Monday, June 7, 2010

The Million Dollar Birthday Industry

A long time ago in a faraway land, birthday parties were simple, plain fun without giving anyone a heartburn. These parties had a pretty little girl in a frilly dress or a boy with smart shorts and a checked shirt and about 20 of their friends milling around, waiting for the cake.

The cake was brought out of the kitchen, children gathered around a table, sang happy birthday while the cake was cut and immediately after, clapped as loud as their little, tiny hands could.

Grape joins Kanchan's Birthday Celebrations

As a reward for all that hard work, slivers of cake with potato chips and some other form of deep fried snack were served on a plate. This was accompanied by a cool glass of juice (fresh or made from concentrate) and the children, excited and happy with all they have in front of them wolfed down their food in a few minutes. They knew the faster they finish eating, the sooner they get to play.

Shortly after that, they played musical chairs, pin-the-tail on the donkey or passing the parcel and then they all got return gifts usually a set of Natraj pencils, crayons or erasers and that was it. They left the birthday girl/boy to open their loot. This was considered to be a screenplay for a successful birthday party.

That was then and this is now. Cut to 2010. One of my girlfriend's is planning a birthday party for her four-year old. She needs to compete with her daughter's friends parties that have had themes like Barbie's Mermaid adventure, Disney Princesses and even a party for 20 at a neighbourhood Go-karting course. She is obviously losing sleep over it. Sample her things-to-do list. Invitations have to be made, a theme that will be universally liked will have to be thought off, return gifts suitable for girls and boys, games that will suit the theme both for boys and girls, decorations to transform the house, a dress for her daughter to suit the theme, research on food suitable for the theme, weather on that day which will determine whether games can be payed in the yard and finally food that will keep in mind all food allergies. Unreal you say? The norm, she says.

When did a simple birthday party which used to be  all about fun and gifts become something this complicated? Children today are exposed to so many new things, on television, in school, at their friends houses, that they think it is normal to expect the same. You cannot throw a simple party from the 80's for today's children. Imagine the amount of taunting and jibes they will have to endure if their party is not a success? Is it fair for a child to endure that trauma?

Most parents just look at it as a passing phase. Pretty soon, they will grow out of this phase and then birthday parties will just be a distant memory. Something that used to be simple, plain fun compared to parties in space, maybe?

(Rati Ramadas has worked as a journalist for 4 years and covered education for the greater part of that. Education and new methods of schooling has always intrigued her. She loves writing short stories and hope to publish some someday.She blogs and rants about day to day life and travels at Odds and Mi)

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