The Curse of the Birthday Party Goodie Bag

No to Goodie Bags

Why do Americans love to give plastic goodie bags at children's parties?

I've been trying to figure this out since my first born would get invited to parties. Is it the neon-colored plastic contents? Is it the need to get stuff that looks attractive but serves no need whatsoever? Could it be fueled by the parents themselves who love buying from QVC or online? Is it borrowed behavior from adults stampeding malls on Black Fridays and similar holidays? Is it a buried urge from hitting piñatas full of beautifully-dyed candy, stickers and mini plastic treasures?

As an elementary school student in Buenos Aires, I was told the story of Christopher Columbus and how he conquered the wild, savage natives by trading colored glass and mirrors. These so-called treasures came from the civilized world of Spain in exchange for cocoa, coffee and grains. It didn't take long for the natives to figure out that the strikingly beautiful glass was good for nothing. But by then, the Spaniards had already taken everything. I can't help but remember this story every time my kids come back home from a birthday party with TWO goodie bags brimming with colorful-good-for-nothing-stuff.

Christopher Columbus Trading with Natives

What to do to escape the "Columbus Conundrum"?

Firstly, explain to your kids why goodie bags are unnecessary. Ask them to find one item inside of the bag that will be sustainable beyond a day. They won't find anything. The cheap plastic toys from the dollar store will probably break momentarily and the candy made with mysterious ingredients is as nutritious as a moth ball.

I try to leave the party before the goodie bag giveaway begins. It helps me avoid unnecessary tantrums. If that doesn't work, take the goodie bag home, dissect it on the kitchen table, put everything plastic in the recycling bin (which is 70% of the bag) and throw out all the candy in the trash. This is actually a fun thing to do with the kids. Believe it or not, after holding the bag in their laps and analyzing the contents during the car ride, they lose all interest by the time we get home. They actually find pleasure in doing something good for Mother Earth.

What to do if we are hosting the birthday party?

Let's look at some greener ideas for goodie bag contents:

  1. Anything wood is a great alternative to plastic. Wooden yo-yos, mini puzzles or even tops.
  2. Arts & crafts are always inspirational: crayons, sidewalk chalk, mini sewing kits, wooden toys for painting, beads, small "create your own work of art" kits.
  3. Work with nature! Acorns, rocks, shells, flowers, anything that can be collected.
  4. A balloon -- just like what we got when we were younger.

If everyone stopped giving away goodie bags, kids wouldn't expect them. They would be more grateful for the friendships they have. I think adults need to re-learn this too.

Consuelo Lyonnet

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