Birthday Parties In The '80s Were The Best

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Daniel Truta/Reshot

Admit it: kids’ birthday parties suck. The battle to keep up with the Addisons, the Madisons, the Jacksons and the Jadens become a nuclear arms race of forced fun. Bounce houses, pony rides, magicians and fun parks are the order of the day. Cakes come from high-end bakeries that specialize in molded shit that matches a theme. All parties have a theme. Harry Potter, Star Wars, Ninjago, Disney Princess, My Little Pony: theme, theme, theme. Everything matches. You, personally, may be expected to match. Fuck that noise. We need to rise up and party like it’s 1988.

You may have forgotten how to do so. The ability to party without matching plastic forks has become lost to the mists of time. But you can do this. In the before time, in the long long ago, children celebrated birthdays without themes. Without molded bakery cakes. Without bounce houses and outside entertainment.

In 1988, the golden age of children’s birthday parties, we rocked it. Here’s how.

You give out real invitations you fill out by hand.

Which in 1988 caused enormous drama about who was invited and who wasn’t invited. This indicates a vicious kind of social standing that must be mediated by a teacher. Now you’re not allowed to invite anyone unless you invite the whole damn class. It’s easier on the teacher and makes sure no one feels left out. Prepare your house for an onslaught of thirty children. No wonder parents shell out for a secondary location.

Parents need to hang out.

Dexter Chatuluka/Unsplash

There’s a simple reason for this. In 1988, children’s birthday parties did not suck for parents. There’s one reason for that, and that reason’s called free beer and parental socialization. The longer the party went on, the more fun everyone had. This year, be that hero who hands out the beer.

Venues stay simple.

In 1988, the snot-noses had two choices: home or the park. At home, you might get to play some boring-ass party games (see below). At the park, you got to — wait for it — play at the goddamn park. Parents would break for cake and ice cream and Kool-Aid, probably the kind with copious amounts of red dye #4. And in the dark ages of 1988, they expected kids to get hyper. They called it a “sugar high” and dealt accordingly.

Learn something from these wise women.

Speaking of cakes …

Lena Otvodenko/Reshot

Your mom baked it. A few kids, like my brother, had a mom with some decorating skills and cake pans who managed to turn out, like, a Smurf that looked mildly Smurf-like. Most of you were either stuck with melty Transformers or regular old cakes someone had scrawled “Happy Birthday” across. If you were really lucky, your mom bought the cake at the grocery store. Super duper lucky? You got a cookie cake or an ice cream cake. This was the pinnacle of fancy-pants in 1988. And your ass best say thank you.

Bake that damn cake yourself.

There is no freaking theme.

You really wanna party like it’s 1988? I have a theme for you: Birthday Party. The Birthday Party theme includes a cake with the words “Happy Birthday” scrawled in shaky letters, courtesy of Betsy Crocker’s icing tubes. Plates are the cheapest paper plates Target sells; the silverware is white plastic; drinkware is traditionally red solo cups with people’s names scrawled on them. There may be a plastic table cloth and bowls of the following offerings: chips and Doritos. A veggie tray and ranch dressing may be provided. Classic drinks include Diet Pepsi and, thanks to Stranger Things, New Coke.

Party at home? You play party games.

This generation has never pinned a tail on a donkey. Think about that. Remember the interminable wait for your time, the surety you would be the one to get closest to the tail and hence win the prize (probably a yo-yo you’d tangle and break immediately)? You may also have played duck-duck-goose in 1988. You also played such antiquated games as Freeze Tag, and TV Tag. People went on scavenger hunts. Does your child even know what a scavenger hunt is? They’re about to learn. Whichever team wins gets a cheap-ass toy from the Target One-Spot.

Adults ignored the children unless there was blood.

Adults have come to this party to drink and socialize, not fucking hover. Seriously? Kids should run feral. Once, after my cousin opened her presents, I ripped the head off her brand-new Barbie-doll and hid behind the couch. She cried so damn hard her mother did eventually intervene, and everyone was pissed, mostly because I interrupted the aforementioned beer drinking.

Goodie bags mean candy.

What better way to send a child home than with a bag full of sugar? In 1988, you didn’t drop a shit ton of money on plastic crap from the Oriental Trading if you were cheap, and actual Lego minifigs if you aren’t. Kids got Tootsie pops and Pixie Stix and Reeses Cups and sugar, sugar, sugar, plus a pencil or two.

It sounds half-assed. It sounds like very little effort. That’s the goddamn point. We’re talking about regular children, not Prince George. Just make sure you bring the beer, and everyone will love you. Your kids will have a blast, because their friends showed up and they got presents. They really don’t give a fuck if they got presents.

Swear to god. The presents are everything. And in 1988, we made all the other kids sit around and drool while the birthday kid opened them.

Nothing like a little envy to make a birthday that much sweeter.

This article was originally published on