Children’s parties have taken over my toddler’s social calendar. For some reason, summer seems to mean even more birthday parties. Therefore, children’s parties have taken over my social calendar. Every weekend, we schlep to a party filled with balloons, delicious frosting-topped cake with dinosaurs or firetrucks or Paw Patrol on it, and handfuls of toddlers shrieking in excitement. Most of them, thankfully, also have some adult beverages to sip on in between making sure none of the kids faceplant into said cake.
As a child, I absolutely loved my summer birthday—it meant sleepovers with my closest friends, sugary confections and playing in the sprinkler. The parties were pretty “all American” and I didn’t even realize Indian customs were involved, until one birthday when all of my friends with non-Indian parents gawked curiously while each of my other friends fed me a forkful of cake.
As you plan your child or teen’s birthday, whether a big party or a family celebration, here are some small but powerful ways to involve Indian traditions, customs or culture:
One way to inject some Indian culture into a party is in the goodie bags—instead of the usual toy trinkets and stickers, you can add a book about desi holidays, Hindu gods, or various places in India. It doesn’t have to just be for Indian kids—many parents are now realizing the importance of showing their children books with protagonists of various cultures, sizes and religions.
For older children, try skipping the more-common face painting and try a mehndi station. Aside from being a fun alternative, there’s a bonus for parents: mehndi’s cooling effect has been known to soothe stress, headaches and fever and protect from viral diseases (i.e. the cold and flu that seems to be constantly going around daycares, schools and neighborhood pools).
If your child, like mine, has enough toys lying around to drive you batty, consider suggesting a donation to an Indian charity over presents. Older children can help choose a charity close to their heart, from child-centric to education to women-empowering.
One thing I’ve really realized from being an aunt and mother is that children’s games and songs don’t really ever change—I’m still singing the same lullabies to kids now as I learned growing up. Same with games—the ones you and your friends loved as kids are likely to be the same ones your kids will enjoy. Host a Carrom tournament for indoor parties, or kite-flying or an outdoor kabbadi game for warm-weather parties. Or simply bust out some Bollywood tunes as the kids play musical chairs. Putting an Indian twist on common party games—filling a pinata with individually-wrapped mithai or playing Pin the Tail on the Peacock, for example—is also a subtle way to turn it up a notch.
Speaking of customs, we all know sweets are absolutely mandatory for any birthday celebration, Indian or otherwise. Putting a twist on the usual chocolate or yellow cake can be a delicious way to incorporate traditional flavors, from eggless Pistachio Cupcakes with Cardamom Rose Frosting from @lovelaughmirch to Ras Malai Cupcakes from @chaiandchurros to, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, a Gulab Jamun Cake from @nithakitchen. Or literally any single recipe from the Milk and Cardamom cookbook.
Not in the mood for cooking? Don't blame you. Then try Malai Ice Cream -- they deliver!
Whatever the sweet, don’t forget the fun tradition of feeding: while some in India have the birthday boy or girl feed each guest, others have the guests feed the birthday child—either way, it makes for a fun, often messy, time
Avani Nadkarni is a former journalist who currently works in tech PR and is forever navigating the tricky balance of trying to raise her child in the U.S. while teaching him about his Indian and Sri Lankan roots.