The Curse of the Birthday Goodie Bag

Why do Americans love to give plastic goodie bags filled with an array of useless plastic trash at the end of their children’s birthday parties? This is something that since my first kid was born in 2007 I have been trying to figure out. Is it the neon colored plastic contents? Is it the need to get “stuff” that looks attractive but serves no need whatsoever? I wonder if the adult need of buying beautiful looking useless “as seen on tv” products is a seed first planted by the kiddie goodie bag. Or the need to stampede into malls on Black Fridays and similar Holidays. Does this urge to get whatever stuff we can get our hands on first come from a childhood filled with Piñatas full of unhealthy but beautifully dyed candy, and goodiebags filled with “licensed characters” stickers and plastic mini treasures?

When I went to elementary catholic school in Buenos Aires, every October 12th we were told the story of how Cristopher Columbus conquered the wild “savage” natives of the Americas by trading with them useless colored pieces of glass and mirrors brought in from the civilized world of Spain, for cocoa, coffee and grains. It did not take the natives long to figure out that the strikingly beautiful glass was good for nothing. But by then, the Spaniards had already taken everything. I can’t help but remember this story every time my kids come back home from a birthday party with two “goodie” bags filled with colorful-good- for-nothing-stuff.

What to do to escape the “Columbus Connundrum”?

First, explain to your kids why goddie bags are something we don’t need. Ask them to find one thing inside of the bag that will last more than one day. They will find nothing. The cheap plastic toys from the Dollar store will probably break in ten seconds, and the candy made with mysterious ingredients in remote mysterious locations are as nutritious as eating a moth ball. What I usually do, is I try to leave the party before the goodie bag give away begins, and avoid any unnecessary tantrums. Or if that option does not work, take the goodie bag home, disect it on the kitchen table, put everything plastic in the recycling bin (70%of the contents) and throw all the candy in the trash. This is actually a fun thing to do with the kids. Believe it or not, after holding the bag in their laps and analyzing their contents during the car ride, by the time we get home they lose all interest in it and find pleasure in doing something “good” for Mother Earth, such as recycling all that plastic.

What to do if we are hosting the birthday party? Then let’s look at some greener ideas for goodie bag contents:

– anything wood is a great alternative to plastic. Wooden yo-yos, mini puzzles, tops.
– arts & crafts are always inspirational: crayons, sidewalk chalk, mini sewing kits, wooden toys for painting, beads, small “create your own work of art” kits.
– anything that comes from nature is always a big hit: Acorns, rocks, shells, anything that can be collected.

-or just give one baloon per kid, like in the old times. If everyone stopped giving away goodie bags, kids would be re trained into not expecting them and being grateful just for the good times and for the fun had at the party. I think adults need to re learn this too.

Consuelo Lyonnet


  1. I went to a party where all the kids had to bring a used book wrapped in random papar, and as we arrived to the party we would put them all in a pile. When we left everybody got a “mystery book” to take home (of course making sure you didn’t take your own). I thought it was a great idea, and a way to swap books around.


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