I’ve worked lots of birthday parties for kids over the years—magician/illusion parties and face painting parties at different venues, cooking, crafts, and creative games parties at the JCC and parks system. They’re usually on a Saturday or Sunday, and parents of the miniature guests stay the entire time.
It’s a lot different from when I was little, when kids’ birthday parties were held at home for a couple of hours after school. In my case, my mom hired our favorite babysitter to help out with the games, and my aunts would walk over to help out. Moms dropped their kids off, and my friends wore dresses, stockings, and Mary Janes (we called them ‘party shoes’). We played games, then we opened presents, then we ate. Food was minimal; usually just cake, at the end, because we were only an hour or so outside of dinnertime. Done and over.
I can see the appeal of having birthday parties out of the house. First you have to clean the house, then you have the party, then you have to clean again; and that’s right after you organized games and cake and crowd control from 3:30-5. And more moms today work, and couldn’t do a weekday party even if they wanted to.
But I liked our way. Here’s why: If all of the kids today are having their parties at Gymboree, you’re signing up for a colored-blocked version of the movie Groundhog Day: the same party over and over and bloody over. There were no cookie-cutter parties back then, because the parents (usually the mom) took full reign on who and what to have at her house.
Years later my friends remembered the birthday parties I’d had when we were little, and I would bet hard cash that even today they’d remember. I was kind of famous for having the same game at all of my birthday parties. We lapped it up.
An October birthday is a pumpkin-theme requisite, and my mom either heard of or came up with the idea* for a pumpkin hunt, right in the house.**
-First you buy as many sugar pumpkins as there will be guests at the party. Buy ones with stems attached. Place them in different locations throughout the house—up steps, down steps, into other rooms, around corners.
-Next, cut butcher’s twine in really long pieces—one for each pumpkin.
-Tie the end of one string to each pumpkin. Then walk each string to the middle of the living room rug.
-When you’re done, you’ll have a lot of string ends grouped onto the rug. Have each party-goer pick up one end of each string, and at the count of three have them follow it until she finds her pumpkin. There will be much bumping and limbo-style dodging and swerving and laughing.
-With a permanent marker, write the name of each guest on the underside of her pumpkin, and place them on the floor by the door. These are the party favors.***
One of my favorite specialty stores used to make the awesomest design for Halloween sheet cakes, and that was what I had for a birthday cake. It was the five little pumpkins sitting on a gate (like the Halloween poem we learned in nursery school****), in orange, green, and brown butter cream, all on a vanilla butter cream background. They still make their cakes and fillings and frostings from scratch, but regrettably, they don’t make that design anymore. One of these days I will recreate it myself.
*And she reads this blog and has a memory like a steel trap, so she’ll let me know.
**You could do this outside, too, if you had a lot of yard and a sunny forecast.
***Or, if the kids are old enough and you have Xena-like powers of ambition, spread newspapers on the dining room table or outdoor picnic table, hand out smocks, and let the kids carve.
***I looked for a youtube video, but they’re all saying it wrong. This is the early 70s, Central NJ way.
Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one said, ‘Oh my, it’s getting late!
The second one said, ‘There are witches in the air.’
The third one said, ‘I don’t care.’
The fourth one said, ‘Let’s run and run and run.’
And the fifth one said, ‘It’s Halloween fun!’
WHOOO went the wind and OUT went the light
And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.