The Full English Exposé teaches you more about the English speaking world, so you can be confident you know what you are doing, and you don’t do or say the wrong thing, and don’t get egg on your face.
This edition of the podcast we’re helping make sure you don’t get egg on your face, with the Full English Exposé, all about Children’s Birthday Parties.
Children’s Birthday Parties in the UK
Although the ‘Happy Birthday to You’ song is known everywhere, not everyone knows what else we do for young children’s birthday parties in the UK.
Boys will dress smart and girls will wear their party dresses, unless, of course, it’s fancy dress. The house will be full of balloons and bright decorations. Presents are a big deal, and those brought by guests will be opened with an air of ceremony. Presents often come with colourful birthday cards often displaying the age of the birthday boy or girl, and sometimes with badges to wear. Guests can be given funky cone party hats, and there’ll likely be party poppers which you pull to make a ‘bang’ and fire little paper streamers. And, party horns are also popular, coiled tubes that straighten out and make a trumpeting noise when you blow into them.
Of course, like everywhere, there is cake with candles. Usually we make our cakes with a shape or design of something the Birthday boy or girl likes at the time. Then (and this isn’t just for kids and happens at adult birthdays too) the lights go out and the cake is brought in with candles lit while everyone sings ‘Happy Birthday to You’. The child gets a wish when they blow out the candles, trying to blow them all out with one single puff, and another when they make the first cut into the cake (if they’re old enough to be using knives).
Birthday cake isn’t the only food either. There is plenty of finger food and lots of sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks. Favorites are party rings (biscuits covered with jazzy icing), pink wafers, animal biscuits, French fancies, Battenberg cake (a pink and yellow checkered sponge cake wrapped in marzipan) and chocolate fingers. We often make chocolate cornflake or rice-crispy cakes – cereals covered in chocolate, syrup and butter.
Before these sweets are brought out, there’ll be some savoury snacks too; sandwiches cut into triangles, sausage rolls, mini pizzas and quiches, cheddar cheese and pineapple on sticks, cocktail sausages on sticks, and plenty of crisps.
Although the kids will play with the presents and whatever games they fancy, or have some music and dancing, there are some games that are more organized and only really played at birthday parties. A great favourite is ‘musical chairs’, where children dance to music around the room which has one fewer chairs in it than there are children. When the music stops they rush to sit down, and the slowest, who doesn’t get a chair, is out of the game and the music restarts, the kids dance and a chair is taken away for another round. This goes on until there are only 2 children and just one chair, and the one sitting down on it when the music stops for a final time is the winner.
‘Musical bumps’ is similar but. when the music stops you have to sit down on the floor as quickly as possible, with a bump. And, in ‘musical statues’, you have to stay as still as possible when the music stops.
Then there’s sleeping lions, where the kids lie as still as possible and if adults spot any movement the child is out of the game. When there are just a couple of children left, if they’re very good at keeping still, the game can be sped up by introducing tickling to get a reaction. The winner is the one who manages not to move for longest.
Then there’s pin the tail on the donkey, where kids are blindfolded and given a tail with a pin in it, spun around and pointed in the direction of a picture of a donkey and they then have to try to stick the tail in the right place – not so easy. The winner is the one who gets the tail closest to where it is supposed to be.
And, of course, there’s pass the parcel! A parcel is wrapped in many layers of wrapping paper and the kids sit in a circle passing it around to music. When the music stops the person holding the present takes off a layer (sometimes there’s a small present or a sweet inside each layer) and at the end the winner is the one who opens the final layer and they get to keep the present.
When it’s time to go home, the kids sometimes get party bags too, with things like a small slice of cake, balloons, party poppers and a few biscuits, sweets or small toys. Usually it’s just left-overs from the party, but there’s a fashion among some parents to try to create the best party bags, with expensive toys and treats, and some parents find this competition a worry.
Some parents also try to outdo each other to have the best and most extravagant parties, with magicians, clowns, bouncy castles or a pony dressed up as a unicorn, but you don’t need to at all; kids are guaranteed to love a cheap and cheerful party done the way that kids have enjoyed them, here in the UK, for decades.