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Kid’s Birthday Party – A quick guide for foreigners


No matter if you’re new to New York or just new to motherhood – there will soon be a birthday party to host – and it’s quite different than back home. Here are a few interesting facts, some do’s and don’ts and a general overview of the birthday “etiquette”.

  • Birthday parties are short and sweet! Most parties for kids 1-5 are about 1.5 to maximum 2 hours. Even if you’re invited to someones house or community room, don’t be surprised if the party dissolves promptly at the announced end time even if there’s adult food and drink which would invite to stay.
  • Birthday parties can come with a hefty price tag! On average it’s safe to plan around $1,000 for a baby or toddler birthday with no limit upwards, of course. If you’re luck to have enough space to host in your home or a summer party in a public park you’re looking at a minimum of $500 including invitations, decoration, food, and goodie bags for the birthday guests (we’ll give you a few cost saving tips below)
  • Parents stick around! Up to the 5th birthday it’s customary for parents to stay during a birthday party. Only from 6 years and up you can plan a 2 hour activity for yourself after you drop off your kid. On the other hand, if you’re the host that means you have to look for a space large enough to accommodate whole families.
  • Can I dis-invite siblings? That’s a delicate matter and depends on the activity and age of the sibling. At some places you pay per participating child and/or they offer a limit on kids you can invite. If you invite a 3 year old with a newborn sibling that should be fine. If parents ask to bring older siblings it’s okay to tell them that space is limited or the activity would not be of interest for an older child that could be disruptive.
  • How much should I spend on a gift? In general $20 – $30 is a good figure. For close friends you might want to spend a bit more. It’s possible that your kid walks home with a goodie bag worth more than the gift (depending on who’s inviting), but there’s not need to be embarrassed.
  • Goodie bags! It’s almost a “must” to have goodie bags for each attending child. Kids 3 and up would definitely ask the host about their gift upon leaving, so be prepared. Goody bags contain items like small toys, crayons, craft sets and sweets. Some Moms personalize them with each kids name or create 2 different sets of bags for boys and girls.
  • Invitations and Thank you Cards! While you can get away with an email invitation (e.g. evite.com), Thank you cards should be hand written and ideally mention the gift you received (make a list while unwrapping!). For kids 4 and up it’s nice if the birthday boy or girl signs the card or draws something.
  • Unwrapping gifts! Generally gifts are set aside on a gift table and kids are opening presents at home after the party. Remember, it’s only 1.5 to 2 hours long, so there really is no time for unwrapping.
  • Birthday food! 95% of all parties we’ve been to so far serve pizza and birthday cake or cup cakes for the kids (yes, all that within the 2 hour time frame!). If your kid has any kind of food allergies, make sure to bring your own snacks. Often there are other snacks like a cheese platter, veggies and dip and some wine or beer for the adults if the host venue allows.
  • Whom to invite? Playgroup friends, preschool friends (some have rules to invite the whole class or no-one from school which may eliminate your apartment as the host venue), personal friends.









June 15th 2014, 8:41 am

"Thank you for this guide. I also wanted to encourage everybody to run the birthday parties how you feel comfortable. I've always had birthday parties for my children "German-style" or what I thought would be appropriate, which did not exactly match with the customs here and did not always include a goodie bag (definitely not one with junk in it) but it did include letting my children open the gifts when they got them and letting them thank their givers in person (I've hardly written thank you cards - only if my children really wanted to). While I think it's important to adapt and respect (when invited especially), I think it's also important to show and share what you value in your family and to be proud of it (of course without embarrassing your children), and if this means playing some fun games at home, just letting them play without entertainment, making them take off their shoes when they come in, being honest about siblings, having the cake not as sign that it's soon time to go, but whenever you want, letting everybody hang out after, serving some Sekt to toast the Mom, using real plates and cups, and so on, go for it! I've never spent a lot of money and only gotten positive comments (that I know of :-)) and my children have never been excluded because of that, on the contrary, I think I've inspired some families to add their personal touch."


Alisha Ross

July 4th 2019, 5:48 am

"Great ideas Most of the games are easy to understand and we can try it in our parties but some of them I can’t really think of how they are played ie rules of game. Regards Ross Alisha"

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