In my research of birthdays around the world, I was recently reading Barbara Rinkoff’s (1967) book on this topic. Although there is some gender stereotyping in here that makes me cringe — one activity is labeled as being for “boys and tomboys” — I appreciate her thorough overview of how one might celebrate birthdays with a global perspective.
I thought it would be fun to share some of the country-specific games she suggests for kids’ birthday parties. Maybe you can get some ideas from these to entertain young ones on a birthday or any other day.
Birthday Games in Brazil
This one from Brazil is one of my favorites from the book: Hit the Penny. Put a coin atop a broomstick or bamboo pole stuck in the ground (or, inside, into a tree stand). Draw a circle about 3 feet in diameter around the pole. Kids then stand 4 to 6 feet from the stick and try to knock the coin from the pole using pennies. Knocking the coin off the pole and outside the circle = one point while inside the circle = no points. Me, I’d tweak that last rule and make inside the circle one point and outside three to make the game more competitive for all.
Another from Brazil, the one for boys and tomboys actually, is Luta de Galo (Chicken Fight). Two players stick a hankie into their waistband or belt and fold their right arms across their chests. They then try to get the opponent’s hankie while hopping on a right foot only and using only the left hand.
Fire and Finding Stuff Games
Bird’s Alive is a unique one from Denmark, where apparently they are more open to children and flames. Children sit in a circle and pass a lighted paper or stick to one another saying “Bird’s Alive” as they do. They may blow on the paper or stick to keep the flame alive but the player who is holding the stick when the flame goes out must pay a forfeit. These typically involve being silly — dancing with a broom, neighing like a horse, or crying like a baby.
The English game Hunt the Thimble is easy to set up and could be challenging. Everyone playing leaves the room while a thimble is hidden. The children are signaled to return. The one who finds the thimble first is the winner.
Games Requiring Concentration
Germany’s Kommando Bimberle has everyone sitting around a table. One child commands “do this with your hands” or “don’t do this with your hands.” If listeners do the wrong thing, they must put something of their on the table. When a previously specified number of things is on the table for one person, they must again pay the forfeit (a la Demark). (Am I the only one who sees this one as training for strip poker?)
An Israeli game of skill involves placing a bottle on the floor. Children take turns kneeling on a chair and, with one hand behind their backs, trying to drop peanuts into the bottle. This game is aptly named Peanuts in the Bottle.
Energetic Birthday Games
Japanese children play Hanakago (The Flower Basket). Each child is given a name of a flower. They must remember this throughout the game as they sit on a chair or pillow in a circle in the room. The child who is IT does not have a chair. IT calls out two flowers and those two children must switch seats quickly while IT tries to claim one of the two available chairs. IT may also call Hanakago which forces all players to find a new seat.
In the Philippines they play Pusa at Aso (Cat and Dog). All the players sit in a circle as cats. One child sits in the middle and is Dog. He or she guards a pile of shoes, sticks or stone standing in for bones. The cats try to sneak one of the dog’s bones from the pile. Dog tries to protect them by tagging cats, but Dog cannot move around the circle and can only use his hands and feet to touch the cats. If a Cat is tagged, that Cat becomes Dog.
South Africans form a wide circle of girls with a circle of boys inside facing out towards their girl partners. An extra boy, IT, is in the center of the circle. He winks at a girl and she tries to get to IT before her partner tags her. If she reaches IT without being tagged by her partner, her partner becomes IT. This Knikkertjie (Winking Game) could easily be played without the gender divisions and just partnered up children.
Ultimately, the lesson learned from this variety of games is that the world is full of creative ideas. And, even more importantly, that we know how to have a good time at birthday parties!