The Cost of Celebrating Your 5-Year-Old’s Birthday in Estonia
The weight of half a decade sits lightly on my son’s shoulders. In fact, I caught him mumbling, “I’m going to be five,” and smiling in his sleep a few weeks ago. He’s now the same age as I was in most of my earliest memories and it is so much fun to see him experience some of the first things that I remember. Clearly, five is a big birthday and we had to do it justice.
Now that we’ve been in Estonia for a year, we’re much more prepared for things like the gnomes who come for weeks at Christmas, letting children stay up past midnight on Jäännipaev (St. John’s Day), and 7-year-olds who ride the tram alone. We’ve even been to a few birthday parties, so we had a good handle on this one. The first issue to address, of course, was where to hold the party.
In Estonia, there are scores of mängutuba, or children’s playrooms, in every neighborhood. Most contain the same fixtures: a ball pit, some riding toys, a toy chest of trucks and dolls and perhaps a trampoline. Some have themes or special equipment; we’ve been to one that was a mock hunting range and featured nothing but Nerf weapons, and another with child-sized tunnels and ziplines. They usually operate a few times a week for open play, but their real role is to host children’s birthday parties. They are rented in slots of three hours, and priced according to the time of the party, with Saturdays typically being the most expensive. I selected the one closest to our house, which had the added benefit of an enormous, near-life-size pirate ship deck inside it.
- Cost of the mängutuba Emily for three hours on a Saturday: 95 euros.
I recently saw a show at a summer street fair by a company called Kolm Põrsakest (Three Little Pigs) of science experiments for children. It was founded in 2013 by a group of college students from Tartu in south Estonia, and they won several “student company” awards, even traveling to London for a competition at one point. Since our son loves science like crazy right now, we hired them to do an hour of interactive science experiments with the kids at the party, as well as just letting them play in the playroom.
- Cost of two Kolm Põrsakest employees and materials for science experiments: 60 euros, plus 4.69 for transportation and 12.94 for VAT, for a total of 77.63 euros ($87.43)
When we did a headcount of the children that we’d invited, we found that we had invited three who spoke Estonian and German, two who spoke Estonian and English, nine who spoke only Russian and the birthday boy himself, who speaks English, Russian and now some Estonian. Fortunately, the Three Little Pigs scientists could perform the science experiments with the children near-simultaneously in the three primary languages here, Estonian, English and Russian, at no extra charge. Ah, Europe.
Since the party was scheduled to go from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., I decided we could get away with just serving cake and fruit, and sending the kids home to eat a real lunch after that. I also sliced lemons in pitchers of tap water to drink, and used paper plates and disposable forks.
- Cost of materials for baking a Shaun the Sheep cake with yellow and chocolate layers and cream cheese icing, lemon for the water, and pineapple and grapes for a fruit tray: 12 euros ($13.51)
- Cost of paper plates, cups and plastic forks: 6 euros ($6.76)
I also needed to bake a cake for the preschool birthday party, held on Monday after the family party. When I asked the school director about my responsibilities regarding the party, she told me firmly that it was preferable to have a cake made with cheese curds, for the children’s health. Swallowing my questions about evidence-based science on the cheese curd connection to health, I asked her if I could bring cupcakes instead of a regular cake. A look of shock and disgust crossed her face. “They’re like muffins, you know, small cakes for your hand?” I added. “Children will never eat those,” she told me, shaking her head at my naïvety.
- Cost of materials for baking a plate of brownies topped with hapupiim chocolate-flavored curds: 4 euros ($4.50)
We skipped goodie bags and didn’t open presents at the party, because Europe. The party itself was a roaring success by all counts: untroubled by strict liability laws, the Three Little Pigs blew bubbles with dry ice, melted styrofoam with acetone and blew a fireball out of a plastic jug, prompting the ecstatic shrieking of every child in the room. Parents dropped the children off and disappeared promptly at 11 a.m., answering the question I had been pondering of whether this was a drop-off party. One parent showed me a tiny child no taller than my knee and said, “Can she stay with her brother at the party?” “Um, how old is she?” I asked. “She’s … four,” the mother said, whipping off the child’s coat and thrusting her onto the pirate ship deck in one smooth gesture. The child behaved impeccably through the whole party, including when the fireball shot out of the jug. At the end of the party, several children gravely shook my hand and thanked me for a nice time.
Total cost of celebrating your five year’s birthday in Estonia: 194.63 euros or about $219.19
Previously: “The Marvel of Pre-School in Estonia”
Erin Crouch got into the Russian language for the fame and fortune, but stuck around for the jogging suits and gold chains. She lives in Tallinn, Estonia.
Photo of mängutuba by the author.