Throwing a Dutch Birthday Party: Step 2 The Act

by farrah on February 27, 2014 · 28 comments

For weeks now I have been talking, tweeting and status-updating about this party. Well, it’s over. Breaking the norm, I’m going to jump right to the meat of what I learned yesterday throwing my first Dutch children’s birthday party. If you are an expat in the Netherlands and planning one for your child you need to stop what you’re doing and just read this before you do anything else:

  • Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT invite more children than they are years old. You will not hurt feelings. You will regret inviting so many young children to your house fifteen minutes after the party has started. You WILL look crazy to the other parents should you not heed my advice. They will have a full blown celebration at school.
  • Ensure help. You cannot have enough. If they speak Dutch, all the better.
  • Pray with every ounce of energy you can muster in your soul to Mother Nature that she blesses you with good weather so the children can play outside.
  • For every 20 kids you have over, 5 will be using your bathroom to poop. You must help them finish. Just know this up front.

Dutch birthday party

Those are the big things, the most important things I can offer you. If anything else, just keep those tips in mind and if you’d really like to hear how it all went down on Wednesday, wait no further.

Break it down

11:30am My mother in law goes pick up the twins at school. I asked her to stall until noon if she could on the way home.

11:50am My husband and I are walking to school to pick up the mob, we see the twins and Grandma. Breakdown ensues.

12:00pm My husband and I are at the school. Another mother has offered to help us walk the children to our house. We are invited into the classroom to gather up the children. A big production is made for ‘all those who are going to the party line up’. The remaining handful of children look sad. I feel awful. Someone is crying. Epic fail.

12:10pm We manage to make it out the door. There is mass chaos on the pick up platform. Parents are looking at us like we are insane.

12:20pm We arrive back at the house. A child who was walking home with his father asked to join us. Why the hell not? Sure. now we are at 21 children including my own.

12:30pm Frantically, I am getting lunch together. The children are running around, squealing, asking for things. We do not know what they are saying. Finally they ask to go outside. YES. Unlock the playroom door as quickly as possible and let them out! I am sweating.

Dutch birthday partyPure joy that there is sun!

12:35pm There are now 3 divisions of the mob: group 1 is in the front/living room on the couch, group 2 is stalking the cupcake tree in the kitchen, group 3 is in the playroom/playing in the backyard. We have an adult stationed with each of the groups.

12:45pm lunch has been served and is over. Many people didn’t want the hot dogs. I threw together hagleslag and butter sandwiches. I am looking at the clock thinking it is 1:30. Nope.

1:00pm the children want the cupcakes. I don’t know if I can hold them off any longer. I am tempted just to let them have at it. Two have already been stolen and inhaled. We go to the front room, sit in a circle, let them talk and serve the cupcakes after singing Happy Birthday. I am waiting desperately for my friend Ace to arrive. She can speak Dutch.

Dutch birthday partyNot everyone liked my ‘American’ cupcakes.

1:30pm my friend has arrived, we are finishing cupcakes, are the kids are demanding to ‘buiten spelen’. We get them all outside. Some want to stay in. We station ourselves accordingly.

1:35pm they want to open presents. We herd them all into the toy room where they sit in a crush on top of one another. It’s madness. Gifts open in a frenzy.

Dutch birthday partyGift opening chaos.

1:40pm I check the clock. It has to be 2:30, right? No. OMG. Back outside.

2:00pm someone falls in the water feature. I start a movie.  Someone is on the floor eating the candy topping balls that rolled off of the cupcakes found in the rug. People are fighting over a new game that was a gift. Screaming. Tears.

2:05pm I check the clock.

2:30pm the first parent arrives to pick up his child for swim class. Hooray! I can see the light!

2:50pm The first parents are arriving. They are all laughing asking me how it went. I just say ‘It was crazy’ and they laugh. I am the crazy American.

3:00pm They are all gone. We do a sweep of the house to make sure no one is left behind. All clear.

And that, my friends, is how you do NOT do it.

I will say that had it not been for my husband (who did a fantastic job herding the kids home safely), my mother in law (who was able to keep the shy ones occupied on the ‘craft’), and my friend Ace (who helped translate) I wold not be sitting typing this today. I would most likely be sobbing somewhere, quietly to myself.

Bottom line: The kids really seemed to have a blast. Yes, it was incredibly frustrating to not be able to understand them- and that was very difficult. Plus, they didn’t understand me. That was frustrating indeed. Thankfully I think body language is universal, and NO! is also without barriers. And thank you sweet baby Jesus for the nice weather yesterday.

Dutch birthday partyThe child in the white shirt is the one who fell in.

Next year we will be inviting a total of 8 children to the twins’ party (it’s only fair) and 6 to B’s. I have learned my lessons in how to throw a Dutch birthday party.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ann February 27, 2014 at 8:57 am

Poor you! W went to a birthday party over the weekend for a 3 year old. There were 5 kids total (one being the birthday boy’s older brother) and they were just in an indoor play area at the park. I tagged along to see how the party went, I was the only other parent there. I was amazed that even though there were only 5 kids this mom did it by herself. While I was there, though, I kept thinking of your upcoming party and the language barrier. That makes things 300x more difficult. Great tips for next time!


2 farrah February 27, 2014 at 9:20 am

It really was good- I mean, it was pretty intense, but we all survived. And since B had fun that was all that mattered! But yeah- this would have been much better with fewer kids!


3 Marloes February 27, 2014 at 8:59 am

OMG, some courageous woman you are!!!! 21 kids!!!! Wow!!!!! I had my youngest his birthday party yesterday; there were 7 kids including mine. 21!!! Big hooray for you on surviving that one!!!! I thought of locking all the doors of rooms they couldn’t enter; brought so much ‘peace’!!! They had the playroom, a huge cave, their own bedrooms and living room to play in. It was the only full-raining day we had in a whole week…. It was good fun though!!! I’m sure your kids loved it, sounds stressful for you, but fun for the kids!!!


4 farrah February 27, 2014 at 9:21 am

They did- but wow was I exhausted by the end. I think I inhaled a hot dog around 2pm.


5 Ellen Heetveld February 27, 2014 at 9:15 am

And did Brody liked it? He will be the hero of the class today!

Groeten, Ellen


6 farrah February 27, 2014 at 9:21 am

He loved it! I am actually really curious as to what (if anything) the parents will say to me today when I go to pick him up. Like, I want to know what their kids thought of it!


7 Becca February 27, 2014 at 9:19 am

What is the difference between Dutch and American cupcakes ?


8 farrah February 27, 2014 at 9:23 am

To be blunt: it’s the preservatives. American food in general is a little bit saltier, a little bit sweeter- and there’s just ‘something’ about it. In fact, my friend Ace and I were talking about how GOOD it was to get American icing. There’s just more sugary yum to it! But, of course- bad stuff too! I’d say 5-7 of the kids did not like them and threw them out. A few only licked off the icing 🙂


9 farrah February 27, 2014 at 9:39 am

I should add that myself, my husband and my mil were the only 3 people who did not get to try the cupcakes since I only made 24. Which made the fact that a few kids licked them and tossed them hurt just a little.


10 Ann February 27, 2014 at 11:25 am

CAn I just say I’m kind of glad they didn’t care for them? Everytime I make a US dessert recipe (usually brownies) none of my German friends care for them because they’re so much sweeter than they’re used to. Glad it’s not just me.


11 farrah February 27, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Oh no, not just you! I remember my first attempt at making chocolate chip cookies. I was at Ah, looking for chips- no such thing. I asked a lady in the candy aisle which chocolate to use (and cut up) and she (in her typical direct Dutchiness said ‘Oh you Americans! You like everything so sweet! Yuck!’ And I had to laugh because a) she wasn’t being rude, really. and b) she is pretty right 🙂

12 Jennifer F- American Mom in Bordeaux February 27, 2014 at 9:55 am

I have to admit I couldn’t wait to read this! Again – Kudos to you!!

Looks like the kids really did have a good time – even though for the adults – it’s definitely tougher!

I laughed at the opening presents frenzy photo – it’s how it happens in France too. The kids all gather/smush and push into each other as gifts are opened….definitely not the more organized American way!

Don’t worry – coming from someone who has older kids…it gets better as they get more independent!! Again Kudos and thanks for sharing!!


13 farrah February 27, 2014 at 5:27 pm

I wish I wasn’t so flustered and enjoyed it more. I shoulda taken that Valium!


14 Ace February 27, 2014 at 11:39 am

It might not have felt like it, but it certainly looks well-controlled when I arrived! I think you guys are saints, though. I can only imagine the mess that that many kids left behind =)


15 farrah February 27, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Ha! I shiver to think what would have happened if you didn’t arrive. Really and truly- just having you there made me feel a little better. Brody’s a great translator- but, uh, tends to get distracted 🙂


16 CK February 27, 2014 at 1:04 pm

All I can say is WOW… good for you for surviving!!! Thus far, I have always stuck to the golden rule of number of invitees = birthday age + one (at most)!!! And I hope to keep this rule (if not less) for a very long time! My little one would have only eaten a some of the icing as well – he likes sweets (loves chocolate), but only in small moderation and hardly ever eats the cake. He will always ask for cake, but may only take one bite. Ice cream cake on the other hand is slightly different…


17 farrah February 27, 2014 at 5:29 pm

I honestly do not know why I didn’t just stick to a smaller group. I think I was so excited at the idea of him actually HAVING so many friends to ask- you know? Anyhow. Lesson learned!


18 Andrea, Passports And Pushchairs February 27, 2014 at 3:58 pm

You are a brave, brave woman. We have always had like 20 kids at our parties but the parents always stay! This year we did 11 5 and 6 year old boys at a bowling alley and it was a drop off and it was pure chaos. Next year he will be able to invite 7 kids, his age, and that is it 🙂


19 farrah February 27, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Yeah, it’s pretty nuts without parents and not being able to understand each other. I did note that it’s universal for kids to object when you ask them to wash their hands 🙂


20 Karla February 27, 2014 at 4:23 pm

I couldn’t wait to read this. I’ve been waiting for it for weeks…like a holiday! I woke up at 6am and as usually, your blog was the only new e-mail in my box that arrived over night. I was excited that I would finally to read it at work today! I think my favorite part is the picture of the kids opening presents and seeing the adult (Andy maybe) holding and kid up to place him somewhere. I can just imagine all of the picking up and moving of children! So since you invited the whole class, why were some of the classmates left behind crying? Did their parents not allow them to go to the party due to other plans and/or concern about the crowd?


21 farrah February 27, 2014 at 5:32 pm

LOL! It was crazy. Actually- he didn’t invite the whole class. There are around 35 kids in his class- and some he just isn’t friends with. The sad girls I asked Brody about- like, why didn’t so and so come, she was invited? Brody said ‘I don’t know. I think she forgot.’ LOL! So who knows!

I do remember that at B’s school in SC the rule was all kids or no kids invited to the party. They were never crazy but the parents stayed. I don’t know- in this case, on all fronts, I think smaller is better!


22 farrah February 27, 2014 at 5:47 pm

And Karla- that kid Andy is trying to put down is Linc! lol!


23 Leighann February 27, 2014 at 7:50 pm

I love your advice to just invite as many children as they are years old… I think I will take this advice when we do our daughter’s fourth birthday in April.
Looks like you had a successful day and you made it out alive! I’m proud of you!!


24 Sandra March 1, 2014 at 2:56 am

Oh man, I laughed so hard. Although I’m sure you weren’t laughing much at the time but it does make for a great story, right? Live and learn. It sounds like you guys rocked the party and I’m sure the kids loved it. I think you’re a great mom to even be thinking about any future birthday parties at this point.


25 Chamisa March 1, 2014 at 11:36 am

I cannot imagine the absolute chaos the house must have been left in after 21 children! This is a great story though, and one you’ll get to remember year after year 😉


26 SJ @ Chasing the Donkey March 3, 2014 at 12:14 am

Ohhh man I was laughing SO MUCH. It’s 1:15am here, and I am trying to catch up on reading your blog, but I must stop now as baby Vlad is stirring from my fits of laughter. Thank goodness for all that extra help you had. I shudder to think about what would have happened.


27 Christine June 2, 2015 at 11:57 am

I’m late to comment but my favorite moment is when a kid invited wanted to join in. Of course that’s fine! Ask and ye shall receive, sweetheart.

Congrats. Please post for next year!


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