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It's A Mann's World: The Party Bags Are Over

BY Olly Mann

7th Feb 2023 Life

It's A Mann's World: The Party Bags Are Over

With his son's seventh birthday just around the corner, Olly Mann declares war on party bags

My son’s seventh birthday is fast approaching, so conversation at my gaff has naturally turned to organising his party. For his first five birthdays, we hosted at home, repeating the same well-rehearsed formula: close family and friends, Costco cake, plastic tablecloth featuring whatever superhero he was into at the time, one of those tin-foiled cheese-and-pineapple hedgehog things, beers for the grownups. It was great. 

"For his first five birthdays, we hosted at home, repeating the same well-rehearsed formula"

But then, he got old enough to have an opinion about the guest-list and venue. So, for his sixth birthday, we upped the ante and booked the local trampoline park. This worked out well, because his friends knackered themselves out from jumping, and therefore didn’t notice how rank the pizza was; and we chaperones could hang out on the viewing gallery, ordering cappuccinos, catching up with gossip, and doing our darndest to filter out the piercing shrieks of the leaping six-year-olds beneath us. But the event cost us hundreds of pounds. 

This year, I’m trying to convince him that the dinosaur-themed soft-play down the road offers just as much opportunity for screaming and bouncing—and you don’t even need to wear special socks! If I succeed, this will be cheaper, because we aren’t required to hire a space—we can simply buy tickets for his mates, send out electronic invites, and bring our own food to the picnic area.

No more party bags

But I can already feel a confrontation brewing about one of the finer details: the party bags. I refuse to provide party bags. This is a red line for me; a Hard No. It’s not especially about the cost—though splurging wodges of cash on trinkets does rankle me, too—but about the principle. 

Why should a bunch of seven-year-olds, who have already been treated to a day out, a mountain of sugar, laser lights, a million slides, ball ponds, diplodocus-shaped rubbish bins, day-glo cheeseburgers, ear-splitting auto-tuned music and the opportunity to charge headlong into their schoolfriends at enormous velocity, also be handed a bag full of pound-shop c**p for simply bothering to show up?

"It’s not especially about the cost but about the principle"

It's not Elton John’s Oscars party, not even close. It’s a 10am gathering at a climbing frame. The guests are not supposed to be hoarding goodies: they are coming to commemorate my son’s birth, skip about a bit, intake calories and go home, preferably without having made the world a worse place in the process.  

But party bags are environmentally catastrophic. I reckon my son attends 20 parties per year, and at each party there are 20 kids in attendance. That’s 400 plastic bags, straight off the bat; all too small to be meaningfully recycled or reused, all destined for landfill within a week. Within these 400 bags are perhaps 800 plastic toys, almost all of which fall apart on the journey home and then get binned instantly: football whistles that don’t whistle, spinning tops that don’t spin, pushalong trains that don’t push along. The waste is appalling, and I don’t want to be part of it. 

Olly Mann rails against party bags

I know there are some eco-friendly party bag alternatives: one couple I know covered a table with Mr Men books and got the kids to choose one each. At another party, I saw the hosts fill a bucket with soft toys and crumpled newspaper, and do a Lucky Dip. Laudable efforts. But these solutions still pander to the proposition that children should somehow be rewarded for deigning to be entertained in the first place. No, absolutely not! 

Then there’s the obligatory bit of extra cake and bag of Haribo. More money, more plastic, but also more sugar: not exactly a gift for the parents, is it? I’ve been that dad—picking up my son after a party, then spending the car journey home explaining to him that (as he’s already psyched-up to the max on Coke, chips and airguns) eating yet more sweets right now might not be the best idea. It's all accompanied by the soundtrack of that single-use whistle being blown forcefully in my ears, before, inevitably, it disintegrates, causing more crisis. It’s hell. Why would I force that experience on to other people?

"The tradition for kid’s party bags ends with me"

Even if the contents don’t fall apart, and even if the recipients do cherish their souvenir, so what? Will our guests think more highly of our child because their prized party bag came from our party? And even if they do, what then? What would it say about my ego, and how poorly I rank my child’s ability to make and keep friends, that I’d consider this to be important?

Oh, and in case you doubt my consistency: yes, I do feel the same about wedding favours, keepsakes from Christenings/Bar Mitzvahs, and—especially—about sugared almonds. No one likes sugared almonds, which is why the only time you see them is when they’re tied up in stupid string bags at a table-setting. They, too, are a racket to rinse foolish people to pay too much for add-ons at events they’re hosting because they’re following "tradition". 

Well, the tradition for kid’s party bags ends with me, and it ends here, and it ends now. Who’s with me? 

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