Birthdays with a slice of popularity contests

We take a closer look at the trend of lavish 21st birthday parties.

Praise Yeo
Praise Yeo

Published: 5 August 2016, 11:29 AM

Most of my friends are turning 21. In this year alone, I’ve attended numerous 21st birthday parties.

I have never been one to throw birthday parties as I felt it was an unnecessary hassle. Somehow, everyone seems to make a huge deal out of their 21st birthdays, throwing humongous parties with the wildest and funkiest themes.

Interestingly, I realised most of the parties I’ve attended seemed more like a lavish way to gather friends and enjoy a wild night of chugging alcohol and taking pictures.

Curious about this trend of 21st birthday parties, I asked five of my friends to find out more.

For some of my friends, turning 21 is seen as a symbolic start to maturity. It also marked the beginning of making “adult decisions”.

Amelia Wong, a 20-year-old nursing student from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said: “[I’m qualified] to get my driving licence for about two years or so, but I have never considered doing so.

“As the day of my 21st birthday slowly draws near, I’ve found myself feeling like there was a need to get that driving ID in my wallet. It just feels… right, you know? It has to do with becoming more mature and adult-like.”


An example of a 21st birthday cake.
Photo credit: Ardorxbliss Instagram


Another friend agreed with her. With a laugh, Chew Wan Yi, 23, said: “You start feeling like you ought to be making decisions that are less of short-term pleasures.

“Obviously, you won’t wake up the day after your birthday and start reciting government schemes for buying a house. But, with the expectations everyone has for you, you start to make decisions that would better your future,” added the Nanyang Technological University student.

I thought it would be interesting to find out if this still rang true, even for someone who has long celebrated her 21st birthday. Her response was pleasantly unexpected.

“I have to admit. Honestly, nothing changes when you turn 21. I’d love to say a bright light shines on you and you become much wiser, but the truth is, you wake up exactly the same.

What I won’t deny, though, is that [turning 21] is a convenient excuse to throw a party with alcohol while increasing your social status. The bigger the party, the more friends you supposedly have. Everyone sees it on Instagram and wishes they were invited. That’s all we do it for,” said Celeste Tay, 29.


These parties usually have specific themes, even for the food and decorations.


Does this mean throwing a small, lacklustre 21st birthday party suggests that I might have a social life, while splurging on a big-scale party could make me appear popular and well-liked? No wonder most youths invest so much time and money into their 21st birthday parties.

Maybe, I should start looking for catering services and venues to host my 21st birthday party. Well, I have less than two years to plan for one anyway…
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