Everyone sits in a circle, the music starts, it’s time for Pass the Parcel.
A huge paper parcel is ‘passed’ around the children in the circle; well, let’s be honest, it’s more like the parcel has to be wrestled from the determined grip of one child and forcibly passed on to the next and so on.
When the music stops, the paper layer is ripped off to reveal a sweet or small toy and the struggle to keep the parcel in one’s grasp continues. While it seems fun at the beginning, anyone who has experienced as many games of Pass the Parcel as I have over the years knows that at a certain point the game loses any tension and the children often wander off from the circle looking for something else to do. The promise of the ‘big’ prize at the end isn’t really enough to keep most young children focused on the game.
The basic principle of the game in its present form seems to be about winning prizes. Everyone gets a prize, fair enough, no one wants to lose but if everyone automatically wins every time something is lost : tension. And it is this lack of tension that is the reason many children cannot sit still once they’ve ‘won’ their sweet. For them the game really is over. Who can blame them for wanting to get up and walk off?
This old party classic, Pass the Parcel is often considered an absolute must for children’s birthday parties. Without wanting to sound like a party pooper, I’m not so keen on the game in its present incarnation.
When I was a young girl, in the dim distant sixties, Pass the Parcel was a very different game indeed.
A parcel was prepared with a random number of layers. It didn’t matter if the number of layers didn’t match the number of participants as this game was principally a game of chance. The only prize was the one in the middle and it was this tension of never knowing when that central special prize was going to be discovered that kept boys and girls sitting on their bottoms, fixated on the moving parcel, wishing it was going to land on them next and make them the lucky winner.
This may seem a little unfair in our current world of everyone gets a prize, but it really worked.
To ring the changes and make the game even more interesting, forfeits were written and hidden between the layers, making the game really exciting and interactive. Children were asked to hop on one leg three times and got a prize if they completed it, or say the alphabet, or sing a nursery rhyme or pull a funny face or tell a joke. The possibilities were endless and it all made for a really fun and exciting game.
Have we thrown away the essence of Pass the Parcel in our quest to be fair to every child ? Consider how much more valued a prize of a sweetie is if it is ‘won’ by doing something other than just tearing off a piece of paper. Of course, mummies and daddies sometimes have to help complete the forfeit for their child but there is nothing more enjoyable for a small child than the warm and loving attention of a parent engaged in child’s play.
And this parental attention is the best prize of all for a child, more valuable than any piece of tat that can be found in a parcel. The real prize is in the playing of the game and guess what?
Even though not everyone may win a sweet or a toy , everyone becomes a winner after all.