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Stop the Looting! Alternatives to Party Loot Bags

Posted: Entertaining » Holidays & Rituals » Green Culture » Birthdays » Green Living | February 1st, 2006



By Diane Selkirk

Something’s happened to birthday parties. The cake gets eaten, games are played and gifts are still given — but then the loot bags come out. The children pull toys, candy and jewelry from lovely, hand-sewn bags. Suddenly, goodbyes are forgotten and the entire party becomes overshadowed by chaotic looting.

Technically, a loot bag is not a requirement at any party, but it has become customary to give one. The historic idea behind this gift was to give the guests something to take home that would remind them of the occasion and thank them for coming. This was often an item that was used during the party or a specially wrapped treat to be enjoyed later.

Somehow, this idea morphed into the giving of a big bag of sugar-filled treats and dollar store toys. Sometimes, these gifts also reflect an element of competitiveness or one-upmanship in terms of how much we spend on parties, and this usually doesn’t go unnoticed by the children.

Most parents probably never intended for their child’s birthday party to become all about the gift bag. This is a case where often less is more. By integrating the gift bag back into the party, we teach our children that what is important is the celebration — not what they get to take home. Crafts or theme-based party favors that are gentle on the environment and the pocket, and our children can provide endless options for special keepsakes.

Go with a theme

Planning themes allows parents to give lasting gifts that can later be enjoyed at home. Most themes lend themselves to one simple gift. A train theme, for example, can be reflected with a gift of a train whistle or train toy.

Tea party Prepare for this party by collecting fancy teacups and saucers from a thrift shop. At the party, let each child choose her favorite for the tea party and then take home that cup as a keepsake.

Sleepover Provide each child with a flashlight for fun that night and later use at home. Or have the kids decorate pillowcases with fabric paints and use them for sleeping that night.

Beach party Provide your guests with a bucket and shovel. They can later use them for their own trips to the playground.

Treasure hunt You don’t need a big chest full of goodies at the end — just have the kids use a treasure map to find the party site. The gift can be a hand compass used to help with direction.

Bug theme Ladybugs and lizards are popular for cakes – but rather than handing out bags that are full of the candy and paper versions, try giving out magnifying glasses or bug kits and go in search of bugs at the birthday site.

Plant a tree This lovely theme works well for any age. Plant one tree at the party, then give out seedlings to be planted by guests and their families later on.

Pool party For older kids, give copies of a CD that you and your child make for the occasion. Younger kids will enjoy a beach ball or a beach towel of their own.

Music party Provide a few different types musical instruments for kids to choose (shakers, tambourines, clackers and so on) and have a sing-along group.

Craft parties

Crafts may seem like too much work for a party, but you can enlist the help of an older child or another adult to help. When the craft is complete, children will have a great take home gift that they made themselves.

• Have each child paint a small flowerpot, then plant some sweet pea seeds that they can watch grow at home. Alternatively, have them paint a larger pot and select and plant a bedding plant from ones you provide.

• T-shirt painting is great for most age groups. Buy bulk T-shirts and have the kids draw, stamp or stencil with fabric paint or pens.

• Jewelry making is fun for a group of girls. Provide beads with letters and they can make necklaces and bracelets with their names.

• Smaller children love to make crowns and wands. Cut out paper crowns in advance and provide glitter, bits of ribbon, buttons, etc., for decorating. Wands can be made from branches that are cut to size, with a styrofoam star or moon affixed to the top. Decorate with paint, glitter and ribbons.

• Decorate frames and then take a group picture that can be sent home later. Frames can be decorated a variety of ways. Natural items such as shells and stones may need to be attached with a glue gun. Painting or stenciling can look really nice, too.

When parents remember that the original idea behind party favors and goody bags was to give the host a way to say “thanks for sharing my special day,” it becomes easier to step away from the ubiquitous loot bag and start some new traditions by rekindling an old one.

© Diane Selkirk

Diane Selkirk has stories and photos in a variety of magazines including Shared Vision, What’s Up Kids and Mothering.

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