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Nov 6 2012

A Birthday Party Without Presents?

By at 1:19 pm

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?


Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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