A Birthday Party Without Presents?

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Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100
A Birthday Party Without Presents?

As I was planning my daughter?s 6th birthday, I had to ask myself why so many of us continue to throw big parties complete with an enormous pile of presents. I recognize that the parties are large to avoid hurt feelings, but can we agree that the amount of presents the kids receive as a result is objectionably over the top?
I?m not against the idea of gifts as a rule. It?s wonderfully celebratory to open some beautifully wrapped presents that someone took the time to choose. But when parents feel pressured to invite the whole class, we are talking about 20 or so gifts. I don?t think a birthday is more memorable for our children because of that seventh, tenth, or 18th present. It?s the law of diminishing returns. Certainly receiving 14 new Barbies is no more joyful than receiving, say, four.

It was in this spirit that I decided I?d write ?No Gifts? on Rebecca?s birthday invitation or ask for a donation to a good cause in lieu of a gift.

It came as no surprise that Rebecca was considerably less enthused. Having spent many Sundays of her life attending the aforementioned big parties with the aforementioned piles of presents, she wasn?t about to relinquish her turn so easily.

I had to admit that I could feel Rebecca?s ?pain.? Do I, mother of four children, not spend ungodly amounts of time and money picking out gifts for other people?s children? Should my children not enjoy the same bonanza no matter how excessive and unnecessary I find the whole thing?

Curious how other families deal with this issue, I put the following question on Facebook: ?Do you do gifts or donations for kids? B-day parties? Leaning towards donations (books and crayons for the hospital, etc.) now that parties are getting bigger in the effort not to hurt feelings. Not loving the excess of gifts and the message to these kids who need NOTHING.?

The volume and thoughtfulness of the responses I received was astounding. Some parents discussed how they avoid the mountain of gifts by organizing a book swap, or asking for an easy donation liked canned goods so that already-busy parents do not need to run around looking for items to contribute. Others told stories of the birthday child collecting new socks, pajamas, or crayons to deliver to children in need. And still more parents mentioned that ?in lieu of gifts? they asked families to make a donation to a specific cause, or they left the decision of where the money should go up to the invitee.

There is also, of course, the option to write nothing more than ?No Gifts please,? which several people said was less presumptuous and self-righteous than asking for a contribution or a swap of any kind.

Presumptious and self-righteous? Now I had to rethink the whole ?in lieu of gifts? concept. Several of my Facebook friends made other points I couldn?t ignore. Did every part of our child?s year have to become a ?teachable moment,? or a chance to prove a point? Wasn?t a birthday as good of an excuse as any for pure, needless fun? Some insisted that if the child cannot understand what?s happening as well as participate in the mitzvah such as delivering the coloring books to the children in need, then the whole concept was too abstract.
I also got the feeling that this whole ?No Gifts? trend is making people who allow gifts feel bad about participating in an admittedly excessive, but regular cultural norm.

So, Kveller readers, what do you think? If you allow the kids to get a pile of gifts from their classmates are you a big grubber creating little grubbers? On the flip side, if you ask for donations, are you a presumptuous, self-righteous stick in the mud raining all over the birthday parade?

How does your family and the families of your kids? friends handle the birthday gift issue?

I'm asking the same questions that are bolded.

A Birthday Party Without Presents? | Raising Kvell

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4116

We just do the normal birthday thing. The only time my kids get gifts are twice a year for birthday and Christmas, so I don't really think it is going to spoil them to get a few gifts. I don't normally just buy them stuff throughout the year.

Joined: 03/08/03
Posts: 3189

Part of the reason we don't have big birthday parties with tons of kids is because of the gifts. I also want my kids to invite their friends, not the whole class or the whole grade.

That said, a few years ago one of the kids in a family we know did Toys For Tots donations instead of gifts and everyone thought it was lovely.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4116

"freddieflounder101" wrote:

Part of the reason we don't have big birthday parties with tons of kids is because of the gifts. I also want my kids to invite their friends, not the whole class or the whole grade.

We don't usually have huge birthday parties either, usually invite around 10 and 5 or 6 show up.

Joined: 03/08/03
Posts: 3189

"GloriaInTX" wrote:

We don't usually have huge birthday parties either, usually invite around 10 and 5 or 6 show up.

We usually invite about 15 too, usually most of them make it!

ange84's picture
Joined: 12/28/09
Posts: 6564

I had a small gathering for my DS's birthday just because there is way too much cake for 2 adults and a 2 year old otherwise. I wasn't looking for any gifts, but everyone bought something, thankfully all books. I do the same for [parties he is invited to, buy some books for the child.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

Tiven seems to be friends with pretty much every kid in her grade, for better or worse; even limiting it to just her class or just the girls there is at least 20. I always request no gifts, but handmade cards are OK if they don't want to come empty-handed. I don't want all the crap that passes as birthday gifts times twenty, and not even times five or six!

And I do the same when she is invited to birthday parties, I have her make a nice heartfelt card as her gift. I absolutely don't want to try to find a real gift, or spend the money on them, for every single kid who invites her to a party. I do like the idea of a used book exchange but the one time that someone did that for a party, Tiven didn't want to give up any of her books so I ended up having to buy one anyway, so that's not an idea I support anymore. Just call me the Party Scrooge.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

For the past 3 years we have done big birthday parties....and to be honest, I think I am about done with them. LOL The whole "kid birthday party" thing has gotten so over the top. You have to have entertainment (last year we hired a freaking pirate!) and goody bags, and like 20 kids....sheesh. I'm over it. I think this year I'm going to have T invite his two best friends and take them to Chuck E Cheese or something. No more big parties for a while.

The gift thing doesn't even bother me as much as the idea of expense behind the whole thing, like you have to go all out because that is what is de riguer. Enough all ready!

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

Oh, don't get my started on goodie bags! I don't do them, and I don't take them home with me from other parties, either. :oops: I really don't feel the need to have a party at all. Last year we took a friend camping with us. A couple of years ago we took two sets of siblings to dinner for make-your-own pizza night. Weston's birthday this year, we let him choose what to make for dinner! Blum 3 But when I do throw a party, I invite everyone.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6561

A good friend of mine has a child the same age as Alyssa. She goes to private school. She is expected to go to every kid in the classes birthday and bring a gift. I think that would be difficult. I do go to birthday parties for the other kids at church and bring gifts. For my girls, I did big birthday parties for their first birthday. For later birthdays some years we have done small parties, other years something different. This year for Alyssa (7) she had 2 little friends come, spend the night, and have a little party. My younger girls were included in everything. For Brianna (5) we bought tickets to the circus. They had a wonderful time (Just our family) I made a circus cake and we had a few gifts for her. For Caitlyn's (3) birthday we bought tickets to Disney On Ice. I also made a cake and had a few presents for her. I think each girls was happy with their birthday this year.

wlillie's picture
Joined: 09/17/07
Posts: 1796

We just donate extra presents. Smile I like big parties; I like planning them. I have a feeling that he'll remember some of them and I think it's worth it. We are blessed to have the bowling alley on base. None of his parties have ever cost more than $100 and that includes food, decorations, entertainment, and a special outfit. Next year we're going to ahve a pirate themed one, but we are also blessed with this http://ci.ocean-springs.ms.us/admin/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Fort-Maurepas.pdf which is directly across from the beach where we're going to have a treasure hunt. I love this kind of stuff and don't care/would prefer people come without presents, but I think people over-think stuff like this and I'm perfectly happy celebrating how we see fit. Smile

eta-I'm also blessed with some storage space. I have presents that are regularly 20-50 that I buy for 5-10 and just go through my stockpile to see what that child would like best; I have yet to not have something. I also pre-buy clearance gift bags and cards.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

Lillie, I have a whole bag full of pirate themed stuff (gold dubloons and pirate plates and stuff) in my basement if you want it. Biggrin

wlillie's picture
Joined: 09/17/07
Posts: 1796

"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

Lillie, I have a whole bag full of pirate themed stuff (gold dubloons and pirate plates and stuff) in my basement if you want it. Biggrin

Thanks!! Just curious, how much does a pirate cost where you are?

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

I'm almost embarrassed to type this with a straight face....$200 plus tip. He was awesome. I will give him that. His constume was amazing, and he stayed in character the whole time and was completely great with the kids and kept them completely occupied for like an hour and half doing a treasure hunt and taking the pirate oath and teaching them swordfighting and stuff. But still. I don't know what has changed between then (when I happily paid some dude $200 to play pirates with a bunch of pre-schoolers) and now, but looking back it seems so completely excessive to me.

Joined: 03/08/03
Posts: 3189

I admit we pay a lot for parties. But it's so fun! Juliet had a yoga party this year and each kid (there were 10) got a yoga mat and a glitter jar to take home. Last year Nathaniel had a claymation party and they took home a DVD of the movie they made. This year we had to postpone his party because of the storm, but we are doing it at our local movie theater. We get the whole space and bring a DVD. He asked me to make the cake, which makes me happy. The take home will probably be popcorn and candy.

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
Posts: 1535

I love throwing parties, but can usually do it for pretty cheap.

As for the OP, I dont love the piles of presents but I also dont think it is the end of the world. We usually have about 10 guests and usually get a large variety of presents. Last year when DD3 turned 5 all the party guests went together and got a play set and some of the accessories to go with it, it was very thoughtful.

I would not be offended to get an invite that says no presents, but my kids would want to make something. I encourage them to make something for all their friends when we get invites and it is usually very well received

Joined: 11/28/06
Posts: 848

For my girls' birthday parties I allow them to invite about 10 or so friends, mostly friends from dance that they are close with. So the parties aren't huge and the gifts aren't excessive. This year Alana is having a "glow party" in our backyard where my husband will serve as DJ. I enjoy having creative parties on a budget!

I only allow my girls to attend parties of kids they are close with. We actually turned down a party today because my oldest daughter didn't even really know the little girl (they dance on the same team but not really together) and my youngest daughter has never really shown an interest in playing with her. I thought the invite was a little odd. Sometimes I think people invite a ridiculous amount of people hoping for a ridiculous amount of presents.

Joined: 03/14/09
Posts: 624

One of the things I like about living in a country which doesn't have the same culture I grew up with is that I can pick and choose which parts of a tradition I make an effort to bring into my family. Kids don't celebrate their birthdays with other kids here, normally. I wanted my kids to have birthday parties, it's something of my culture I would like them to have. Also, since I work and none of my friends' moms do, it creates an event where I get to meet them and they see me as a regular person. We do a low-key birthday like the kind I grew up with, just a few friends, some snacks, pin the tail on the donkey, and a sugar-laden cake.

I hate gifts. We have a small home, my son doesn't really play with anything other than soccer balls, and the only thing we'd really like is English books which are a bit low on the ground here. I am happy that no one even thinks to bring gifts here.

But that being said, I would feel awful going to a birthday party in North America with nothing in hand. It would feel wrong. So I'm a big old hypocrite!

ftmom's picture
Joined: 09/04/06
Posts: 1538

We never ask for presents, but usually get them. I try to do small parties though. I have a couple friends whos daughters are friends with my DD who dont always bring presents to parties. It is a budget issue for them, so they usually make a picture, or pick flowers from the garden. I invited one of them to my DS's party when he turned two so there would be a friend for DD, and at that point we had a discussion of how she couldnt bring a gift. I informed her that we were happy to just have them there, as we are with everyone, though I think my kids would be disappointed if there was NO gifts, simply because they expect them.

My cousin always does big parties for her kids (like the whole class big). What she does is have her child pick a pricier gift that they want (like a doll house as opposed to a barbie), and a charity they want to give to (usually something like the SPCA at this point). Then they include this information in the invitation and ask everyone to bring $10 in lieu of a gift. They then put $5 towards the toy, and $5 to the charity. She has her child give the money himself at a later date. That way they only end up with one gift that the child wants and not a million 'cheap' gifts that they dont have space for. And she believes it helps her child learn to give to charity and look beyond just what they want.

WHile I see her point of view and $10 is not a lot to ask for, I dont like the idea of asking for a present at all. I feel uncomfortable with the whole thing.

fuchsiasky's picture
Joined: 11/16/07
Posts: 955

If I was going to invite the whole class I probably wouldn't want that many gifts. DD has enough random toys already! But I don't plan to invite the whole class just to avoid hurt feelings. I am not in favour of huge parties. I want to invite her friends to help her celebrate her birthday. I think that for a child to go and choose a thoughtful gift for a friend can be a very positive experience. As is receiving that gift. For that reason I wouldn't want to say "no gifts".

fuchsiasky's picture
Joined: 11/16/07
Posts: 955

"Spacers" wrote:

Oh, don't get my started on goodie bags! I don't do them, and I don't take them home with me from other parties, either. :oops: I really don't feel the need to have a party at all. Last year we took a friend camping with us. A couple of years ago we took two sets of siblings to dinner for make-your-own pizza night. Weston's birthday this year, we let him choose what to make for dinner! Blum 3 But when I do throw a party, I invite everyone.

I am not a fan of goody bags. Who needs a pile of dollar store junk? I don't hand them out. I try to find something useful and fun to give to each child. We do like for DD to be able to give each of her friends a little something. This year she is having a Queens and Kings party so I am making a cloak for each child. It is more work, but way cheaper as I already have a bag of fabric. All I need to do is sew them up. And DD is enjoying watching and talking about which of her friends will get which cloak. We are also doing a crown making craft. So essentially they will get a costume for the party that they get to keep. And hopefully it will be a toy that is used for a while! In past years we have done dress up hats and books as the "party favour".

smsturner's picture
Joined: 05/11/09
Posts: 1303

Am I the only one who never gets enough kids to come to have a decent sized party? Geez I WISH my problem was figuring out what to do with a pile of presents from a ton of people. I'm lucky if i can get three people to come for the kids birthday....

Joined: 03/08/03
Posts: 3189

"fuchsiasky" wrote:

I am not a fan of goody bags. Who needs a pile of dollar store junk? I don't hand them out. I try to find something useful and fun to give to each child. We do like for DD to be able to give each of her friends a little something. This year she is having a Queens and Kings party so I am making a cloak for each child. It is more work, but way cheaper as I already have a bag of fabric. All I need to do is sew them up. And DD is enjoying watching and talking about which of her friends will get which cloak. We are also doing a crown making craft. So essentially they will get a costume for the party that they get to keep. And hopefully it will be a toy that is used for a while! In past years we have done dress up hats and books as the "party favour".

LOVE that. I love giving one cool thing instead of a bunch of cheap crappy things. One year I baked cookies for the take-home too. Those cloaks sound great.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

Cloaks are an awesome idea!!!!

Susan - birthday parties for the kiddos are such a "thing" here. We just got another invite from one of T's classmates yesterday - not because we are close with that family but just because everyone invites the whole class. In the past I made sure that we went to all of them out of some sort of idea that it was "good for" T to socialize with his classmates outside of class, which seems to be the prevailing attitude since most of the other kids seem to go to all of the parties as well. I swear though, I don't know if it's the pregnancy or what, but I'm getting a lot grumpier about the whole thing these days.

fuchsiasky's picture
Joined: 11/16/07
Posts: 955

The cloaks are actually turning out to be a lot of fun to make. I am just doing a simple draw string top with elastic for the tie so they can put them on themselves. I don't even have to hem some of them due to the types of fabric. I have all different kinds of faux velvet and satins so they are pretty fancy. And I think I have spent all of $14 so far on supplies. So cool and so cheap!

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

OMG Fuschia, that sounds like such a great idea! Maybe for a party craft you could let the kids go crazy with fabric marker and/or glitter glue to personalize their cloak? A couple of years ago Tiven wanted a "princess cape" to go along with her princess themed party so I passed that idea on to my mom. Sadly, my mom's interpretation of it was a cape with a 2-foot train, which tied around her body with a 6-foot long sash.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

"smsturner" wrote:

Am I the only one who never gets enough kids to come to have a decent sized party? Geez I WISH my problem was figuring out what to do with a pile of presents from a ton of people. I'm lucky if i can get three people to come for the kids birthday....

I've had this problem, too! Last year Tiven wanted a party at a pottery place and their minimum was 10 kids. She not only has a summer birthday, she's a summer holiday birthday (July 1st) so I was inviting friends, classmates, all of their siblings regardless of gender. Literally two days before her party I thought I might have to pay for 3 people who might not show up. Thankfully that night two of her friends got home from vacation and brought along their little sisters, and all was well!

fuchsiasky's picture
Joined: 11/16/07
Posts: 955

"Spacers" wrote:

OMG Fuschia, that sounds like such a great idea! Maybe for a party craft you could let the kids go crazy with fabric marker and/or glitter glue to personalize their cloak?

Fabric markers would work. That is a great idea! I can't do glitter as we are renting space. (A huge playroom full of toys and comfy couches at the local neighbourhood house.) I don't really want to have to do much more cleaning than sweeping! I am also setting up a crown decorating station too so I am going to get a lot of the little sticker gems so they can make them nice and shiny. It has been really cool watching DD and her friend try them on as I make them. They have been queens, super heros, magicians and vampires so far. It is definitely one of the most versatile costume item.

mommytoMR.FACE's picture
Joined: 04/10/09
Posts: 781

I spent so much on Jace's birthday party last year and only 2 friends showed up Sad Luckily, they were his best friends but it really made me sad for my money. No more big parties... The more intimate ones with kids he really is good friends with, make more of a memory. He was able to play with both of them and talk to both of them equally.

I loathe goodie bags and I am not against gifts, but I don't buy them anymore... I buy gift cards now Smile He and his friends are at the age where they can take their $10 or $15 gift card and choose something they like.

Joined: 03/08/03
Posts: 3189

We have had a few bad years when very few kid come but other times we have more. Depends on the timing. Since Juliet's birthday is in late August we learned to have her party in September. Nathaniel's is usually okay but we had to bump it due to storm chaos and now it's on Thanksgiving weekend so it won't be a huge turnout. He is prepared for it.

smsturner's picture
Joined: 05/11/09
Posts: 1303

Well good to know it's not just me! lol And marcus is odd, and meg's birthday is 6 days before christmas! That's always a tough one. She told me last year she's 'too old for bithday parties'. Which makes me laugh because we still do little cake and dinner for the adults here Smile

mommytoMR.FACE's picture
Joined: 04/10/09
Posts: 781

Jace's bday being on Dec 27, I usually try to plan something for January.