It was not uncommon for people’s birthdays to go unnoticed in Ethiopia, let alone throwing lavish parties where friends, family and neighbours were invited to celebrate. In fact, big birthday parties may once have been considered a luxury for people. However, these days some people celebrate their birthdays with extravagant parties.
Fenan Habtamu, a one-year old baby, celebrated her birthday on February 14, 2015 in the newest trend with a party at Bora Amusement Park. Her father, Habtamu Seyoum, is a programme manager at Clinton Health Access Initiative, and her mother, Bikele Zelalem, a government employee. They live in a rented house at one of the condominiums found in CMC.
The big celebration of birthdays at amusement parks with full packages is usually practiced for children below the age of 12, Solomon, general manager of Bora told Fortune from his experience. Whatever the exact date of birth, the birthdays are usually celebrated at weekends due to the normal school and work week schedule from Monday to Friday.
The packages, which are sold to parents, include a buffet with eight kinds of dishes, soft drinks, birthday cakes and chocolates. The space allocated for the birthday party is decorated with balloons, free rider games, happy birthday posters and tables. The decor is different for boys and girls. For girls, the area is decorated in pink and for boys, in blue. The celebrating parents are only expected to bring their children.
“This is a more convenient way of celebrating birthdays than celebrating at home,” Habtamu says, comparing the hassle in arranging birthday ceremonies at home with the ease of booking packages.
“I decided to celebrate my first child’s birthday at an amusement park for two reasons. The first reason is that my wife and I have no time to arrange such ceremonies at home as it is costly in terms of time and manpower. The second reason is that it is inconsiderate to celebrate such party at condominium houses because it creates a nuisance for other residents. These inconveniences combined with the advertisements I heard through the media are the reasons I elected to celebrate my baby’s birthday at amusement park.” Habtamu explained.
The packages for the celebration of birthdays run up to 6,000 Br for a maximum of 25 guests at Bora. Edna Mall, another place where birthdays are celebrated, provides similar services such as different foods and cakes, the usual games, decorations and happy birthday songs. The maximum time limit offered with the package is two hours, after which the party will be finished but guests can stay at the place using the usual services.
“The trend of celebrating birthdays at amusement parks and outside the home is increasing with increasing capacity and habit of the people to go to recreational spots, especially in the last two years. And more people are coming to our park to celebrate their birthdays,” Solomon said.
The commodities used for birthday celebrations are also becoming innovative. Unlike simple commodities such as candles, which were used for birthday celebrations in the past with the number of candles representing the age of the celebrant, there are now new commodities for decorating the birthday rooms. In addition to candles, balloons, birthday cards and decorated tables, there are now electric sparkles and birthday cups, items which all range in price from 0.70 cents to 35 Br.
There are also special clothes such as tuxedos and party hats for boys and birthday dresses and tiaras for girls. A tuxedo is sold for between 550 Br to 650 Br and the dresses are sold for between 500 Br to 850 Br. The hats are priced at four to 10 Br. Another new item for children is fully ornamented wings, most often worn by girls celebrating their birthdays.
Ephrem Timerga, one of the retailers at Piazza sees progress in the demand of such commodities.
“The trend of celebrating birthdays is looking like the western culture and people who attend such birthday events want to celebrate their own birthdays in similar fashion,” Ephrem said.
The increasing demand for birthday celebrating commodities had driven other gift retailers to include birthday items in the supply list of their goods. Amleset Gudeta is one such gift retailer in Piazza.
“The old ways of celebrating birthdays in small ceremonies are being replaced by modern and westernized culture, which forced me to purchase commodities for birthday celebration in my shop,” she stated, remembering the way in which she celebrated her son’s birthday 25 years earlier, with defo dabo, also known as Ethiopian (Habesha) bread.
The increasing demand for birthday commodities also forced some importers in Merkato to trade in such commodities exclusively. Hanan Negash imports such commodities from Dubai twice a year. Previously, she was engaged in the business of importing cosmetic goods. However, she shifted into birthday items after she looked at the continual and increasing demand for them. She is a retailer herself but she also distributes the goods to other retailers in Merkato.
“Though not extensive, birthdays are being celebrated, especially compared to the previous trend,” she commented.
Habtom, who was born in the countryside in Semen Shoa, thought that celebrating birthdays was not being extravagant but rather, that celebrations were helpful in keeping good memories in the minds of the children and creating a positive attitude as they grew up.
“The change in lifestyle from a communal one to individualism has forced people to leave behind the old trend,” he said.
Before Facebook came, he said, only his mother remembered his birthday.
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