One of Natalie's Kindergarten friends has been inviting her to his birthday party since the year started. Finally his birthday came and she, with great excitement, attended the party.
In my opinion, the party was a monumental failure.
It was at a local pizza place/arcade establishment. (I won't say the name, but you can probably guess. If they really wanted to make it fun, they would make you buy pizza with the tickets you win at the games..."Sorry, 200 tickets only gets cheese and sauce, no crust for you!")
Now, I have to say that, as a believer, having parties at places like this is giving the opposite message than the one we are trying to pass on to our children. (I don't know if Natalie's friend's parents are believers or not, so they're off the hook :) ) P.S. The following may sound like a rant, but it is more like the detached amazement you feel right after doing something clumsy like falling down a staircase.
First, when we got in there, it took us several minutes to even find the correct party--which leads me to the first issue: it was impersonal. Soren Kierkegaard, everyone's favorite Danish philosopher, once wrote: "What is official is impersonal, and being impersonal is the greatest insult that can be paid a person." Like usual, I think he's right. The party wasn't about the KIDS, it was about the NOVELTY. It was about the games and the coins and the noise. When this boy opened presents, there were so many and it was so loud he actually missed Natalie's present. When I went to pick her up I got there early only to find her standing by the door waiting. She said she had been there for a while because someone told her the party was over. It wasn't--they hadn't even had the cake yet!! So at least we were able to go back and get a cupcake...
Second, places like this are really encouraging unhealthy consumption. All the kids received tokens they could use to play games (including the American classic: Deal or No Deal...I wonder what someone from a poor country would think watching that show...) to win tickets to get prizes. This in turn encourages selfishness and, once again, no recognition of the 'other'. I was playing ski-ball with Natalie at one point and I turned to look at the tickets. By the time I had turned back another kid had actually jumped in front of me on the game I was playing. I said: "I was using that, can you say 'excuse me' please?" He looked at me like I was from another planet. (Maybe I am). On the way home Natalie was looking at one of her prizes (an aptly named: 'Airhead') and she said: "This was free!" Actually, I cringed to think of how much was spent on that party! It did take me a while to explain how that airhead was not, in fact, free.
Anyway, the point is: what do our celebrations say about us? As Christians can we come up with birthday celebrations that not only honor the birthday kid but also those coming to the party? Can we have celebrations that reflect our belief in a God who gives us all we need and loves us where we are? Or do our celebrations always have to involve greasy food, loud noises and overzealous child gambling? I'm not saying arcades are evil--but I think we can do better with a little imagination.
For example, Natalie's last birthday was held at the outdoor campus. It was free and (mostly) outdoors. Each kid was greeted by name at the door made his/her own trail mix using various ingredients we brought. We did an outdoor peanut hunt (after asking about allergies, of course) on some trails, and then came inside where a naturalist was ready to teach us about some animals and even let the kids touch a few of them-the turtle, with its *frightening* speed, was admittedly a little scary for some of the young ones. The party ended with a gift exchange: each kid brought one gift and exchanged it with another so everyone went home with one gift. This way Natalie didn't get a bunch of stuff she didn't need and all the kids felt important and loved.
How well do your parties reflect your God?
Peace, hope and love,