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France - Birthday Parties

The culture around the birthday celebration in France. The dos and don'ts you should be aware of.

In the past French families would celebrate their children’s birthday at home, and in some cases the invitation would be extended to one or two friends.

Nowadays, though, things have changed and dramatically. Parties involve many children (if not the entire classroom or year!). Gone are the times of a simple celebration around a home-made cake!

To join in and be in tune with the times, here are few tips on how to organize the birthday party for your own children in France, and what is the expected behaviour and etiquette if your child is invited.

How to organise a successful birthday party in France?

Thousand of original ideas are available in France and since each country has its 'need to have', here is a list of things to know if you organise a birthday party in France, or if you’re invited...

TIP: Many expatriate families enrol their children in foreign/private schools, which do not necessarily follow the French time schedule or calendar. A French birthday party would take place in general on a Wednesday afternoon, because French children are off school on Wednesdays, but are in school Saturdays morning.
Sometimes the party could be organized on a Saturday afternoon, but rarely would you receive an invitation for a birthday party on a Sunday from a French family , as Sunday is still strongly seen as a family-only day in French life.

Where to organise the party?

Most birthday parties commonly take place at home, but there are services you can rely on if you do not like the idea of your home being transformed in a play-ground.
These services will take charge of the entire organisation, from sending the invitations, to delivering the cake, from organising games, to provide any kind of animation… even offering coffee to the intervening parents (that’s IF the parents are invited to stay, which normally is NOT the case).
When you rely on these services, you can forget about the hard work and enjoy the party. Services vary in prices and quality both of the premises and the supporting staff, from the cheap McDo to the more upmarket Filapi.

If you decide to have the party at home and the group is larger than six kids, it’s better to make sure you set the rule at the beginning and let the children know which rooms are 'out-of-bounds' and which is/are the 'birthday-dedicated room/s'. As a further precaution, make sure you close access to all the other rooms.

Age : When to start organising birthday parties?

Over the years the age at which children started having their first birthday party kept lowering and, at present, parties are set of for children as young as three years old.
It’s difficult to make sure the youngest play together and even more difficult if there are a lot of them or if they are not acquainted with each other (you may end up inviting friends’ of friends for example).
Children at this age are not used to communicate much, and this is why a simple rule is applied: to invite 4 friends for a 3 year old's party, 5 friends for a 4 year old's party, 6 for a 5 year old's party,… Never the less, some people invite often 15 kids or more.

Invitation cards 

Each child receives an invitation card at home, one or two weeks before the date set for the party.  Parents are expected to reply whether their kid plans to attend or not, either by phone or by letter.
NOTE: R.S.V.P. in a card is the abbreviation for “répondez s'il vous plait” and it means “please reply” (the literal translation would be “reply, if you please”).

How long does a party last?

The party usually lasts from to 2 to 3 hours, and usually takes place around 4 pm. Older kids (from 9 years onwards), sometimes, organise dancing parties a little later, around 7 pm. Usually birthday parties are organised on Wednesday or Saturday, rarely on Sunday (in the French tradition is a day for 'family-only').

Dressing up

All kids like dressing-up and disguising themselves with costumes. In general, they are free to attend the party in a costume or not. If your child wants to participate in his Batman’s costume or in her fairy’s attire but it’s not mentioned on the invitation, you may call the family to ask if it’s possible.
Do explain to your child though that he/she might be the only one in a dress-up dress.


The children invited to a birthday party are expected to offer a present to the birthday’s girl/boy who organises the party (amount to be spent could be anywhere from 5 to 15 €; more in case of older children).
Traditionally the presents are opened at the end of the party, in front of all the invitees, who could join in in the undoing of the wrapping.

Activities & games: are they a must?

Depending on the age of the children there could be games and activities planned for the party. Some introductory games may help to start the party and create a festive atmosphere.
Various activities have a lot of success based on the age and wishes of the kids : activities for groups, sport games, songs ….
Some activities are more quiet, like cooking, creative leisures, arts & craft, parlour games, … and do not forget that kids like to produce something they can take home!
Many kids, starting from four years old, may bring their own music to dance and sing.
Other entertaining activities may be planned with the help of an entertainer: you can invite a clown, a princess, a magician, an actor, a singer...
A birthday party's success is directly linked with the host/hostess's ability to change the programme to better suit the children's needs and moods.
Do not underestimate the tips you can get from other parents, who may suggest names of animators or ideas based on a past experience.
The internet is also a useful source of information (look under “animation enfant”, “anniversaire enfant”), although most people would prefer reference through word-of-mouth.

When do we eat the cake?

After one hour of games, childrens sit around the table, where they find waiting on a nicely decorated table a chocolate cake (or any other flavour!) with candles, some candies, drinks.

Decoration can follow a theme, either a colour one or a cartoon-related theme, an animal, etc.
Note that young kids have a very short attention span when it comes to eating, much preferring to run out  and play, so time it accordingly! 

TIPS: Prior to ordering or making the cake, do enquire if any of the invited children suffers  from serious allergies or food intolerances (egg, peanuts, food colouring, gluten, etc.) and, if possible, accommodate your catering around it or at least make sure there is something special provided for the child who cannot eat the cake.

Should you prepare the 'goody bags'?

After attending the party, each kid leaves with a little bag containing a symbolic present as a souvenir of the memorable event together with some sweets: the 'goody bag' to use an American expression.

The contents of the bag could either be placed on their plates when they sit down to eat the birthday cake, or they can win some items by participating in any of the games organized ('pêche à la ligne  or fishing game is very appreciated by youngest), etc…
Other nice mementos include the pictures taken at the party, which could then be printed and given (or sent by post) to each child.


There is no limit to the creativity when it comes to decorating the table and the surrounding room: sweets, colours, nice plates, glasses (no real glass, please!), balloons, …with the picture of their favorite hero!

As a source of inexpensive ideas you could refer to shops which sell all sorts of decorations and objects which are end of stocks or bulk merchandise.

These shops come under all sort of denominations: direct d’usine (straight from the factory),  tout à 1 euro (all at 1 euro), paris pas cher (cheap Paris), etc.

Parents etiquette

Usually parents are not invited to the party, they leave and pick up their child at pre-defined times, which are usually printed on the invitation card.
As a matter of courtesy do leave your phone number in case you need to be contacted before the pick-up time.