Happy Birthday to You!

T I M E    T R A V E L   T U E S D A Y 


Children’s birthday parties have certainly changed over the years. I thought it might be fun to take a look back and see how we used to celebrate these special days. 


Attending a birthday party meant dressing up a little. It was, after all, a PARTY!  I remember going shopping for a present with my mom, always worried that we’d pick something that wouldn’t get a good reaction from the crowd. Gifts back then were not extravagant like they are today. Usually they ranged from $10.00 to $20.00 and fell into 4 categories. BOARD GAMES such as, Shoots and Ladders, Trouble, or Mystery Date — those were always a safe betART SUPPLIES might include – Spirograph, etc. A NOVELTY ITEM like a Magic Eight Ball or a Slinky was always exciting.  And lastly, ATHLETIC EQUIPMENT was usually appreciated; Jump Ropes, Roller Skates, Hula Hoops, etc. *I should mention that BARBIE could be considered  her own category.

Bringing clothing as a gift was very risky. It was usually frowned upon by the other children. The best you could do was blame it on your mom.

Children don’t dress up for parties anymore. Parties have lost that special quality  because each year parents try to out do the last one. Kids arrive with high expectations and then look bored, “That’s all you have?” Parents keep pushing the bar in an effort to keep up with the Joneses which only makes matters worse. Suffice it to say that gifts today are ridiculously extravagant or incredibly lazy. It’s not unusual to watch the birthday boy or girl open a stack of gift certificates. Good times!


In our day the decorations consisted of balloons, streamers, and pointy paper hats. (I always hated that little elastic under my chin!) The theme was always the same – BIRTHDAY PARTY.

Today, parties have elaborate themes that rival a trip to the Magic Kingdom. Parents spend big bucks to create whatever reality they’ve planned. The sky’s the limit. For example, if you have a PRINCESS theme you might buy all the girls tiaras and take them to one of those places that does your hair and nails. If you have a PIRATE theme everyone will be dressed to look like Captain Hook. You can be sure the music, food, games and decorations, will coordinate with all things Pirate. Some people even hire party planners for these events!


Let’s just say the games we played were wholesome and innocent. We’d traditionally play Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Simon Says, Duck-Duck-Goose and Musical Chairs. Actually, now that I think about it, those games were slightly anxiety producing. What’s so fun about putting on a blindfold and getting spun around?

The games we played have been replaced with Laser Tag, Ball Pits, Arcades, Bounce House Rentals, Paint Ball, etc. And yes, it all costs money.


 When I was growing up, BIRTHDAY CAKES were home made and always served with either vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Happy Birthday was sung, a wish was made, and the candles were blown out. Simple and sweet.

Most cakes today are special ordered to match the party’s theme. Cakes can cost a bundle, depending on how elaborate you choose to go. Some people set up a make your own SUNDAE BAR. (I’m not gonna lie, I would’ve loved that as a kid.)


Back in the day, PARTY FAVORS were put in a small paper bag. They were usually filled with candy and sometimes, if you were lucky, there would be a small prize like Silly Putty or Bubbles.

Today, the gift bags are way over the top. I’m not even sure who started this tradition? Isn’t it enough that you just provided fun, food and entertainment for 3 hours? Still, insecure parents nowadays will spend a lot of money so their guests walk away with a gift that leaves them impressed and approving.

What are your memories of Birthday Parties growing up? How do you feel about the parties of today?