Texas School Stops Birthday Swats

Even decades later I remember the birthday “paddy whacks” we would dole out on the schoolyard at recess. When we were little it was cause for hilarity. When we were just beginning to “like” boys or girls it was an awkward/embarrassing excuse for a group of one sex to grab hold of one of the opposite sex (single sex liking was not socially accepted on schoolyards then, sorry).

Then, there would be lots of teasing and laughing while someone was put through the mill of whacks — imagine a line up of kids swatting the birthday kid scrambling as quick as possible past their “friends.” But even if I put quotes around friends, because it wasn’t always your closest buddies doing this, it was always your classmates. Peers. People of your own age. 

Principal Paddy Whacks

In Texas, an elementary school recently made the news after parents complained about a principal’s practice of offering birthday spankings “along with a birthday/special day pencil and a piece of candy.”

birthday swat

Texas Elementary School

The principal said in a letter home to parents that no more than five pupils had requested “something other than the birthday swat” over her past eight years. Plus, she said that the spankings were on camera and there were “always other adults in the office celebrating with us all.” (UHM, them being on camera helps her case how?).

Students who rejected the spanking had the option of a birthday hug or high five. Yet now, based on a few parent complaints, the practice has been cancelled in favor of the hug or high five options only.

In one report of parent reactions, “one said it was done in a playful manner, while another said it was a fun tradition and her kids ‘always look forward to it’.” 

A NY Daily News report quoted parent Jessica Moore telling a local TV station, ”If it was a big deal to the kid, they would’ve brought it up way before now.”

Parent Heather Redder suggested the distress was due to a lack of understanding. “They’re not used to a small community,” she explained. “And that’s what we are. People that move here from the big city, they don’t realize, and they’re not used to this.”

Mine was not a small community, but in Canada and Britain the paddy whacks are admittedly more common. Still, even being the nerd I was throughout all my schooling, I can’t imagine having the principal swatting my bottom being something I would enjoy on my birthday. In my world you tried to steer clear of the principal at all costs! Admittedly, I probably would have been pretty excited about that special day pencil though.

Bad News about Birthday Candles

birthday cake

Photo credit: r.nial.bradshaw via Foter.com / CC BY

I thought it was pretty cool when I learned that the whole blowing out candles tradition dates back centuries. Many ancient cultures thought the smoke carried their good wishes up to the heavens.

Mental Floss traces the tradition to ancient Greece where people used to take cakes to the temple of Artemis. The lit candles were reminiscent of the moon, a popular symbol associated with the goddess of the hunt.

That site points also to Germans in 1746 putting candles in a cake to signify each year of the person’s age and the possible symbolism of a candle as the “light of the life” of a young child feted during Kinderfest.

These are all interesting ideas, right?

Then along comes Bustle with a report of a new study that pretty much busts the enjoyment of birthday candles forever more. It’s not as if the findings are surprising. Only did science really need to weigh in on this one? This study had to be sponsored by someone who hates birthday cake.

“One of our oldest celebrations is one of the yuckiest, scientists and germaphobes explain,” spoilsport Lifestyle reporter Kaitlyn Wylde writes.

She goes on to describe how gross the tradition actually is, and how it’s even more disgusting when kids are blowing out the candles, then introduces the actual science from Clemson University. I’m not going to repeat it here. It’s gross, and I wouldn’t do that to you.

Instead I will share my disappointment that this study originated at Clemson, my husband’s alma mater, and the school that prompts my son to cheer license plates and bumper stickers as we drive. I am even more devastated a school I am supposed to love by association has spoiled this aspect of birthdays for me.

Sure, there are alternatives to the sucking in a breath and letting out a gusting wish over top of the cake: Have the birthday person blow out a candle or candles on their own cupcake, a pre-cut slice, or personal small cake (a la the one year old’s smash cake). Or have the celebrant use a handheld fan, a folded paper fan, or an old school candle-snuffer. Recently, I also posted alternative birthday cake options — although I intended for those to include candles still.

Me? I’d rather take a cake and smash it in the face of the scientists who researched and thus ruined this age-old tradition. I can make it a purple and orange cake, though, just to make the punishment a little more Tigers-style.