by Jeffrey Davies
In the 21st century, it's unlikely that you'd attend a child's birthday party and not receive a bag of goodies, or "loot bag" as we say here in Canada. It's essentially the birthday celebration equivalent of a party favor, a tradition that began centuries ago as a memento that hosts would gift to their guests to thank them for attending an event.
Party favors are most typically associated with weddings. The tradition is said to date back to eighth-century Italy. Until the onset of the 20th century, party favors were predominantly associated with the upper class.
As such, when Victor Emanuel of Savoy married Elena of Montenegro, favors of solid silver were given to their numerous guests. What's the point of being rich if you can't give mementos to your guests reminding them that you're filthy rich?
The tradition of brides giving party favors to her guests became more popular in Victorian England. The wealthy bride typically gave her wedding guests small fabric bags containing a sugar cube or confections.
Once again, until the 20th century, sugar was a historically expensive commodity only accessible to the upper class, so this was also a way for the wealthy to show off their wealth.
Once sugar started becoming more readily accessible to anyone and everyone, a new party favor tradition for weddings started to take hold. Brides started giving out sugar-covered almonds, known as confetti, which have been said to represent the bittersweet nature of marriage.
In each fancy fabric bag, each guest received five confetti almonds. The five almonds were said to stand for fertility, health, wealth, happiness, and longevity.
The traditional birthday party loot bag might have started with some sweets for your friends to take home, and some people go all out with toys, games, and even gift certificates.
But not all parents are okay with this continuously expanding birthday tradition, which can get costly. In 2016, a Toronto mommy blogger went viral when she proclaimed that parents should "just say no" to loot bags: "I have been attending numerous birthday parties over the last few weekends, and it's just junk. My kids obviously love to receive it, but within a few minutes things are broken [and] there's lots of pieces all over my house. And for the parents who are throwing the birthday, it's just a waste of money."
Her proclamation generated controversy, with many parents agreeing with her while others strongly disagreed, as some parents (as my mother did) put a lot of time and effort into loot bags. Many believe it's disrespectful to dismiss someone's time and effort as junk.
What do you think? Are party favors an outdated bourgeois tradition? Are loot bags a waste of time and money, or do you love putting them together for your kids' friends? Let us know!
by Jeffrey Davies