Do you remember birthday parties in the ’80s and ‘90s? You’d invite over all of your school friends, play Dream Phone or Mall Madness and then pop in a VHS (Troop Beverly Hills or Clueless, maybe, depending on your year of birth). Younger kids played Pin the Tail on the Donkey on backyard fences while their parents smoked menthols nearby, and older ones fended for themselves for entertainment. There would be pizza served on napkins and a sheet cake that your mom baked herself (iced on the top only because she was serving it straight out of the pan). If your family was really trendy, you got Worms in Dirt instead of a cake and were allowed to play with Ouija boards (totally inspired by The Craft, of course).
Birthday parties in the early 2000s were similar, except you probably watched a Sarah Michelle Gellar movie on DVD and ate ice cream cake from a store. Maybe—if your mom really wanted to shake up the other parents—you’d be allowed to drink alcohol-free coolers from the grocery store. So scandalous!
Now think of your kids’ birthday parties. They’re probably awesome, but are there any sheet cakes in sight? Not likely. These days, parties are over-planned, colour coordinated, Instagram-worthy events that we spend waaaaay more time and money on than our parents ever did. Gone are the days of sending a dozen kids into the backyard with a soccer ball and a few bags of chips—that’s basically considered neglect, nowadays. We spend more energy on our children’s birthday parties than our moms spent planning their actual weddings. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at how our generation has transformed birthday parties from basement free-for-alls to epic displays of millennial parenting.
Party Themes Then:
The theme of your childhood parties was “birthday” for twelve consecutive years, at least. If you were fancy, your mom bought paper plates that matched your cake (a Disney Princess, Power Ranger or Ninja Turtle, probably).
Party Themes Now:
If you have a daughter under the age of ten, you’ve probably thrown an ice-blue Frozen party with all the bells and whistles. If your kids aren’t into Disney, pirates, superheroes, woodland creatures, emojis or Paw Patrol, you’ve discovered the second layer of party themes: made-up bullshit. This is the serious stuff, where Glitter Sparkle Mermaid and Neon Rainbow Fairy parties exist. If you’re a hipster parent, you’ve gone with something random that you picked out yourself but are convinced your child loves, like The Pixies or Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Party Décor Then:
Balloons and maybe streamers.
Party Décor Now:
Everything is a perfect, colour-coordinated representation of the aforementioned party theme. Custom wall art is illustrated with the birthday child’s name, milestones and favourite things. Handmade bunting and table top décor abounds, and all practical items, such as cutlery, are delivered in a whimsical vessel or a mason jar. Everything is carefully arranged around a cupcake tower or custom fondant masterpiece on a clothed table.
Party Food Then:
Pizza, chips, cans of pop, and a slab cake with your name and age on it.
Party Food Now:
Organic fruit and vegetables served on beautiful platters that complement your party theme and colour choices. Pretzel sticks dipped in white chocolate that has been dyed to match your party theme colour. Homemade party snacks found on Pinterest (must reflect the theme, obviously). Sugar-free juice boxes and water for the kids. Craft beer, San Pellegrino and sangria on hand for the parents. That fancy-ass fondant cake that cost $100. And pizza, because parties haven’t gone TOO far away from what the people want.
A skipping rope, a package of Pogs or a Barbie.
Toys are frowned upon because they are loud and melt children’s brains, though Shopkins and Beanie Boos are allowed because your kid effing loves those things. A typical Gen Y mom birthday gift offering is an educational activity kid, art and craft supplies, a Lego set, a philanthropic donation in the child’s name, a contribution to the child’s RESP, something from Etsy, or a book about famous women in history. Let’s be real, these are all awesome things that beat out a Barbie any day…but dang, that pressure.
Loot Bags Then:
Candy cigarettes (which would be frowned upon now) and a can of Coke in a plastic loot bag. Maybe bubbles.
Loot Bags Now:
A handmade, ribbon-tied sugar cookie that reflects the party theme (NEVER, EVER GO OFF-THEME, PEOPLE) and a gift card to a local bookstore. This must be delivered with a handmade thank you note that includes a pun (working off the birthday theme). Example: ‘Thanks for making my birthday purrrr-fect!’
Parties are a ton of fun and a ton of work, now more than ever. So why do we do it? We love our kids like crazy, but our lazy baby boomer parents with their sheet cakes loved us, too. Is social media to blame, with our highlight reels on display at all times, or is it simply the evolution that occurs between generations? Fads come and go, and parties will change again in 5, 10 and 20 years. The real question is, when will things cycle back and make low-effort backyard parties cool again? I’m waiting…but in the meantime, I have a pile of pretzel sticks to dip in candy glitter.