The Dreaded Birthday Party Goody Bag

Last Updated Sep 15, 2010 2:45 PM EDT

My son is about to turn 4, and we're planning the festivities. I've ranted about absurd kids' birthday parties before, so we'll be keeping this party low-key: a few of his little buddies, some relay races, maybe an obstacle course, pizza. Definitely beer and wine for the parents who hang out. (I give the most thought to what I'm serving as adult beverages.) I still have one worry, though: the birthday party goody bag.

Please, parents, can we declare a truce? I won't send your kid home with a goody bag full of candy and junk from the dollar store, and I won't expect you to send mine home with one either?

Excuse me while I go into my old-fart routine, but time was, your child went to a party, brought a gift that cost in the neighborhood of $10, and was entertained for a couple of hours. Playing duck-duck-goose was reward enough. Favors? Who needs favors? They're kids!

We had to wreck it with the goody bags. They're filled with stickers, a few crayons, tooth-rotting sweets, maybe a tattoo, lip gloss, or a plastic bracelet that breaks on the way home. The kids rifle through the bag, drop it somewhere, and forget about it. After I rescue any chocolate for myself, I end up throwing the bag out that night after the child goes to bed. Or if I'm really organized, I salvage any flotsam that's in good-enough condition and donate it to the kindergarten teacher's prize box.

Still, that goody bag represents a few dollars shelled out by the parents of the birthday boy or girl, plus the errands they ran to Target or Dollar General, and the time to assemble the bags. Multiply by the number of guests, and it can easily add an extra $50 or so to the cost of the party. And for what? Plastic that will wind up in landfills or clutter an already hazardously cluttered house.

I consulted with one sister-in-law who lives in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. She's a domestic goddess, living in a land of domestic goddesses. If I skip the goody bag for Ben's party, is it a major faux pas? Will the four-year-olds even notice? I doubt it. But she's a big proponent.

Here's her e-mail to me: "I was at Michael's today and I came upon a great sale! They had these awesome ART kits - you know, those fun ones with pastels, crayons, markers, etc. They were reg. $6.99 and on sale for $2.99, plus I had a 15% off coupon. I basically got them for about $2.55 each. I bought 18 of them with the notion of using them for a goody bag for Abby's birthday, which is more than THREE months away! I try to always find a bargain for the goody bag, but am so cautious about not giving out JUNK. It's so easy to spend the same $2.75 on stickers and lollipops. I have always found that the goody bag holds a lot of weight with the kids. Last year, we gave out Silly Bandz at Abby's - huge hit!"

Sigh. I was hoping to open the e-mail and read, "Sure, Sarah, skip the goody bag." Now I'm weighing a trip to Michael's, 30 traffic-filled minutes away.

My sister-in-law's best suggestion was combining the fun with the goody bag, so the craft or activity becomes the favor. When my daughter turned 5, we played Princess Bingo and used Hershey's kisses and Starbursts as bingo chips. The girls took the candy home in a bag, I dropped a 99-cent bottle of nail polish in each, and called it a day.

The second child? I'm not sure he'll be so lucky. I'm feeding his friends dinner. That's a favor, right? A favor to the moms.

Have any opinions about the goody bag? Love 'em or hate 'em? Thoughts on what should go inside? Sign in below to let me know.

Photo courtesy Flickr user comedy_nose, CC 2.0
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