Spectrum of Birthdays: HMNS Celebrates in Any Tradition!

by Rochelle Beckford and Karen Whitley

Birthdays are an event that is celebrated in nearly every culture around the world. Every culture has its own traditions. Some traditions are based on the standing of the family in the community, the gender of the child, the birth order, or religion. Here at the HMNS we have witnessed a variety of cultural birthday celebrations from all over the world. We have celebrated parties from over 35 different countries and even more cultures! Here are just a few:

Singing

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Arghya Banik, Flickr Creative Commons.

Singing Happy Birthday is a relatively new tradition in our world. While birthdays have been celebrated for well over a millennia (in fact, it was originally considered a pagan tradition!), the singing of happy birthday is less than a hundred years old. While the original song was originally written in English anonymously in 1911 and set to the tune of an American song, Good Morning to All, written for a Kindergarten class in 1893, the song has become immensely popular and has transcended borders. Some countries have translated the words into their own language while others have created their own version. Here at HMNS, we have had a lot of families sing the birthday song in English and then sing it again in the families’ native tongue. Happy Birthday has been sung in Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Swahili, Hebrew, Greek, French, Hindi, Polish, German and more! We have even sung it in ASL, or American Sign Language.

Did you know that the Happy Birthday song has been a hotbed for debate regarding its copyright? In 1935 the original publisher of Good Morning to All songbook was granted the copyright to the song (later bought out by Warner) and has held the copyright for 80 years! It wasn’t until last year during a lawsuit regarding its unlawful use in a documentary film that a federal judge declared the song public domain. So go ahead and sing away!

Cutting the Cake

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Melissa Wang, Flickr Creative Commons.

Unlike the birthday song that originated in American, the tradition of a birthday cake dates to the eastern hemisphere to early Roman times. Traditionally, the flat cakes sweetened with honey were only baked for the most important people, but by the mid-1880s a large population of the eastern hemisphere had adapted it for everyone. Of course birthday cakes have changed dramatically throughout the centuries, to where now it is hard to distinguish them from a wedding cake. In many cultures, including American, the cutting of the cake symbolizes good luck. The birthday person makes the first slice into a new birthday cake to physically signify the beginning of a new birth year.

At HMNS, we have also seen more traditions involving the cutting of the birthday cake. Many Indian families will either have the birthday child a piece, or even a few pieces, of cake and the family takes turn coming up and feeding the cake to him or her. Sometimes this is extended to only the child’s parents and grandparents, but occasionally we have seen extended family feed the birthday child as well. We have seen South American parties touch the birthday child’s shoulder and head following the singing and right before the cutting, or even pulling on the ear lobe of the birthday child for each year of their life.

Money

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Moyan Brenn, Flickr Creative Commons.

Now a days it is a very common practice to gift money or a gift card at a birthday party. Quite simply, for many people it is easier than dealing with the stress of picking out a present that the birthday recipient will like. No one wants to buy the dud present. However, there are cultural traditions regarding the gift or money that you may not even be aware of! Everyone has probably seen a person with money pinned to their shirt. If you are like me, you probably thought this was a pretty modern tradition that sprang out of nowhere. In fact, this is a tradition heavily rooted in the Cajun culture in New Orleans. From there, many link it back to West Africa and Nigeria. Like many traditions, this one has been adopted and can be seen being practiced by many people, not just a person of African descent.

Another tradition that is found in multiple cultures is the act of throwing money in the air as participants dance and sing. This is more oft than not seen at a wedding, however we have seen this adapted to birthday parties as well. The roots for this are widespread, with countries in Europe, Africa, South America, and North America all having their own take. In China, money is not thrown around but wrapped in red paper, the red symbolizing energy, happiness, and luck.

Food

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necopunch, Flickr Creative Commons.

Food can be a very important part of many families’ celebrations. At HMNS, we allow families to bring in their own food or have it delivered for birthday parties, so we are treated to a wide variety of cuisine from around the world. Some traditions we have seen are that families from the Philippines bring pancit, long noodles that signify long life. Indian families dine on dudh pakh, curry, and chutney. Korean families bring rice pudding for the entire party. Brazilian families create an elaborate dessert table for their guests to enjoy. The taste and the smells of the different foods add to the excitement of the day.

No matter what traditions that your family has for birthdays, we welcome them at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and look forward to celebrating your special day with you!

Editor’s note: Rochelle is the Birthday Party Coordinator and Karen is the Birthday Party Manager for the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The Adventures of Archie the Wandering T. rex: England

by Karen Whitley

Man am I one lucky dinosaur. When I was adopted last summer from the Museum Store at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, I had no idea I was on my way to becoming a world traveler, a globetrotter, an adventurer if you will. Just call me Lemuel Gulliver! (Like from Gulliver’s Travels? Get it??)

Well, actually, I was given the name Archibald… (Pretentious much?) But you can call me Archie. While my cousins and friends all waited to be adopted, I packed my suitcase (let me tell you, not so easy with short arms) and began my new life. A life filled with far off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise… eh, maybe not so much. Let’s just say my human watches a little too much Disney.

To celebrate, my new family and I went off on a summer vacation! I did worry about the airplane, I mean flying dinosaurs….it’s not natural. But luckily everything went smoothly. The food wasn’t great and all, but I did get to catch up on some movies, and they even gave me some wings! I’m telling you, wings on a dinosaur… Not natural. Before I knew it, we had set down in Merry Ol’ England. Did you know they have a queen and princes (I wonder if they are in disguise), but no king? Guess I’m the king around here!AirportLondon is such a busy city! Taxi drivers zooming in and out, people filling the sidewalks, lines of big red buses everywhere. There was so much to see and do: from walks in St. James Park and Kensington Gardens (and ice cream), to Westminster Abby, Buckingham Palace (and ice cream), St. Paul’s Cathedral, LEGOLAND (and ice cream), and more (plus more ice cream)! The adventure never stopped! Here are just a few highlights from this great country.

There was this old clock that everyone was taking photos with… Big Ben, I’m told. Do you think I can get people to call me Big Archie? I won’t lie; for a clock, it was pretty spectacular. I reminds me of the Chronophage back home at HMNS.Big BenOM NOM NOM!! Look at me, I’m eating the clock! Godzilla IRL! LOL! JK…Eating Big BenThen we went on this giant Ferris wheel called the London Eye. We got a really cool bird’s-eye view of London, but for some reason people kept taking photos of me, even people in the pods next to us. Guess they had never seen a blue dinosaur before. It ain’t easy being blue.London EyeHey look, there’s the clock thing again! See it to the right?London Eye 4I even went on my first boat ride down the Thames to see the London Bridge (eh, not that impressed…) and the Tower Bridge (now THERE’s a bridge!), where we ended up at the Tower of London.Tower Bridge 2You’ll be happy to know that the ravens were present and accounted for when I left. I did try to eat a few, but since apparently that would have been disastrous to the realm of England. They kept them pretty safe. What do you think, would I make a good guard? (I’m pretty good at standing still…)Guard TowerWe did leave London to go out into the country to visit Leeds Castle in Kent, which was amazing! I mean, it has a moat. Who doesn’t love a moat?Castle LeedsThere was a tricky maze, which is not easy when you’re nine inches tall (Ok, eight and a half, but who’s counting?), but I didn’t let it stop me. Here’s me in the center of the maze!Castle Leeds Maze 2My final adventure in England was at King’s Cross Station where I journeyed onto Platform 9 3/4. They even sorted me into a house, Ravenclaw… They seemed to think it was where I belonged before I ran through the wall. Hmmm, magic, princes, a far off place… All we needed was a sword fight. Maybe my life is turning out like a Disney film, after all.Harry PotterSpeaking of Disney, tune in again in a couple of weeks as I tell you about my adventures in Paris that includes a trip to Disney! As for this trip to England, that’s about all the stories I have to tell. Until next time!

Oh, I almost forgot. I’ve got a big family still waiting to be adopted at the HMNS Museum Store! Stop by and meet them all, including my big brother! If they’re lucky, maybe you’ll take them on adventures, too!

Editor’s Note: Karen is Birthday Party Manager in the HMNS Marketing department.

Behind the Scenes: HMNS Birthday Planning

by Karen Whitley

People always tell me that I have the best job and that I must love it. My response each time? “Absolutely!”

Planning and hosting birthday parties at such an awesome venue as the Houston Museum of Natural Science, it doesn’t get much better than that. Of course, people think all we do all day is party, and while there’s definitely some celebrating going on, a lot more happens behind the scenes to make sure each and every party runs smoothly. It’s not all cake and presents.

Dinosuar centerpiece (Bollingmo Party)

Each year, the HMNS is host to hundreds of birthday parties. In 2015 alone we hosted more than 520 parties. That’s an average of 10 parties per week! We have even hosted up to 20 parties in one weekend! Phew, that’s exhausting just to think about. As exciting as parties are, though, it all begins in the office.

Every week we field dozens of phone calls and emails from parents interested in hosting a party with us. From parents requesting date availability and more information about our parties, to parents who are already booked and want to discuss their party, we are happy to talk to you and assist in any way we can. I have once even measured every single counter, table, wall angle, and even the freezer space for a parent.

Bunch of Balloons

Once a parent is ready to book, we try to keep the process as smooth as possible for them while we deal with the various paperwork. Who wouldn’t love a little less paperwork? After a parent is sent the confirmation email, they are all set to go. We will even send a reminder email closer to the date. Yes, parents have forgotten that they have their child’s birthday coming up, but no worries, we’ve got you covered! If you’re looking to add one of the entertainment options we have, we will facilitate the whole thing for you as well. My desk is a mess so yours can stay clean. That’s the story I’m sticking with.

Booking a party is just the beginning. Since every party comes complete with tablecloths and a craft, we have to make sure we have enough supplies on hand. That involves a word most adults wish to avoid — inventory! Did you know that for our dig pit craft where kids get to dig up small plaster dinosaur teeth, we make those teeth in house? Each and every tooth is made by one of our party coordinators during the week. We can use up to 200 teeth each weekend!

Dig pit

So how many supplies does it take to run more than 500 parties a year? Here’s just a few numbers:

  1. 10,000 coloring pages. We used to print these in house too, but yay for outsourcing!
  2. Over 4,000 signs pointing guests the way to their party room. Yes, they do exist!
  3. 3,000 tablecloths. If you lay the tablecloths end to end, we use approximately 26,000 feet! That’s almost five miles, or 88 football field lengths for the football fanatics. Me, I prefer baseball. Go ‘Stros!
  4. Over 2,500 Ziploc bags, popsicle sticks, and plastic cups. Add a little glue, paint, and borax and what do you get? Slime!
  5. 1,700 plaster dinosaur teeth. Emphasis on plaster.
  6. 860 butterflies released into the Butterfly Center rainforest.
  7. 800 Pounds of sand. Did I mention the arm work-outs we get?

Birthday Card

When the day of the party arrives, we make sure we get here early. I once remember what is was like to sleep in on a Saturday. Fond memories. The signs go up, the tables are set, the crafts are prepared, and then we wait for the call from arriving parents. Once we get the call, the party coordinator will take a cart to the garage to pick them up. I think we can all agree that we enjoy the cooler months. We load up the parent’s supplies on the cart and take them to the room. Let me say to all the parents, you sure know how to pack an ice chest to *cough* maximum capacity.

After that comes the easy part. Two hours of a coordinator running the party, keeping the attention of about 20 children, giving a dinosaur tour that three-year-olds can understand, wrangling all the children and their parents through our exhibit halls and making sure we have no wanderers, and even getting to practice knife-cutting skills on uniquely shaped cakes.

Mary Tour

Do you know how many shapes a cake can come in? My personal favorite was the giant pyramid where all the kids wanted the flavor on the bottom of the pyramid. Who knew we would learn about structural engineering as well. Once the party ends and we help escort the party parents back to their car, we generally have about 15 minutes to clean and reset the room to do it all over again!

Shery Zachariah 4

In all actuality, hosting birthday parties can be a lot of work on our end, but we wouldn’t change a thing. The joy we get in being able to be a part of a child’s special day, it really is priceless. We have even had the chance to watch some children grow up in the museum, as they come back each year to have their party with us. Seeing a child light up as we walk though 100-million-year-old dinosaur fossils, a living rainforest, ancient mummies, and more… that’s what makes this job so amazing. Well, that and the cake.

Editor’s Note: Karen is Birthday Party Manager for the HMNS Marketing department.

Amazing Cakes: Top picks of Party Smarty 2015

by Karen Whitley

Every year we see hundreds of birthday cakes, and we are blown away (candle pun intended) by some of the creations parents bring in! From the cakes that defy gravity to the ones we have to use careful geometry to cut, we are always excited to see what a party brings in. Here’s a look at some of our favorite cakes so far.

Here’s a gorgeous cake to celebrate our butterfly theme. The bees and ladybugs add the perfect touch!

BFC cake

If you have a boy (or girl) more interested in bugs than botany, check out this cake crawling with garden pals.

Insect Cake

For all of you mad scientists out there, here’s a chemistry cake for you.

Chemistry cake

In celebration of our brand new Wildlife theme. You can’t see it, but there are alligators lurking along the edges of this Texas cake!

Texas Cake 2

This stellar Jupiter cake is out of this world!

Jupiter 2

While it’s not one of our themes, Elsa and Anna from Frozen made numerous appearances this year.

Frozen

A fabulous Ancient Egypt cake, complete with flaming torches! Walking like a hieroglyph yet?

Egypt cake

And to round off our Amazing Cakes, here’s a look at some of our favorite dinosaur delicacies!

Dino cake with painted dinos

Jurassic World CakeDino Cake by Gina

Jurassic World Fragile Cakedinosaur cake

And finally our personal favorite here at Party Smarty.

Logo Cake

Is it just me, or is there a resemblance?

smarty logo

If you need help finding cakes as awesome as these for your HMNS birthday party, give us a call! We keep a list of the best places to find cool creations.

Editor’s Note: Karen is the Birthday Party Manager for HMNS Marketing.