December and January in my family are also the birthday months of my children (24th December for my daughter / 24th January for my son) and I have always followed British birthday party traditions despite living abroad.
Moving from country to country I realized that even simple, apparently less important celebrations such as birthday parties for children and youngsters differ greatly. We, in Great Britain, have quite traditional activities for younger children at birthday parties while organizing a party for teenagers that is fun can be quite demanding.
So how do children under the age of 10 celebrate a typical home birthday party? For those families who do not want to or cannot spend money on hiring an entertainer or magician, for those who prefer not to go to a ‘bouncy castle’ park or other location for birthday events outside the home, there are fun traditional games which do involve adult organization but make a birthday a special play date – different from when friends just come over to play (I discovered that in Italy children just play freely making it no different from any other occasion and due to the higher number of guests than normal, mayhem usually occurs.)
When the young guests arrive the presents are all collected on a low table and the children sit neatly in a circle while the birthday child opens the presents one by one, admiring and thanking as he goes.
Then it is time for the traditional organized games (this is where I had great difficulty convincing Italian children that they had to participate in the games I organized and not just play around as they liked).
- PASS THE PARCEL: a small present wrapped in wrapping paper and then covered with many layers of newspaper occasionally interspersed with loose presents (a fun coloured pencil, an unusual eraser, a whistle… all small things of little value) is put in the centre of the circle where the children sit cross-legged. When the music starts the children pass the parcel and when the music stops the child holding the package takes off a layer of newspaper in the hope of finding a present. If he finds it he may keep it. (For lessons one can see which child know the name of the object in English first and maybe award points dividing the children into two teams).
- OBJECTS ON A TRAY: a tray of about 10 different objects is put in the centre of the circle and the children have one minute to memorise them all. Then the tray is taken away and the children have to write down as many objects as they can remember. There is usually a small prize for the winner. In all these games sweets are usually given as a consolation prize to those who did not win. (For lessons make sure they all know the names of the objects in English before playing the game).
- MUSICAL CHAIRS: chairs are put back to back with one chair less than the number of children present. Then they all stand and start walking around the chairs until the music stops. They have to all sit down and the person left standing is ‘out’. Then one chair is taken away and the game restarts. (For lessons one can use songs or nursery rhymes you have been studying).
- TREASURE HUNT: two teams look for cards of their team colour with clues leading to the next clue until each reach their own treasure. The first team to find their treasure is the winner. (For lessons the clues have to be in simple English according to the level of the students).
- SHERADES: in teams students mime something familiar (a film / book / song / animal) to their own team to gain points and a prize at the end. (For lessons they have to be able to express themselves in English).
- PIN THE TAIL ON THE DONKEY: with a blindfold the children have to pin (or stick with tape/blue tack) a tail on the large picture of a donkey and see if they guess the right place. (For lessons the others can help by shouting ‘up / down / left / right’).
- MUSICAL STATUES and MUSICAL BUMPS: Everyone dances until the music stops. In MUSICAL STATUES they have to all freeze like statues and anyone who moves even slightly is ‘out’ whilst in MUSICAL BUMPS they all have to sit very quickly on the floor and the last person to sit down is ‘out’. An adult decides who is ‘out’. Then the game restarts. (For lessons one can use songs or nursery rhymes you have been studying).
- SIMON SAYS: A leader is ‘Simon’ and calls out a series of commands that the children have to follow like ‘Simon says put your hands in the air’. The children must follow any order that begins with ‘Simon says . . .’ When the leader gives some orders without beginning with ‘Simon says’ such as ‘turn around’ the children who do this task by mistake are ‘out’. (For lessons one can use actions that the children have been learing).
There are many other traditional games as well as new technological ones but the important thing is for the children to interact all together at the party and not break up into small groups.
(For lessons make sure they pronounce HAPPY BIRTHDAY correctly by ‘spitting’ the ‘TH’ sound like in the ordinal numbers (10th) and not making it a soft sound like in mother.).
In Great Britain it is customary for the birthday child to give small ‘going home presents’ to the guests as they leave (which are inexpensive tokens of gratitude).
A theme is very often chosen.
For my son’s 10th birthday party I organized a surprise ‘flight’ to a mystery destination. Everything from the ‘flight ticket invitations’, to the airport check-in on arrival and the ‘flight’ by car to the mystery destination, which was a tiny light aircraft local airport for a guided tour of the two-seater planes and how they worked. The airplane shaped cake and the History of Flight video ended the party for my airplane crazy son who is now 18 and already training for his second pilot licence.
For my daughter 10th birthday in December the theme was a spy training camp for which I started sending out mystery invitations to decode every week starting in October and no one (not even my own children) knew where they came from. It all ended on the day of the party with lots of spy gadgets and fun from finger prints to shooting pop guns and working out how to unlock the treasure chests with a mystery code.
Birthday parties are a big event in our tradition even for teenagers where the treasure hunt can be at the town mall picking up the unexpected presents from shop to shop on the way…
How do you celebrate birthday parties where you live? Please leave comments below in a wonderful exchange…
I hope you have fun with these traditional birthday party activites.
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