Our daughter Priti celebrated her fifth birthday soon after we moved to Canada and the party taught us a lot about the way things were done in this country. Back in Dubai, where excess was the norm, birthday parties were huge. While parents grumbled in private, they continued to throw lavish parties. Return gifts for as many as 25 children were common. The bigger and more expensive, the better.
Priti’s new best friend Courtney’s mom Liz quickly became my friend, initiating me into Canadian practices as we stood waiting for the kids after school.
“You want to invite the whole class?” she asked. “All 22 of them? Are you crazy?”
Six, maybe eight, was a good number, she said.
“Their parents as well? Okay, no!”
I explained that parents were very much part of the birthday party scene that I was familiar with. They came with their kids and stayed. And you provided food for everyone. Cake, pizza and pop is all the kids were expecting, Liz said. And their parents would drop them off and pick them up, they wouldn’t be staying.
She took me shopping for return gifts. To the dollar store.
For a couple of dollars each, we filled loot bags with hair bands, stickers, pencils, colourful bead bracelets.
“Add some candy and you are done,” Liz assured me, as I surveyed our haul doubtfully. Visions of individually gift-wrapped expensive return gifts still haunted me.
On the day of, Liz showed up early to help. The eight invitees had a blast playing and watching cartoons.
Then it was time to cut the cake. But wait, there was Liz, nudging me.
“Help Priti open the gifts,” she whispered.
I was sure I hadn’t heard correctly. Open the gifts? While the guests were still there?
Yes, said Liz. The kids want to see you open their gifts.
I looked at the expectant faces around the table. “Mine! Open mine first!” said a girl and firmly thrust a colourful package in Priti’s hands.
Priti needed no further encouragement and soon there was had a pile of paper on the floor as each gift was opened with much excitement.
At the appointed time, the parents returned to pick up their children and prompted them to thank us for the party.
“Thank you, Mrs. Sinha,” they chorused one by one. “Bye, Priti!”
After everyone was gone and we’d cleaned up, I explained to Liz that opening gifts in front of everyone was just not done. You did that later, noting down who had given what so you could match it when it was your turn to give a gift to their child.
Liz was astonished.
“All that work for a birthday gift? You are gonna spend 20 bucks, what’s all the fuss about?”
The Big Party days were over, I thought happily. This was how a child’s birthday party should be, simple, stress-free and fun!
– NRIYA SINHA
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