We are currently in the US (California) and my son is soon going to turn three. He's somewhat grasping the idea of getting older, and I also think he's old enough to really enjoy having a party. We're planning on inviting some friends with small kids (6 in total, 7 months - 4 years old) to our place. Birthday practices vary widely across the globe and we are new to this continent, so I'd like to have some idea of what is typical here. Just imagine you received an invitation to a three-year-old's birthday party and you have to make a best guess at what time of day it will start, how long it will last, what activities are going to take place...
Specifically, I'd like to know the following:
- Is there a time of day that is most typical of birthday parties for this age? For us 11 AM works best (the little guy has a long nap after lunch) but I'm thinking this might be strange.
- Should we put an ending time for the party in the invitation? This is not an issue if people typically arrive around the invited beginning time, but maybe they don't?
- How long does a typical birthday party last?
- Is store-bought cake considered OK for such young kids? Or should we be looking for something special?
- What sort of drinks are normally served? For the kids as well as adults.
- Do guests get something from us? (e.g. a bag with a small toy per kid)
- I know that candles and a birthday song are customary. Anything else? Hats?
- Is it understood that we will have a plan for entertaining the kids, or is free play more standard?
- Do presents get opened in front of everybody? Do they get opened all at once?
- Any other detail you might think of.
Just for clarity, we're not trying to mimic the all-American party, I just want to avoid big surprises :)
edit: Maybe I should note that in my country of origin a (1st) birthday involves bbq, alcohol and cigarette smoke in a restaurant, and opening presents - which are mostly envelopes with money - when everyone has left. Later birthdays involve cooking a feast. I know not to do something similar here, but I'm still wary of making really big blunders and was hoping to get some quick advice.