A Brief History of Magic Shows and Why They Bring Excitement to Birthday Parties

Magicians have been entertaining guests at birthday parties for centuries. From the era of royalty, when court jesters entertained princes and princesses on their special days to the era of affluence, when parents book doting kids magicians to spread the magic at their kids’ birthday parties – magicians have remained a crowd-favourite. Not without good reason.

With a magician at the party, everybody’s happy. For children, it’s the happiness of watching magic unfold in front of their eyes. For parents, it’s the happiness of watching children’s reaction to the magician’s performance: Eyes sparkle in wonderment. Faces light up. Hands come together to applaud. Smiles, giggles and pearls of laughter follow. It’s precious!

Where did it all begin?

A long, long time ago. 2700 BCE to be precise. Written records credit Egyptian magician Dedi with the first-known reputed magic act. He performed the Cups and Balls, which literally is, the oldest magic trick in the world. This was followed by the Acetabularii magicians performing the Cups and Balls trick and variations between 50-300 CE in Rome.

Next followed the Dark Ages (400-1000) and the Middle Ages (1000-1500), in which magic though prominent, was not used for entertainment as much as it had been used earlier. However, some magicians did continue to perform magic for entertainment. During this period the book such as The Anatomy of Legerdemain: The Art of Juggling and The Art of Conjuring were published to help people understand street magic up-close. The literature also helped bring magic back into the entertainment world.

It was followed by the rise of numerous street magicians including the English magician Isaac Fawkes, who retired in 1720 with net-worth exceeding ten thousand pounds. All of his fortune was made from performing magic for public and private celebrations, including a celebration in the honour of King George II. By now, the entertainment world had entered into the golden era of street magicians, kids’ magicians and party magicians.

Magicians like Jacob Philadelphia (1756-1781), Joseph Pinetti (he even published a book called Physical Amusements in 1784), Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin (1805-1871), Harry Houdini (1874-1926), and Dai Vernon (1894-1992) gained prominence internationally, strengthening the bond between kids, entertainment and magic. By the 1990s, magic shows on television became a global phenomena with star magicians such as David Copperfield, David Blaine, Derren Brown and Chris Angel.

Why does magic appeal to kids so much?

For the simple reason that kids (especially the younger children) are enamoured by the idea of exploration. The desire is hard-wired in them. Whenever they encounter an ambiguity or anomaly in their surrounding, they are driven to explore more.

You may have noticed your child do the same. Give your son a choice between a toy he had already played with, and a brand new toy, and your son is bound to pick the latter. However, when the old toy stops working the way they expected it to work (anomaly) or works in an asymmetrical way (ambiguity), he will choose the former, and try to explore what’s wrong or different.

Since magic is all about these ambiguities, anomalies, violations of expectations, and bending the rules of the physical world, kids feel fascinated by it. In addition, it also motivates children to learn these tricks, which has an array of benefits for them.