Celebrating Birthdays Abroad
my First barnkalas in Sweden

Celebrating my daughter’s first birthday in Sweden was a learning curve! Here are some of the most valuable tips I learnt about celebrating birthdays in Sweden, without compromising my own culture’s birthday traditions.

If you like to celebrate your kids birthday as much as I do, I hope you appreciate this! Here is my guide for you who want to plan, organize and celebrate your kid with a memorable celebration (barnkalas in Swedish) in his/her new home. Mmm, but, where do you start? First things first.

 

Questions, Questions, questions

Before jumping or rushing to the party shop, let’s begin with the basics:

 

  1. How old is your kid?

This is a crucial question because the age of your kid makes a difference. In Latin America, we like to celebrate everything. To give you an example, the first year of your kid is a big deal. So, it was now my turn as a new mom and I decided to celebrate it BIG. What I didn’t know was that my kid was just not prepared to have as many kids as we invited at her birthday. There were 20 kids with their parents and it was just totally overwhelming for my daughter. You don’t want this situation for your kid. Do a little research about your kid’s age and be flexible. This age determines also the theme, activities before and during the event, and the party supplies that you can include at the party.

2. How much time do you have to prepare the celebration?

Choose the date and the time wisely. Swedish parents like a lot of advanced warning. They love to plan everything so try to give them enough time to mark the calendar. I will say a minimum of 3 weeks. Another important issue to consider is to schedule the party so that it doesn’t conflict with any major celebrations, holidays, or festivals. This way, you’ll have a better chance of people showing up. If you ask me, I will organize a party for at least 3 months in advance, depending on the party size.

 

Guests, Guests, Guests

How many kids/parents do you really know in your new home? Of course, a party is a good way to start making connections with your kid’s network, like schoolmates and parents. However, it’s really important, to be honest, and keep it simple. This doesn’t mean that you are not going to honor the occasion but celebrate it in a way that makes sense for you and especially for your kid.

Recently, I found this interesting tip:

 

 

Considering the previous tip, I will make a tentative list that goes like this

 

Why origin?

I include this category to understand where they come from, the language they speak in order to try to make the celebration comfortable for everyone. This aid also gives you a pretty good idea of the language that you are going to use for the communication and during the party. In my case, I have run parties in the 3 languages.

 

Money, money, money

Planning a budget sounds obvious but missing this critical step has happened to me as well. A budget can help you be better organized. It will also give you an idea of what birthday party options you can afford, especially if you compare prices with your own country. Consider your total and try to stick to it. Do not worry if your budget is low, there are plenty of fun and inexpensive ways to make a party memorable.

Remember that the budget is a vivid element and you have to update on the go with all the things that you have decided and try to include everything even emergency for the celebration

 

Venue, Venue, Venue

Where do you want to host it? Will it be outside or inside? At your house or apartment, someone’s house, a restaurant, at the school or elsewhere? It’s really good to start thinking of potential venues. In my experience, Sweden’s weather is really tricky so when I think about venues I try to include venues that are flexible. For example, venues with both inside and outside spaces. It can be your apartment and nearby playground that can be used for outdoor activities. To my surprise, there is a really nice and affordable venue option in Sweden and I have found it both in Umeå and now in Tullinge. The name varies depending on where you live. You can check it as either föreningslokal, or samlingslokal. Normally, this venue will include a kitchen, chairs, tables and some furniture and equipment. There are some rules about using it but most of them are related to the capacity, cleaning, and noise at the venue.

Another interesting surprise, now that I moved from Umeå to Stockholm, is the possibility to organise your kids birthday at the school, or at least in my kid’s school. My recommendation would be to ask the principal of the school.

Here are other venue options you can consider, depending on the budget and the season

 

Theme, theme, theme

Deciding on a theme makes your life as a parent easier. They are always fun and they look good in pictures. However, you are the one to decide if you want a theme or not. I have been to parties that don’t have a theme and they have been just as successful.  There are many options to choose from. If you want to stick with a theme, choose it according to your kid’s interests and age. In the early years between one a three, themes like colors, circles or the jungle could work perfectly. They won’t notice the difference. After 3, they start being more aware.

 

 

As I said before, the theme facilitates a lot of things to make your vision of the party come true. It allows you to form what is necessary to make the party work. From the location to the invites and, later, the decorations or the food.

 

Invitations, invitations, invitations

We talked about the tentative guest list before. Now, it’s time to send the invitations with your actual guest list. In my experience, I have collected their email addresses and phone numbers and sent them the invites by email. Another modern way of doing it is to create a private event on Facebook. In a traditional way, people use cards as well to invite the kids. The way depends on your guests, and again, on the age of your kid. In Addition to their contact information, it’s also important to make sure you ask all parents about the allergies and dietary requirements of their children.

 

Traditions, traditions, traditions

 

 

In addition to selecting a theme, I will think about my traditions and my new home traditions. The key questions are what traditions you are going to keep from your own culture, and what traditions you are going to embrace from your host country?. These traditions depend on how old your kid is. To simplify it for you I will make a list like this one:

 

 

It’s really nice to keep in mind that as an international parent people are always curious about your typical customs and things you do to celebrate birthdays. For instance, my dearest Mexican friend included a piñata for her kid’s celebration. This element is becoming more and more popular in Sweden.

 

Decor, decor, decor

Once you gather some theme suggestions make a list of the things you will need to decorate the selected venue. Another crucial decision you have to think about is making the decorations yourself or buying them. I have done both and this decision depends on your budget, and the time you have to organise the party. In comparison with other countries to Sweden, I don’t believe you save money doing things like decor and food by yourself but I did it to have fun, try new handcrafts and recipes, and spend time with my girlfriends. Both ways work. If you decide to buy the decorations, or the food, there are several options to buy your party supplies and catering offline and online.

Before I forget, it’s really important to give time to decorate the venue if it’s needed. A lot of people, including me, has left this task until the last minute and it doesn’t work. Instead of having fun, you will feel stressed. My best tip is to decorate one day in advance if it’s possible.

 

Menu, Menu, Menu

 

 

Deciding the food and beverages for your kid’s party is not an easy task because of all the allergies and dietary requirements, especially in Sweden. The parents are the best source for food suggestions and restrictions. If nobody mentions it then you are free to select a diverse menu. In my experience, one of the things that have helped me is to consider the number of kiddos and parents so I can have a combination of snacks for all ages. Recently, I read about small sizes and I truly believe in make the celebration easy for your small guests. These can include mini pizzas, mini hot dogs, slices of fruits. Keep it simple and don’t go overboard or too fancy with the options.

An important reminder is to keep the sugar and the chips under supervision.

Regarding alcohol, there is definitely no clear norms about this issue. I will say that depends on how well you know the parents. In some birthdays, you will have non-alcohol or low-alcohol beer and wine but Alcohol is a sensitive topic so be careful.

 

Date, date, date

This is pretty simple. Saturdays or weekends work best for birthday celebrations.

 

Time, time, time

It’s necessary to take into consideration the hour of the party. Kids need to be at their best and parents need to plan their kid’s meal in the case is close to lunch or dinner. My recommendation is to set the party after lunch and before dinner. In addition to this detail, try to be specific about the food you will be providing because Fika (coffee break) is really important and its part of their daily routine even in schools.

 

Duration, Duration, Duration

The parties don’t have to last long. The best parties are between 2-3 hours long. Why? Because it’s a fact that most kids tire quickly. It doesn’t make sense to have grumpy kids running around for hours. Another great tip that I found recently can summarize below the best length depending on the kid’s age.

 

 

Programme, programme, programme

The party activities will depend mostly on your party’s theme, the age of your kid, your venue (indoor vs. outdoor) and your budget. If you google, there are plenty of no-cost activities and games you can do to entertain your guests. Hiring an entertainer could be an option. What I would do is to create a program with all the activities that you are planning to do during the party. Secondly, decide about the duration for each moment of the bash. To give you an example:

 

 

In this post, you are not going to find any information about games or activities for parties but I promise to write about them in my next contribution.

 

Parents, parent’s, parents

Depending on the age of the child, it is possible that parents will probably stick around and help out.

 

Team, team, team

You don’t have to do it alone. Everything is easier if you have help. Your help is closer to you than you think. It can be a spouse, relatives, neighbour, or friends. You will be surprised by all the amazing people who can assist with activities as well as serving and cleanup. Diligent parents who want to stay and make some connections will be a help, too.

 

Music, Music, Music,

Thank GOD for Spotify that you can create playlists for anything. Few days before the party, make a list of appropriate songs and make sure you have a compatible speaker system for indoor parties or a portable wireless speaker for outdoor parties. If you have help, delegate this responsibility to another family member or parent.

 

Cake, cake, cake

We live in a country where practicality is everywhere, even with cakes. It was really surprising to find that you can buy the bottom of the cake and make the semi-homemade cake your style. The birthday cake can be made, semi made, buy, or made to order to take your mind off the stress of what you want it to look like. We’re not all home-bakers.

 

Gifts gifts, gifts

 

 

What is the best moment to open gifts. During or after the party? There is no right or wrong answer to choose. The most relevant factor to consider is the age of your kid. The older the better it gets but for babies or toddlers, I would suggest afterward.

And, to add more insights about this, I had a great conversation with my Swedish girlfriend and she mentioned that in a Swedish birthday celebration (Kids older than 4), they will need to give the gifts directly to the birthday boy/girl. He or she will need to open it in front of them and say thank you.

 

Goodies Bags

In my own experience, the goodie bags are a custom that normally doesn’t apply to Sweden. In Latin America, it’s pretty normal to thank the guest for coming with a bag full of toys and sweets for the kid. The bag can also include a piece of cake and food leftovers from the party. It is a way to say thank you for joining the celebration.

If you plan to keep this tradition on giving candies and toys, make sure they are age-appropriate and safe for the children.

 

Photos, photos, photos

It’s really important to ask the parents if you can take pictures or make videos during the party before you start doing it. Parents are really sensitive about social exposure so it’s better to ask their consent. Normally in Sweden, you can take only pictures of your kid and nobody else’s kid.

Another option for capturing the moment could be hiring a photographer or delegating this task to someone. It could be a family member, or a friend.

 

Chaos, chaos, Chaos

The hardest thing to plan for at any birthday party is the unexpected. Here’s what you can do to keep calm when chaos arises:

  • Be prepared for meltdowns. An adult helper (parents) can take a distraught child aside while the rest of the group continues celebrating.
  • Have a stock with band-aids, ice, and tissue.
  • If parents are dropping off children, be sure to have their phone numbers at hand.

 

Later, later, later

The party is not done yet. The sad news is that there are few activities to the bash.

  • Cleaning after the party is a must in most venues. Everything has to be exactly where it was before your arrival. This includes putting back the furniture, taking down the decorations, washing all the dishes. It’s really common to see that most of the venues include a dishwasher.
  • Sending a thank you to all your guests.

 

Have you celebrated birthdays in Sweden? Do you have any cool idea of how to celebrate your kids birthday in Sweden or when living abroad and you don’t have enough friends yet? I will love to hear all your great experiences in the comments.

 



More of the good stuff