was it was a really cool toy he’d enjoy playing with.

Other nice ideas are handmade presents for kids like this personalised pencil case.

There are some great ideas around for having greener birthday parties. A friend of mine has made some party hats and bunting out of fabric that she reuses for all the celebrations in their family.

We can also rethink the necessity for party/lolly bags or at least get some better contents in them! My sister-in-law stuck a new tooth brush for every kid in a party bag once which I thought was a nice idea if you’re going to have them.

What are your ideas for greener parties, and showing our kids simpler and less consumerist ways?

Image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/staunchthrowback/3700525338/ with thanks to Staunch Throwback.

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About greenleftyidealist

Green, left and idealistic. A mum, a runner, a rogainer, a public servant and wanna be writer. My dog is golden.
This entry was posted in consumerism, parenting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Let’s have a party…

  1. Carmen says:

    I am not that good at this stuff, but always like to think less is more when it comes to kids. Children under about the age of ten have that wonderful and magical ability to make games out of nothing. I’m a big fan of not having organised games and activites at parties but just letting kids make their own fun with what is already available. This may also work for me because I am lazy so the less hours spent creating elaborate pin the tail on the princess/pirate/insert politically correct, new age, donkey-relacement-of-choice games, the better.

    I also like the idea of an activity for a birthday, with just a few close friends, like a trip to a historic house or historical site, museum, zoo. But that might work better for older kids.

    Alex’s party sounds great Bron and not because it was toned down a bit due to illness, but because it was a genuine, relaxed affair and so enjoyed without hype or hysteria. One of these years I will have to get there!

  2. Pingback: Secret Santa? | Greenleftyidealist

  3. Jason says:

    For my Niece’s birthday last week – I took photos. I have printed them out and they will go into the frames around their house.

    Our family has never been into gift giving. We tend to help each other out during the year instead, we are close and Christmas and Birthdays are more about being together rather than presents.

    I guess I have extended this to my outside life too…preferring to give Gift Vouchers or those Oxfam charity cards of recent, if any. I even caught myself thinking too much about a $5 Thankyou card I bought for someone the other day…Thinking I should have been more eco about it. What is a card anyway?

    But for Birthdays and Celebrations, it is hard to not look like a cheapskate by not bringing a big shiny box of new stuff wrapped up and carded. Our culture seems to have made even the most reluctant of us – heavy Consumers for Gifts.

    • It’s really wonderful to see that there are some great alternate models out there in families like yours. I wonder how we can gradually edge these sorts of models into society a bit more so we gradually reduce our propensity for gift giving at every occassion. One thing I’ve been thinking about too is ‘experience’ giving rather than ‘object’ giving and also (thanks to a recent episode of 30 Rock I saw) challenges like giving a $0 gift.

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