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Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the hokey cokey. A change to the law, announced on 8 September, has made it very difficult to hold any kind of birthday party for your kids. Here, we look at what you can still do in the face of a necessary law.
What can you legally do?
Not a lot, if you’re abiding carefully to the UK Government’s guidelines.
The bottom line now is that no more than six people can meet, either indoors or outdoors (with exceptions like work, school and emergencies that don’t apply to children’s birthdays).
That has obvious implications for children’s parties. Assuming every child has one parent/carer in attendance, that means only three children can come along -- including the birthday girl or boy themselves.
The rule change on 8 September gives the police the powers to break up, and potentially fine members of, any gathering of more than six people. And the police powers are the crucial bit. Before this change, government advice was actually pretty much the same… gatherings of more than six people were only deemed appropriate if the individuals came from one or two (not three) households. Nothing in law could enforce this, however, and police would not stop a multi-household gathering unless the group reached more than 30. Hence, children’s parties and many other social gatherings went ahead unhindered, and people kind of forgot about the six-people rule.
Now, the rules are enshrined in law. You can only hold a children’s party if the numbers are kept very small -- and even then, you should think carefully about the consequences of mixing households even in such small numbers.
There are no workarounds
The initial announcement set out a few exceptions to the rule. You can gather in numbers greater than six at “schools and workplaces, or weddings, funerals and organised team sports”. There are exceptions for 'youth groups and activities', but not for softplay, trampoline parks, or the other familiar haunts of birthdaying children.
If your child participates in team sports, you could perhaps ask their football or hockey team to have a bit of a socially distanced ‘three cheers and hoorah’ moment after the session -- but that would hardly constitute a ‘party’. Likewise, some nurseries and schools might be prepared to make a bit of a fuss for one of their pupils if it were their birthday -- but don’t expect lighted candles, musical chairs and inflatable Olafs.
The virtual option
That really leaves only one safe option. We’re back to the days of lockdown when it comes to children’s parties. The only way to get a large group of kids together outside of the classroom is via Zoom or another group video platform. This can still be a lot of fun. Think up some games to play, decorate the room with party stuff, and get everyone wearing fancy dress. Have a singalong and (having colluded in advance with other parents), crack open the cake simultaneously in each household. Have some fun with it.
If you’re going virtual, here are a few helpful resources we prepared earlier (that we hoped we’d never need to return to)
Dozens of birthday ideas, including novelty cake recipes
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.