Once the stuff of balloon-popping fun, birthdays have turned ugly. Or at least the parties have. How sad that what should be about celebrating a magical day - the birth of a child - has now become a greedy, competitive and commercial sport.
Birthday parties have long been about keeping up with the Jacks and Olivias, and have recently taken another unpleasant turn.
First there were parents who threatened a family with court action for non attendance, then Myleene Klass exposed the parents who requested donations towards obscenely extravagant gifts for their privately educated, and therefore already privileged, children.
If you've had enough of this nonsense, and can't afford to splash out on the latest fad, here's how to have a party on a budget and avoid the bad will and bitching at the same time.
1. Don't bother with a venue
Whatever you do, do not hire a soft play centre, indoor ski arena, theme park, branch of Pizza Express, or any other commercial enterprise, where there will be a conveyor belt of homogenous parties all running at two hourly intervals and in some cases simultaneously. You'll end up paying a fortune for a completely forgettable party, that will be repeated by at least half the class.
Instead, hide your breakables, if you have any, and have the party at home. It's only for a couple of hours and at least you'll be able to get a decent cup of tea. If you really can't bear the thought of a bunch of primary schoolers running amok over your beige carpets, then consider the park. Although if it's the middle of winter, a church hall or scout hut might be preferable, and still cheaper than any of the aforementioned venues.
2. Leave the professionals out of it
Do not hire anyone who charges a premium to make kids form an orderly queue. This includes face-painters, balloon-modellers, hair braiders and tattoo artists. The only thing kids should queue for is school dinners. Also to be avoided are: Elsa impersonators ( if you can call impersonating someone who's not actually a person, impersonation) second-rate magicians and really-shouty-wacky-CRB-checked-strangers-in-weird-waistcoats. These people charge by the minute to get kids sitting on the floor listening to their hackneyed routine. Again, carpet time is for school.
3. Make your own entertainment
If you're lucky the kids will invent their own fun, like shooting each other with nerf guns, or trying on the clothes in your wardrobe. If not, or if you'd rather they didn't, here are some other options: greet your guests with a plate of 'here's some I made earlier' fairy cakes and give them a load of icing and some sprinkles for them to slather over the top.
This will keep them busy until it's time for some games, of which the old favourites are still the best including: pass the parcel, twister, pin the tail on the donkey and the chocolate eating game. For this one, the children sit in a circle and pass around a block of chocolate on a plate. When the music stops the person holding the plate has to don a hat, scarf and gloves before scoffing as much chocolate as they can using a knife and fork, before the music starts again.
4. Quality not quantity
Unless your child plays with 29 children on a daily basis, resist the temptation to invite the whole class. There's something a bit vulgar about going home with a bin bag full of presents anyway. Five children is a reasonable number. Though try not to unwittingly invite the Jehovah's Witness who won't be allowed to attend, as this can lead to awkward exchanges.
5. Avoid caterers
There is no point paying anyone to provide a birthday buffet, because the only thing your guests want to eat is crisps. Opening a load of Quavers, Skips and Wotsits might impress the kids, but their parents won't approve, so try knocking up a few sandwiches or throwing some pizzas in the oven too. Other options are mini sausages, olives (in case there are any posh kids) and veg sticks. These won't get eaten but at least you won't look like a complete slacker.
You could even open a pot of humous (for the kids to dunk crisps in.) For dessert, there are the cakes they massacred on arrival, plus whatever biscuits happen to be on special offer. If you want to push the boat out, try rice crispie cakes made with melted mars bars. Amazing. And hopefully the kids will be so full of crisps you'll have to eat them. Shame.
6. Bake your own
I know of mums who have paid seventy quid for a professionally iced cake. For crying out loud, it's not a wedding. Whip one up from some value ingredients, and if it flops just chuck some more butter cream over it with some Ebay edible cake toppers. Don't bother with the boxed supermarket versions either - if it says serves 10, that means six.
7. Ditch the tat
Forget party bags stuffed with sweets they don't need and plastic that will end up under the sofa. Buy a bargain multipack of books from somewhere like The Book People and give them one each. Or even just a slice of birthday cake in a napkin. Why do guests need presents anyway, they got fed, didn't they?
8. Stop stressing
If there's one thing kids are infinitely better at than grown-ups, it's playing. So while a few basic party games are a good backup plan, there's no need to invest in a whole timetable of forced participation. Let them get on with it and deal with the mess later. And if anyone's kind enough to volunteer a present, don't forget the thank you letters.
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