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  • Henriette Johnsen

Children's birthday parties

In Denmark, tradition is for school children to invite either all the girls, all the boys or the whole class around for buns and cake whenever a child has its big day. For many children, this is the highlight of their annual celebration.


On the big day itself, it is customary for the birthday child to bring a little treat into school to share amongst their peers: a cake, some sweets or the like. There will be a little celebration for the child with songs and the child can enjoy being the focus of the day.


Some say it takes a village to bring up a child. In fact, we are all biologically primed for wanting to belong to a group; on the savannah, our survival depended on this. The ethos of inviting everyone around for the birthday party, is to enhance the children’s sense of belonging to a caring community - school being one of modern children's villages. As such, including everyone ultimately aids children in learning more in school as they can get away with spending less energy worrying about their social lives.


The birthday child hands out invitations in school, and these will have a set time to the party. As hosts, it's a good idea to have a rough plan in your head - e.g. the children arrive and presents are unwrapped. The children are seated for buns and cake. Playtime. The children are picked up - perhaps you invite the parents in for a drink or coffee and cake. You tidy up. You crash! Big time!


As parents of the guest, you will want to remember that is can be hard work to have 24 children around so please be mindful of dropping and picking up your child at the allocated times. Perhaps, the hosts would appreciate your help, but it's also worth considering that your child may have more fun without you hanging around. It's worth having this discussion in the circle of parents.


It is tradition to bring a little gift for the birthday child. Often, when at school, children chip in and buy one bigger present rather than each child turning up with individual presents. Either way, it is a good idea to agree with the other parents in the class how much to spend on birthday presents.


Some invite the children around to their home, some to places like the local zoo, a play area or the like. Some parents arrange activities such as treassure hunts, balloon dance or ball games. Either way, it's important to remember that children enjoy just being together and are perfectly capable, probably more so than adults, of coming up with things to do together. As such, there shouldn't be any pressure for you to invite them to an exciting venue or to come up with new ideas, invent games etc. etc.


In some parts of the country, traditional birthday cake is served. On Fyn, the traditional cake is called “brunsviger” and can be shaped as either a girl or a boy depending on the sex of the birthday child.


Consisting of a white dough covered with icing made from brown sugar and butter, it may not sound appealing, but anyone who has tasted it will testify to it being delicious. It’s custom to decorate the “brunsviger” with sweets, possibly long caramel or liquorice strips as hair and a marzipan plaque with the birthday child’s name and age on it. If you buy a "brunsviger-man" or "brunsviger-girl" from the local bakery, for a fee they will help you decorate the cake unless you prefer to do so yourself.


It's custom to put a number of cake candles matching the child's age on the cake and let the birthday child blow them out - preferably all of them in just one blow. If they can't do this, the saying is they have a girl- or boyfriend for each candle not blown out in the first attempt.


When I was a child, tradition was to put the “brunsviger” on the table and ask the birthday child to sit under the table. When the head of the cake was seperated from the body of the cake, the birthday child was meant to scream from underneath the table.


Nowadays, and much to children’s delight, sausage rolls, pizza buns, muffins and other foreign foods have made their way to the Danish birthday table. Remember, some children have allergies and some don't eat all foods due to religious or cultural traditions. If in doubt, ask the parents.


Traditional and new birthday songs are sung for the birthday child. The children will know these songs from school. Some parents have tradition of inviting the parents to stay for a coffee or a glass of wine/beer upon picking up their child after the party. Not to be forgotten, birthdays are a good excuse to fly the Danish flag.


Throwing your child a birthday party is good fun, but don't be mistaken, it's also hard work - and you should be prepared to be exhausted afterwards. Nevertheless, birthday parties are a great way to let your child be part of the group, for you to meet some of the other parents, not to mention creating some wonderful memories for you and your children to look back on.


Happy birthday!


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