I remember the birthday parties from my childhood: Dennis balloons, rattan chairs, Jo-ni’s, Goldilocks or (even better) homemade cake, hotdogs, pineapple chunks and marshmallows on a stick on a cabbage head, spaghetti and barbecue.
Games consisted of newspaper dance, statue dance, Trip to Jerusalem (musical chairs), pabitin and palayok (no sissy child-safe piñatas then!).
There weren’t any real themes, but on your cake you could have Superman, Batman, Barbie or some random plaster animal because that was all the bakeshops had.
These days, bongga birthday parties for children seem to be the norm. Parents go all-out with the venue, invites, balloon arrangements, buffets, food carts, fancy cakes, prizes, loot bags, activities for small and big kids, party hosts, magicians, glitter tattoo/face painters, photo/videographers, photo booths.
But planet-friendly parents know better, and being eco-conscious can mean both ecologically and economically friendly.
It’s been four years since my own green wedding to the Captain of my Planet (yes, I just said that), and since then we have celebrated our fair share of birthday parties.
For our son Jack’s first birthday party, I asked for quotations from party suppliers and was shocked to discover that the “usual” party would easily cost about P200,000. Balloon arrangements alone were P30,000. That can’t be right.
Thank God for the crafty, savvy Pinterest-ing parents who share photos and tips on how they made their little one’s day special without burning through their college fund.
Avoiding the usual Adventure Time adornments, Dora décor and Minions merchandise will save you from having these characters dictate what you have to buy. The plastic doodads that usually come with these themes only add to the waste in our landfills.
For your child’s party theme, consider shapes, colors, numbers, letters, bubbles, balikbayan boxes, transportation, superheroes, whatever it is that your child is interested in. Older kids can be excited by camp-outs, dress-up, literary heroes, adventure, swimming or sports.
For Jack’s first birthday party, he loved monkeys, so that became our theme. It was fairly easy to have all our décor, games, prizes and food revolve around it.
On his second birthday, he was into sensory play so we had a messy theme party where our little guests could experiment with baking soda and vinegar, decant beans, scoop out cloud dough, or play with water guns.
If your home is too small for the number of guests you plan to have, hold your party outdoors. Country clubs already have catering built-in with the venue and may come out cheaper (especially the non-air-conditioned halls or poolside).
Village clubhouses may already have a pool or playground, which also serve as additional entertainment for your guests, and you can cater the party yourself (corkage-free).
Children’s parties are usually held in the afternoon and are just two hours long, so serve hearty finger foods.
Many caterers are willing to customize their menus to fit your budget and requests. Meat dishes usually jack food prices up, so offer vegetarian fare such as margherita or cheese pizzas, chips and veggie dip, salad cups, meatless pastas, tiny sandwiches and fresh fruit skewers.
If you’re not ready to go all-out veg, just having more of these items will not only save you money, but also save the earth, as well.
“Animal agriculture makes a 40-percent greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the no. 1 cause of climate change,” said Jonathan Safran Foer in his book “Eating Animals.”
Taking the time to bake your child’s own birthday cake can be a good tradition. Making it from scratch, even if you’re a novice baker, will be memorable.
Go healthy by choosing banana or carrot cake, and incorporate organic eggs and whole wheat flour. Or ask a baker friend or relative to make your child’s birthday cake as a gift. Use a favorite toy as a cake topper or have your child help decorate with sprinkles or nuts.
We have also been reusing the same big “Happy Birthday” candle for years for all the birthdays in our family. I also bake my son’s cakes and take pleasure in introducing some items as vegan (“But it doesn’t taste like it!”).
Balloons are truly unnecessary, but if you must, latex is the lesser evil as it biodegrades. Those huge styrofoam displays may be reusable but not for long, and those CFCs will still find their way to the ozone layer, and the rest to the landfills. Same goes for tarpaulin banners, which don’t even have resale value in trash fairs.
Instead, keep going back to your party theme for inspiration; you’ll be surprised to discover that all the décor you need may already be in your home; for instance, stuffed toys, books or fruits can be centerpieces.
Used paper or phone directory pages can turn into paper chains, and a year’s worth of your child’s artwork can be proudly displayed. Instead of a tarp, borrow your office projector and loop your child’s photos on a white sheet or wall. Invest in things you can reuse over time, such as scrap cloth or old T-shirts to make into buntings or banners.
We used Jack’s onesies and socks as buntings for his first birthday party. Our décor was free and some toys/onesies were donated afterward.
Layout your own invitation, and text or e-mail your guests instead. Or, upcycle old invitations. Save old wedding invites and cards and give the unprinted side new life with a little washi tape and colorful pens (smaller scraps can become gift tags or thank-you cards).
Create your own registry instead of signing up at a store. Request for really useful things like modern cloth diapers (you can never have too many!), organic toiletries (such as baby wash, lotion or detergent), preloved books or toys or “experience sponsorships” such as a month’s worth of swimming classes.
If you’re already blessed with more than enough, ask for donations to your favorite charity instead. Another plus? You’ll be happy to escape from having to deal with all that plastic clutter and packaging waste afterward.
Instead of pricey, passive shows, involve your guests! The birthday celebrant may be too young to enjoy shows anyway and usually hates the loud noises that come with the usual party entertainers. If you have outgoing family or friends, have them share hosting duties.
Keep your guest list in mind. If they will be mostly adult, they might appreciate entertainment that’s more geared toward their taste. Wooden toys, brainteasers and puzzles were a hit with our crowd as games and prizes (they cost only P10-20 in Divisoria and everyone wanted to take them home!).
If there will be a mix of very young and older kids, have activities both can enjoy. Scavenger hunts encourage teamwork and competition. Eating or drinking contests (think of healthy, child-friendly options such as bananas or milk) are fun and easy. Or revive the old props-free standbys of our own time like statue dance or Dr. Quack-Quack.
Just adding a little more thought and creativity will help make your celebrations more meaningful and memorable, with less waste and a cleaner conscience, too. While plastic parties may still go strong, perhaps your unique, low-carbon-footprint party can be the seed planted into your parent-friends’—and your little guests’—minds.