Children’s parties Belgian style
No matter where in the world you go, children’s parties are a production number laden with games, activities, and energy burner food. In the Philippines, a children’s party is never complete without the requisite spaghetti, hot dogs, marshmallows, and orange juice. Throw in at least three high-energy games with an equally highly energetic party emcee, tons of prizes and candies, and you have the basic skeleton for a “successful” children’s party.
Coming from such a hyper culture as that, it is a welcome respite planning or attending children’s parties in Leuven, where my 5 year-old son attends kleuterschool (kindergarten: ‘kleuter’ is kindergartener. Most of his invites come from his close group of playmates in the classroom, and more often than not, he has been the sole male guest at the birthday parties of his female classmates. “He’s sweet”, one father told me when I picked up my son after a party. But I digress.
Parties are generally small. Parents normally consult with their children on the guest list and the usual question is, “Who do you want to attend your birthday party?” The celebrant nominates at most 10 children (and this is already a big number; it is possible to have only 2 guests plus the celebrant) and the invites are written by hand on Disney postcards and then given to the children’s class teacher who then puts the invite in the schoolbags of the invited ones. Parties are usually held in the home and the best way to find the address is by looking out for 2-3 balloons taped to the front door. It never fails; you can never get lost once you’ve found the street. Parties last no more than 3-4 hours in the afternoon, usually on a Saturday with the occasional Wednesday afternoon schedule owing to the half day schedule of all school children until High School in Belgium.
No parents are present at these parties except those of the celebrant. There will usually be one game or activity, a snack of pancakes (pannenkoeken) and juice for the children all throughout the afternoon and right after the singing of “Lang zal hij/zij leven”, the Flemish birthday song which is translated as “Long may he/she live”, the kids have a slice of the taartje, or cake. There will be the ubiquitous sweets and a small token present for the invited guests and the party is over. Although the Belgians are not known to be as punctual as their German neighbors, they still do adhere to the times set. If they say the party is from 14.00-17.00, the party will long be over if you pick up your child at 17.30.
Like I said previously, coming from a culture heavily influenced by the Spanish notion of fiesta, this quieter version of a birthday party is by far more relaxing, less stressful, and much easier to prepare for. Try it sometime! You’ll still be smiling at the end of the day and maybe even squeeze in a dinner date to cap the night. 🙂