Party smarts

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 June, 2005, 12:00am

When I was small, birthday parties were simple affairs. With me in my best party frock, clutching a small, badly wrapped gift, the occasion promised a pleasant afternoon of games, culminating in a splendid tea. After which, standard etiquette dictated that you departed politely with a piece of birthday cake wrapped in a paper napkin. And, if you were really lucky, a balloon.

Entertainers were few and far between, but when one did make an appearance, it was universally acknowledged to be the most exciting thing that had ever happened.

Nowadays, throwing a party for your little darling is a major undertaking. It should be an Olympic sport. Unless you're planning a weekend in Thailand bathing elephants or importing the entire Cirque du Soleil, you won't even qualify. I've seen mothers reduced to tears after booking professional entertainment and handing over a king's ransom, only to watch as the wee cherubs run riot instead of sitting beautifully on the floor in open-mouthed admiration - all because 'we saw him do that trick at a party last week'. The magician didn't look too chuffed, either.

Even more loathsome is the party favour - an insidious practice that turns perfectly charming children into Jabba the Hutt. In theory, it's a delightful surprise to finish an enjoyable event. In reality, it's a pay-off for having attended the party that rather obscures the whole meaning of the occasion.

I resent discerning mini-socialites demanding a going home present - and, even worse, handing it back if it's not up to scratch. And I refuse to believe I'm the only parent whose heart sinks when their child returns home with a bag full of sweets and plastic novelties - or, the ultimate embarrassment, a gift that's more lavish than the one you sent to the party.

Over the years I've tried everything to eradicate party favour fervour, from not having any - other parents look utterly astonished as they lead off their sobbing children - to having a party bag party, at which the children make their own party bag, then have a treasure hunt for something to put in it - but there's always one child who grabs more than anyone else.

Which leads me to conclude that the best party favour we can bestow on our children are gracious manners and the perceived wisdom that it's better to give than to receive.