QandSomeone’sA: Birthday present etiquette

What do we do about "No gifts please" birthday parties?

I mean, for kids who are old enough to really know the difference, like, say, age 4 on up.

I was in this situation a few months ago, in which the invitation said "No gifts please," but my son reeeeeeally wanted to bring a gift (he had something very specific in mind), so we brought it, but then some other moms at the party expressed trepidation to me that they hadn't brought anything. And then I got a question from someone who wanted to know if "No gifts please" really means no gifts, or if it's just a courtesy statement.

I do think it's cultural. In NYC it seems to be a little bit of a courtesy statement or even a brag to say "No gifts please." Having said that, I do think I contributed to other parents' stress by bringing a gift, so it was a little assy. Except for the fact that the gift cost $6 and my son reeeeeeally wanted to give it. So maybe it was just a well-intentioned assy.

What's the scoop where you life? Do you bring a gift to a "no gifts please" party?

Bonus question: Do you think less of people who *don't* have a "No gifts only" party? It almost seems likea badge of (false) piety here, but it might be more literal in other places.

119 thoughts on “QandSomeone’sA: Birthday present etiquette”

  1. I hate the whole gifts culture (and most of the party culture) and wish it would all go away!The amount of waste of time, money, and world resources it leads to drives me batsh*t.

  2. I remember attending a “no gifts” party as kid and not taking a gift. There was a gift table piled high and the birthday girl told me offhandedly–“put the gift on the table” before she realized that I had nothing in my hands. I was mortified that I didn’t have a gift and felt that I shouldn’t even be at the party (we were around 8 years old). I am still uncomfortable about it, but grown up enough to know that I should probably get over it. So, my opinion is that if it is a “no gifts” party it should really be a no gifts party and someone should inform the birthday kid ahead of time! 🙂

  3. Interesting. My random thoughts–“no gifts” is fine as long as the kid is on board. And if the card says no gifts, I’m not bringing one. If my child desperately wants to give a gift, I’d arrange for that to be done separately. I think to bring one to the party is, to be honest, kind of rude. As Jan says, no gifts means no gifts. Similarly, I am aghast (flutters white handkerchief by her brow) that some invitations state no gifts and then when party goers arrive they see a table laden with gifts. Astounding poor taste there, IMHO. The hostess should welcome any gifts with a warm thank you and then say firmly and warmly: “Since we said no gifts on the invitation, we’re going to put this away for Junior to open later. We don’t want anyone to feel bad.” I mean, that’s a no-brainer.As for the subtle meta-messaging that may or may not be behind a no-gifts policy (They think they’re better than me! They think my gift will be crap!) I say, I don’t know what people’s situations are, and I’m going to choose not to jump to the conclusion that they mean to offend me or belittle me. I mean, we just don’t know.
    I feel like we’re kind of in a brave new world where I think people are really struggling with wanting to infuse events with real meaning and not just… more stuff. (This conversation seems to happen every year around Christmas at Ask Moxie.) We’re drowning in “stuff” here in U.S. culture, and it is sad, I think. So I’m going to be willing to give people a pass, even if it’s handled a little clumsily. I’m going to assume their intentions are good.
    Eldest went to a birthday party at the Humane Society recently, and the invitation asked for children to bring gifts for the animals there–chew toys, dog treats, etc. I thought that was awesome.

  4. Gah, I hate the no-gifts thing. I prefer the “we’re collecting books for X” or “we’re asking for pet food for Y” parties.I’ve gone both ways. If my child really wants to bring a gift, I let him. I mean–really. It’s a birthday. Bring a gift. There have been other “the -whole-class-is-invited” parties where he does not know the birthday child well (and luckily for me, in both cases, I knew the parents were very “green” and very interested in keeping down the clutter in their houses-which, come to think of it, were both homes with four kids, so what were the chances of bringing something new anyway?). For girls and no-gifts parties, I try to encourage my son to bring flowers, and honor the spirit if not the letter. And I admire the folks who follow directions for not being spineless like me!

  5. I think, The Child whose age is under 4 or 5, the Gift on a Birth day is appreciable but more than the 5 Years old Child we must have to stop the Gift formalities.

  6. I’ve always said “no gifts” for my kids’ birthday parties (they are currently 1 and 2.5). It’s mostly because I don’t want to write thank-you notes, my kids get stressed about opening gifts in front of people, and they really don’t need anything. Of course, some people still bring gifts, and we thank them and open the gifts after the party is over, with no audience.I personally would not bring a gift of my own accord to a “no gifts” party, but if my child really wanted to bring something (especially something inexpensive) I think I would go along with it. This hasn’t come up yet, though.
    We have had the opposite situation, where the party didn’t say “no gifts” and we still didn’t bring something. I do feel somewhat badly about that, although apparently not badly enough to actually make sure to bring a gift by default.

  7. I live in L.A., and I hate those parties. I understand where they’re coming from, but if it isn’t the *kid* that decides he or she doesn’t want gifts for a particular reason, then I think it’s gross. I hate clutter, too, but it basically says, “You won’t bring anything we want in our house, anyway, so please don’t bother.”I haven’t found those parties to be very common where we live, though.
    We always bring something, even if it’s small or homemade. Where we live, anyway, the grab bag is often worth more than the present we brought. I try to always touch base with the mom to see if there’s something special the birthday boy or girl is hoping for.
    Since I mentioned it, can we discuss the party favors? I’m not a fan, but my kids LOVE them. I detest their very existence, but my kids loved putting together the bags for their parties to give their friends. I wonder, though, why are we getting gifts from the birthday kid? How did that all start?

  8. Honestly, I do get a little tetchy about gifts parties. My kids are preschool-aged, so it’s not really the kids picking out the gifts or doing any of the work of buying them. It’s ME going to Toys R’ Us, usually on the way to the party with all three kids in tow, grabbing a random $10 toy, trying to get out before the two-year-old has a major meltdown, and inevitably forgetting to purchase an overpriced gift bag and tissue paper to wrap the damn thing. (Seriously, I now keep tissue paper and enclosure cards in the glove box.)We go to one of the most exclusive preschools in town, so it’s not like these kids (including my own) don’t already have ridiculous amounts of toys. Having a gifts party, especially at this age, is just another thing for moms to do — really, more than one, when you consider things like the aforementioned enclosure cards that of course we have to have. First-world problems, I know, but I really do appreciate it when other moms make my life simpler by requesting no gifts.

  9. If it says no gift, I don’t bring one. My son is 4, and so far we haven’t been to a party where the kid actually opened the gifts during the event, so it’s never been an issue of who brings one and who doesn’t. Maybe it’s the community we’re in, but it doesn’t feel like a judgement/competition either way.But I know the older kids get, the more savvy they become. Today we went to a party where I thought the parents handled it well by saying on the invite: “recycled/regifts are welcome but entirely optional.”

  10. I’ve only once been invited to a “no gifts” party, and on that occasion, I didn’t bring a gift (except a card with some stickers thrown in, just for fun). When we got there, there was a gift table set up, piled high. I think we were the only people who didn’t bring anything, and I felt like such an ass. In fact I’m still embarassed when I think about it. I should probably start getting over that now!

  11. No gifts means no gifts. Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. Good grief!If you have a gift you really want to give the person, give it to them another time — NOT at the no gifts party.
    This seems, to me, like a no-brainer.
    But then, I live in the Seattle area, so what do I know about manners?

  12. As above, no gifts is no gifts.What’s so hard to understand about that? If someone brings one, they’re not really understanding the invite. A courteous host smiles, thanks giver, takes it, puts it away quietly so no one else sees it.
    And as above, I live in Sydney so maybe I just don’t get it?

  13. At my daughter’s preschool, about half the time it’s a “please bring a wrapped book for a book exchange,” which I really like (and did for my 4 y.o.’s December birthday). Each child picks a wrapped book to take home with him/her. It avoids the chaos and tedium of watching one child open a ton of toys while the others wait and wish they had new toys too… I’d rather spend the time with activities and play. Since my daughter’s b-day is around Christmas, she’s inundated with gifts that month and it seemed ridiculous to add 15 more. Maybe I’d feel differently if she had a June birthday! I also think it may be a harder sell as she realizes that other children receive gifts at their parties, so why doesn’t she? (And I’ve heard that it’s poor etiquette to dictate to others what kind of gift to bring– however the book exchange seems common enough around here (Portland, OR), and all the parental feedback on it seems positive.)One parent emailed to ask if her daughter could bring a gift she’d selected; they brought it to a playdate another day. Seems like a good solution, and I’d probably do that (or hand off discreetly to the parent to open later) if my child really wanted to bring something to a “no gifts” party.

  14. Wow. I never thought of it that way. Most of the parents put “no gifts please” because they mean it. I mean, with all of the stuff that comes in, it’s really hard for little ones to process it all. Once my son is older, I probably won’t specify, but for now I put “no gifts necessary” on the invite. Its not false piety, I just don’t think he needs to receive 40 gifts for his birthday. And I also don’t want people to think that they have to bring something. If they do bring something, I have no problem with it, I just try to cut down on the amount of gifts at such a young age.

  15. I’ve been giving this some thought because my daughter’s second birthday is next month. We’re only having maybe 3 kiddos her age come over to join us for a family lunch. I’ve decided that any gifts that come in will be set aside to be opened at a later time. I have always loathed the gift opening folderol at kid parties. For future (actual) parties, I’m loving the idea of book exchanges and recycled/re-gifts!I don’t bring gifts to no gift parties – if they don’t mean it, they really shouldn’t say it because I’m a-gonna take ’em up on it. I kind-of resent having to pick out and purchase a gift for kids we don’t know well, so I like the idea of no gift events.
    I guess I’d take a gift at a different time if one was truly warranted.

  16. I should also say that my children have not been to a single gifts-OK birthday party where gifts were actually opened at the party. There’s a gift table, but the actual opening is done in private after the party. I entirely approve of this, since the opening of gifts ranges from boring to tantrum-inducing for the spectators.(Mind, I dislike the Southern tradition of bridal/baby showers where the honoree doesn’t open the gifts herself, but it’s different when we’re talking about adults and parties whose purpose is gift-giving.)

  17. I have a couple of thoughts here. My daughter is a little older (7), so she and her friends know perfectly well that birthday parties traditionally mean presents, and she would feel really left-out and sad if I decreed a ‘no-gift’ party. She has never been invited to a party with an explicit policy either way, so I’ve never had to make that decision.My theoretical stance, though, is that it is not the potential receiver’s decision whether presents are offered or not. Specifying ‘no gifts’ feels almost as entitled and snotty as enclosing a list of acceptable presents or asking for cash. Ok that’s probably overstating it. But in my mind presents are *always* unexpected – or at least un-relied upon – surprises. You know, theoretically. Therefore, whether to bring a present is entirely up to the giver.
    All that said, what’s with parties of 15 or 40 kids? I subscribe to the ‘one guest per year of age’ rule, and I fully intend to stick with it as long as possible. Hopefully until my daughter is old enough to want a sleepover with a couple of buddies instead of a little kid party. Dozens of dutifully offered presents would definitely drive me batty.
    I know, I’m a stodgy old fuddy duddy and I go against the grain on this one. I really do detest birthday parties.

  18. I hate clutter, too, but it basically says, “You won’t bring anything we want in our house, anyway, so please don’t botherIt’s just a numbers game. I have three children whose birthdays are within a two-week period (including a pair of twins). If I restrict gifts to aunts/uncles/grandparents, that’s 30 toys at birthday time and 30 more at Christmas a few months later. If I throw a combined party and have 20 guests, including both preschool classes plus non-school friends, I literally have 50 or 60 new toys on my hands. I don’t care how great the toys are, that’s simply overwhelming for me to deal with, and it’s far too many for the kids to process and enjoy.
    Nothing personal, because I’m sure your present is perfect and wonderful and all, but the math gets stupid.

  19. Personally I would have had your son just give it at a less conspicuous time so that other kids/parents did not have to feel bad for not having anything to give. I have been sticking with family parties for as long as I can get away with it because our toy room is super full. I seriously hate all the clutter that comes with having kids, it would be nice to just have a few special toys but then I see something I think they would like and I cave in and get it.

  20. I think it’s rude to bring a gift if they said no gifts. Like you learned, it makes the other guests feel bad. If your son really wanted to give a gift, you should have had him bring it at another time.I do not think saying “no gifts” is some sort of affectation. I think it really means “please don’t bring gifts, we just want to have a party and that will be fun enough because who needs more crap anyway and it’s so not fun watching a grabby kid opening presents while the other kids are bored silly”….

  21. @Elle – I LOVE THE BOOK EXCHANGE IDEA and I’m totally going to steal it! My kid’s birthday is 12/29 and it’s just crazy to get more presents right after Christmas. He doesn’t need more stuff and it’s really all about just having fun with friends.

  22. great question and interesting responses.1) My son (who is 4) has yet to go to a party where the kids open presents.
    2) I have yet to see a ‘no-gift’ party where there are truly ‘no-gifts’.
    3) I like for my kid to have the joy of giving something he likes to his friend. I like my kid to receive a gift and share a special moment with his friend.
    4) I am perfectly fine with the other parent re-gifting or recyclying the gift if it is considered too much clutter.
    5) I dont find it that problematic to write thank you notes to the kids who give presents. I have noticed that thank you notes are sent even for no-gift parties so I truly dont understand the logic of no-gifts means no-thank you notes.
    6) that said, I dont expect thank you notes if it’s a no-gift party. I am fine with electronic thank you notes.
    7) I space the gift opening up over a period of a week or two and give my child the opportunity to play with each toy for a period of time before opening the next present. I dont have a lot of close family around in this country so this is literally the only time of the year that my son gets presents from his friends.
    8) I find it strange that most no-gift parties give out party favors. What is the logic of that? Don’t clutter my home but I can clutter yours? I would love to hear suggestions on weaning kids away from the expectations of return gifts at all parties.
    9) I agree that the no-gift parties represent mostly the sentiments of the parents and not the kids.
    10)I like the idea of “recycled/regifts are welcome but entirely optional.”

  23. My child has never been invited to a birthday party, so this isn’t really an issue yet. I think perhaps we need to work on expanding her social horizons.We held a small party for her 3rd birthday. Three guests plus an older sibling of one, all kids of my colleagues, and a parent of each too. I asked for no gifts, and all three gave gifts. Which was fine, and I sorta expected that to happen anyway. I just didn’t want anyone to feel obligated.
    One of the gifts was a Barbie doll. I was amused (because in North America there is no way anyone who had ever met me or my husband would ever buy my child a Barbie doll) but willing to let her put it with her other toys and see if she liked it. My husband felt differently and the doll mysteriously disappeared before we got back to our house (it was given to the little girl whose parents, who have nothing against Barbie, hosted the party at their spacious house, in contrast to our tiny apartment). My daughter never noticed, as she didn’t really understand the concept of gifts.
    It looks like the consensus above is that little kids, maybe up to 4 or so, don’t need gifts, but older than that and they start to have opinions on the matter that should be respected.

  24. I think giving a heartfelt gift like your son wanted to is very sweet. Isn’t it the thought that counts? I’m trying to teach my girls that when we are invited to something, we bring a gift of some kind. Don’t we all still bring a bottle of wine to a party?That said, when it comes to a “no gifts” party, even the most well-meaning gift should be given at a different time. After all, the gift is for the birthday, not the party.
    I think the ‘no gifts’ phenomenon is gaining popularity because our houses are filling up with annoying trinkets. But if you are giving something from the heart, that can’t be wrong. Just find a way to give it that doesn’t make others feel bad. There’s always the mail.

  25. Wow. We’ve had one no gifts please party, when my son turned two and all the guests were our friends. I felt otherwise it would seem like we were just inviting a ton of people because we wanted a ton of gifts when really we just wanted to celebrate.Since then, we’ve left it unstated and end up with a ton of toys that soon enough go to goodwill or the landfill. It makes me miserable. And I hate buying gifts for other kids parties because I know it’s the same story at their house. Some one recently suggested art supplies and I think I’ll go with that from now on.
    It’s depressing that it seems like there’s no way not to offend. Seem greedy if you say nothing (interpreted as gift expected). Seem sanctimonious if you specify a non-clutter/non-earth-killing gift. Seem arrogant if you say no gifts please…
    Maybe it could be worked into the whole party idea more thoroughly to make it seem more fun, instead of just a directive tacked on the end.
    Oh, and we do open presents at the party (I wouldn’t if not everyone had brought one, though). It’s entertaining and I think it’s a good opportunity to teach being gracious (we still do thank you notes later). We haven’t had any problems with it, really. My son had trouble at one party where he wasn’t the birthday boy, but I sat with him and talked about it and once we left with a favor bag, he was happy.

  26. I said “no gifts” for our twins party last year (they turned 1) because I really hate clutter and they don’t need anything.People still brought gifts (only my one friend heeded the request) but at least they then asked what they needed.
    I love the first commenter’s idea of bringing flowers.
    I think I will do the same this time but I will NEVER say no to free babysitting so if people want to gift them, that would be fantastic 🙂

  27. PS I’m in South Africa and I’m the first person I know to say “no gifts” – I think that’s why everyone ignored our request :)PPS I love sending thank-you cards and do that for people pitching to celebrate with us, not for the gifts.

  28. I have honored the request the 1-2 times it’s appeared on the invitation, but I think it’s a little much.When did the trend of not opening presents at the party start? I don’t get it. My 4yo daughter is always so disappointed at those parties. She loves seeing the birthday girl or boy open her/his gifts–especially, of course, the one from us.

  29. One idea that is gaining popularity amongst the “no gift types” in Canada is an Echoage party (I’m not affiliated with this company in any way, it’s just a good idea, and I thought I’d share).Basically, its a green party idea: no plastic crap, no paper invites, no wrapping paper etc. The invites are of the E variety. The guests make a donation through the website, of which half goes to a charity chosen by the child, and half goes towards a big “dream” gift that the child has selected.
    A pretty good solution to the issue, I think.

  30. Maybe I’m not very refined, but I take those kinds of statements literally. And I expect the invitees at my kids’ parties to do the same.This was the first year that Boo (who turned 4) really understood what birthday was all about (cake, presents) so I didn’t like saying ‘no presents’ so I limited it to 5 eurs ($7) and suggested usable things like markers, stickers, etc. which went over well with the other parents.

  31. I researched this topic when planning my daughter’s fourth birthday party. I was surprised to learn that “proper” etiquette dictates that gifts are always optional, so it is not necessary (sometimes even interpreted as rude) to put “no gifts” on an invitation. I decided to leave well enough alone and I didn’t mention gifts on the invitation and, yes, everyone brought gifts. My take on the matter is that I wanted my daughter, who turned 4, to have one really special birthday party while she was little and innocent enough to really, really enjoy it. She had a great time and showed great appreciation to her guests and made a lot of good memories. I don’t plan on having any more big birthday bashes for her, so I’m glad to no longer stress over gift-giving etiquette.

  32. I’d like to do a no-gifts party for our girl’s first birthday this summer. Most of our friends don’t have kids so I don’t want to send them out shopping and worrying about bringing something inappropriate. Our friends know us and know we won’t secretly be insulted if there’s no gift. We’ll also be gracious and appreciative of any gifts that are received. The grandparents are going to send an obscene amount of gifts anyway.If the invitation says no gifts, then no gifts it is. If it really means that much to you to bring something, call the parents and see if there’s anything they think would be appropriate, like flowers or cupcakes.

  33. This is very topical since we hosted a no gifts party for my 4-year-old yesterday. Of the five families who came – 2 brought new gifts, 1 brought a recycled gift, 1 brought a homemade card and picture, and 1 brought nothing. I set the gifts aside to open later, but he (and the givers) wanted to open them right away, so I let him do it in an inconspicuous way (i.e. the rest of the kids were running around playing with balloons and toys).The reasons I do no-gifts are two-fold. First and most importantly, I’m trying to teach my son that birthday parties are about celebrating with friends, not about stuff. (He gets presents from family members. Plus, I don’t do gift bags either. Our invitees got to take home a balloon if they wanted). Second, yes, it’s about clutter. We’re trying to sell our house and move, so more toys means more things to pack up eventually.
    Now, that said, it’s obviously not working. My son asked the girl who made him a card if she brought him a present. Very embarrassing, but thankfully, the mom is my good friend, so she asked if she should run pick up something, and I assured her that a card was perfect.
    I also want to teach my son about generosity, and two of the kids really wanted to give my son presents. It would be nice to allow them to do that.
    Finally (I’ve been thinking about this a lot), I think I would do two things differently. I would probably do gifts for a 4-year-old. He and his friends are all old enough to realize that gifts and parties go together, but they’re not thinking about materialism and clutter. I would focus on the generosity of the giver. (I would also keep the attendees low, so I’m not overwhelmed). Going forward, I think I would do a book exchange, food drive, or something else where people could bring something to give, but it doesn’t ultimately live at my house and will be given to people who really, really need it.

  34. I would agree – no gifts means no gifts. Your son could have given the gift in class or at another time ,so that other folks didn’t have to feel awkward.I work at a Nature Center that holds a lot of birthday parties, and a lot of parents ask kids to bring cereal/peanut butter/bird seed to donated to the Nature Center that we use to feed the birds. That way no one has to show up empty handed and feel like a boob, and it is affordable, as a box of generic cheerios is like $2.

  35. @Enu – AMEN! My kids are too little to understand or care about gifts, really, so it doesn’t feel harsh or mean spirited to say “no gifts”. On the other hand, I feel guilty inviting people to a party for a 1 or 2 year old who doesn’t care about gifts (or the party really, which is mostly for me because I want to celebrate their birthdays) and then making them feel obligated to bring gifts. I went to a party once for a 1 year old that had like 25 guests (all adults) all of whom brought presents, and it annoyed me. I know the etiquette is that gifts are always voluntary, but that’s not really the case. everyone feels that they have to bring one, even if everyone in the class is invited and you don’t really know the kid at all. my son’s 2nd b’day I actually said “no gifts!” on the invite and everyone brought gifts anywhere. It was a very small party. So the next year I gave up and everyone brought gifts. It’s frustrating that the only way out of this seems to be to NOT let my kid have a big party. Or I guess have parties every 3-5 years and the rest of the time celebrate in family.FWIW – I also don’t give favors, which also drives me completely batsh*t. We had balloons, and kids who wanted one could take one home. IMO b’day parties are for eating cake and running around doing something special. But again my kids aren’t old enough to want to buy something for someone, which I could see being more complicated.
    And yes, what Rudyinparis said. My no gifts please had nothing to do with being skeptical about the gifts of others. It was simple. A 2nd old doesn’t really understand presents or derive much pleasure out of opening them. (Let alone a 1 y.o.) My kid gets tired of new things quickly and overwhelmed by a stack of presents. It’s like he can’t process getting so many things at once. ALL the presents we got for his b’day were great presents. We just don’t think he needs 100 different toys, and we don’t like feeling like our guests are pressured to buy something and spend money just to come to a party. It’s really as much about not wanting someone else to feel obligated as it is about not wanting my kid to have “stuff” (though generally yes we try to minimize stuff. That Humane Society idea was fantastic.)

  36. This is SO interesting. My son will be 4 this year. My son gets plenty of presents from grandparents and close family friends, who we are not going to deny the opportunity (and who also ask about/know exactly what he is interested in, so it’s usually pretty spot on). And I always thought we would stick to the no gifts but now he has spent the year going to classmates parties with LOADS of presents, and he has picked out a present for each of them, and been so patient and understanding when he didn’t get one himself…I’m really torn!!I think the solution for us may be to keep the party itself small – he’s 4, 4 kids, 4 presents…
    For his 3rd birthday we said no gifts, but knew people would want to do something, so we said in the invite that over the last year he had really become interested in music, and if you feel inspired, would you make him a cd. The response was amazing – everyone made one, and we’ve been listening to them all year and still enjoy them! He was introduced to a ton of new music, and when he hears some of the songs he knows who they are from and refers to the party!
    i LOVE the idea of the echoage party – all chipping in for one gift. I had been thinking of the same sort of thing, but chipping in to buy something for his school (small, progressive private school with little funds) to plant some trees on the property or by a few large toys, which he could actually see and play with at school.

  37. I also agree with some people above that it was incredibly sweet for your son to want to buy a gift from the heart and exactly what gifts are for – it’s how I would want someone to give a gift to me and exactly how I want to teach my son about giving.i wouldn’t have discouraged my son from the gift at all, but will take head from the reactions of others and figure out a different time to give it!

  38. My kids find the opening of presents to be so exciting that I don’t have the heart to do a “no gifts” party. With my older son, for his 7 and 8 year old parties, we agreed in advance that he would pick several gifts to donate to Toys For Tots after he opened them, and he was very gracious about this. I hope to do the same thing with my younger son when he is old enough.I do try to honor the parents’ requests at a “no gifts” party, and the few times I’ve seen this locally, the parents seem to genuinely mean it. We recently made a small charitable donation in honor of a child, knowing that the charity would send an acknowledgment – a nice way to respect the parents’ wishes, but still do something nice for the child.

  39. If it’s a no gift party, you don’t bring a gift. If you kid wants to give the other kid something (how sweet!), he gives it at another time.We have had a few “no gifts necessary” parties & I do bring something small to those. The “necessary” part leaves it open to interpretation, but also leaves everyone scratching their heads, so people bring stuff anyway. One of my friends gets really specific in her invitations about trying to instill values & I know where she is coming from, but it comes off as rude cuz it’s right there in the invite.
    I get the whole “gifts are not to be expected at parties,” but REALLY? I know that is the old way of thinking & I believe it is entirely irrelevant now. Yes, if you are going to a birthday party, you bring a gift, otherwise you are rude. Unless it’s a no gift party, then do not bring one 🙂
    My older daughter just turned three & she already knew that you open gifts at bday parties & was greatly looking forward to this. DH and I only wanted a couple new toys for the girls b/c they have plenty already. Younger dd’s bday is two days before older dd, so they had a combined party. We have a large family, so that, plus our and the kids’ friends, is a lot of people. One guest per age? Really, I’m supposed to only invite four people, esp when there are 40 people in our family? Not going to happen. At any rate, thankfully everyone asks what they want, so we said either a bond, passes to things, or money towards passes. A few people were told specific toys & a couple people bought clothes or books. It was just enough stuff for the girls to open & we now have the money to buy them things like a truckload of sand for their new giant sand pit.
    Also, WHAT does a second born child who is still a baby actually need when they turn one? NOTHING. We have lots of v nice toys from older dd’s first birthday. I don’t want to be rude & tell people that they can’t bring anything, but they really don’t need to. Esp if we lived in an NYC apartment, I would absolutely NOT want any more toys!

  40. I went to a no gifts party where the mom specified that if people couldn’t NOT bring a gift, they should bring one for Toys for Tots. Which I thought sounded like a good idea, but she told me it backfired- everyone brought a gift for the child AND for Toys for Tots. I was the only person to come to the party and not bring a gift.So, when I threw my daughters party (both my kid and her kid were turning two), I didn’t bother with no gifts because I thought it just added more stress than just letting people bring gifts, since some people tend to bring one anyway and stress out the people who didn’t. But I only invited three kids.

  41. My daughter will be baptized next month. I said ‘no gifts please’ because I mean it. I won’t be upset if someone brings a gift but in my mind, I just want the people there. That’s gift enough for me.Granted, she’s not old enough to tell the difference.

  42. We have lots of local family so have often had two parties for my son, one for family with gifts, one for friends without gifts. One year my son had a party at the local library and was really excited to have friends bring a book for the library which he got to donate, complete with a bookplate with his name and the occasion. He still loves it when kids come up to him and say, “I took one of your books out of the library!” And the librarians treat him like a local celebrity because he inspired a bunch of other kids to donate books in the same way. Another year he really wanted to adopt a cheetah through the Cheetah Conservation Fund, so friends were asked to donate $2 in lieu of a present at his birthday party. The thank you note from CCF and the photo they sent him of “his” cheetah cub are still prized possessions, several years later.I have to say, while I understand how “no gifts” can look on an invitation, I think we just felt like our son was getting plenty of gifts from family members who know him well enough to choose something he really will love. He didn’t need more gifts from friends who don’t really know what to get for him anyway. And I can say that the library books and the adopted cheetah have given him more lasting memories and a greater sense of accomplishment than any other birthday gift.
    In each case there were particularly close friends who brought small gifts because they really wanted to. And that was fine. Our kids seems to be inundated with messages that too much is never enough. How many birthday gifts do they really need? I think it’s okay to set some limits and introduce them to the idea that giving a gift on your birthday can feel just as good, perhaps even better, than getting one. I would never ask my kids to go without gifts altogether, but it doesn’t need to be a free for all in order for it to be a happy birthday.

  43. I am rather alarmed to see so many posters read such sinister meaning in no gifts requests! For our two girls 1-year and 2-year birthday parties we requested no gifts, because we wanted a big happy celebration. The party was absolutely for the parents’ benefit – kids could take it or leave it. At that age they are too young to care about new things, unwrapping packages, or any of that, and gift-shopping is just another errand for many attendees. Even though “etiquette” says a gift is never required, in reality it’s true that everyone feels like it is.For the 3yo birthday, just kept the party small – 3 kids – and we opened presents at the party. The givers were as excited as the birthday girl, so see the gifts opened, which was heartwarming and fun. My daughter also had fun making and sending thank-you notes – one of her first experiences sending messages in the mail.
    I’m thinking in the future I’d like to host more parties for the sake of fun (not gifts) for my kids, and maybe the solution to keeping the material goods out of it is to throw parties for the sake of the party based on a fun activity (for example, an art party, or a sprinkler-in-the-backyard party) not aligned with a birthday. Then, when a birthday comes around, keep the birthday parties extra small.

  44. One more note. When my kids were very little, living in a university town, our social circle had a bimodal family income; most of the kids were either faculty brats or grad school student brats. The gift-giving was a significant economic hardship for many of the grad student families struggling to get by on a student stipend. And a huge waste of their limited assets.

  45. I prefer “please bring a book or donation” to “no gifts,” because I like to contribute something. But I totally get why people say no gifts, and I don’t think it has anything to do with the kind of presents I give. I’ve been in the position where we have no space and we’ve invited the whole classroom to a party and I just dreaded the influx of 25 gifts. But it doesn’t feel right to decide on my daughter’s behalf that she shouldn’t get gifts just because it’s not convenient for me. We do a major toy clean-out before birthdays and Christmas to donate older toys, and that helps somewhat.As for favors, for the last couple of years I have been trying to eliminate traditional party favors and instead have the favor be some kind of project that the kids do at the party. Last year I got small metal pails filled with flower seeds to plant and let the kids decorate them with foam stickers. This year I had a cupcake-decorating party, so the favors were aprons that the kids decorated with fabric marker and the cupcakes they decorated, in small pastry boxes they also decorated (this year was a much smaller party than last year). Most kids seemed happy with them, and I know for a fact the parents were.

  46. wow, that’s a remarkably uncharitable explanation for why people might request no gifts! I’m surprised – like other posters I just assumed it was a “Lets all aspire to less stuff” kind of sentiment. (And I live in NYC too.) I completely agree with Rudyinparis about wanting real meaning for occasions rather than stuff. Of course, caveat caveat, my kids are little – three and under – so I haven’t had to deal with actual understanding of birthdays yet. We’ve been to several “no gifts” birthdays of littler kids and saw no gifts (though we did bring a balloon to one, which is a sort-of gift, I guess). From the discussion already this morning I guess this is a heated topic! Has anyone thrown a party specifying gifts like “just flowers” or “$5 and under,” or something? Or is that truly crass? It does seem a bit that people are determined to be offended either way.

  47. Wow, I had no idea that people interpreted “no gift” parties as snotty or braggy. So far (daughter age 4) we have only had no gift birthday parties, and most of the birthday parties we have attended (NYC, crunchy neighborhood) have specified no gifts as well. For me, it’s not about clutter or thinking my kid has too much stuff already (though she does) and definitely not about thinking other people’s gifts aren’t good enough for us (seriously?!?). As someone said above, my feeling is that until a child can participate in selecting the gift, and until the birthday child actually registers that birthday presents are a THING, presents are just another hassle for the parents. I am always relieved and delighted to get an invitation that says “no gifts.”My daughter’s 4th birthday party was actually the first one that everyone adhered to the no-gifts request. Instead, it just so happened that every child brought a picture or a card that they made for her (which is what we do when we go to no-gift parties). She has them up on her bedroom wall and we look at them and talk about them all the time.
    That said, this was probably our last one–for 5 years old, I’ll probably have to give in with the presents, since she’s starting to know the difference!

  48. We’ve had several “no gifts” parties ourselves. We’re trying to teach our kids that birthdays (and various holidays, for that matter) are not about stuff. They’re about people. About being the Kid of Honor, choosing something really fun to do on your birthday, and inviting your favorite people to spend some special time with you.We kind of hate that kids are expected to bring gifts for other kids to their birthday parties. It can be a hardship for some families. (That has been us during lean times.) Kids rarely choose gifts themselves. And kids (ours included) rarely handle gift-opening well. It turns into a great big interruptive materialistic display that bores everybody and eats up party time that could be spent doing something that’s actually fun.
    For us, “no gifts” is not about piety, false or otherwise. Our kids could actually use some new and interesting stuff. But it’s not their friends’ responsibility to provide stuff for them. “No gifts” is about what we want our kids to learn. When we say “no gifts,” we mean it…and hope that people will respect it.

  49. I’m also in NYC, and never interpreted “no gifts” as pretension. My oldest is almost four, and at her third birthday we did no gifts, because I thought the gifts she was receiving from our family was more than sufficient. A couple of parents brought them anyway, and we said thanks nicely and hid them away. I wasn’t offended by the present-givers, but my “no gifts please” was entirely sincere. I have a small apartment, she has lots of toys, and I think gifts are an unneccessary hassle at her age.Similarly, I’ve been nothing but pleased when we’re invited to a no gifts party, but happy to bring a gift, too, if they don’t specify.

  50. Sorry in advance. This one is waaaaay long.Well, this post is perfectly timed for me as I have to send DH’s birthday invites out this week. And I eternally struggle about the ‘no gifts’ vs. ‘gifts’ thing. Right now his invite says ‘No gifts please’.
    As many others have mentioned, the reasoning behind our ‘no gifts’ request is:
    a) because I don’t want people to feel obligated to spend more money. I know the whole birthday present thing causes a lot of stress for many people (esp. those that have many parties in a year to attend) and I don’t want my kid’s party causing stress for anyone.
    b)the most important thing for us is that they are there to celebrate with us and to have fun.
    c)we had ‘gifts’ parties for DS’ 1st and 2nd birthdays, and, quite frankly, I just found the gift opening part to be awkward. DS was too young to show appreciation, the other kids didn’t care, and it was probably a bit overwhelming for DS.
    BUT, that being said, I am a lover of giving gifts. I personally LIKE the task of finding something the person will enjoy, something that will make them smile and something that will be meaningful for them, not just add clutter. And for those reasons, we always give cards (with a gift or at no gift parties). I’m so not in to adding clutter for anyone else. Though I realize it’s hard to make that distinction. When I’m really not sure of someone’s tastes or wants, we tend to give books or something that can be used up (art supplies for kids, food for adults, etc.).
    In terms of respecting other’s ‘no gifts’ parties, ITA that no one should feel one bit of guilt for not bringing a gift for a ‘no gift’ party. Even if all of the other people do. It’s not my job to figure out if ‘no gifts’ really means ‘bring a gift’. It’s my job to read the invitation and follow the instructions. (This for me is kind of like the whole thing behind wedding gifts. I strongly believe in giving within your means for weddings. So even if ‘everyone’ will be putting an envelope with $50 or $100 or $300 in it, along with a gift. If I can’t afford it, or don’t want to do it, I don’t do it. Period. I should not be putting myself in debt to attend your wedding).
    Anyhow, like I said above, we’ll always bring a card (and I’ve started DS making his own cards using his paintings and adding stickers for the person’s name and age or other things), and maybe a balloon. The only time I’ve not respected a ‘no gifts’ party was for a close friend, who I knew would not be put off by me bringing something. It was mostly a family party and we were the only outside family people. Otherwise we respect it (even if I would personally rather not).
    As for the favours, unlike many commenters, I love having favours for DS’ parties. I kind of see it as an extension of the thank you note, as in ‘thank you for coming’. I do, however, totally get that parents don’t want a bunch of crap piling up in their house. So, again, I try my hardest to come up with something edible, something you can use up or something so irresistible people will just want to keep it (yes, again, hard to hit on what that is for everyone).
    For DS’ second birthday we had a boat / fish theme. DH and I made a magnetic fishing game (à la Waldorf) with some fabric and knit fish as well as some fishing poles made out of sticks. The game was the activity at the party and then each kid got to take a fishing rod and 4 fish home in a little cardboard ‘chinese food’ container with their name on it. It was a huge success. Way better than I’d hoped. Pretty much all of the parents still tell me that their kid still plays with it. And DS still plays with his. So I think it was appreciated. It was not expensive as I mostly used stuff from around the house, but it did take some time to make. And I TOTALLY GET that many, if not most parents don’t have the time or inclination to do this for their kids’ parties. And that’s totally cool.
    What’s great about birthday parties that are done in the family’s style, IMHO, is that you get to attend all different kinds of celebrations which are equally fun but in different ways. When it gets annoying is when ‘should’ enters the picture. We ‘should’ do this or ‘should’ do that. That kind of misses the whole point IMO.
    So after reading all the amazing comments, I think we may go with the wrapped book exchange or perhaps the ‘no gifts necessary’. Both great ideas. As is the recycled/upcycled idea and the Humane Society idea. DS loves animals and I think he would totally be into that. Will have to see how we can pull this one off in the future considering two of the main shelters in our city have shady practices. :(.
    I love all of the comments about using gift giving birthday parties (your kids or someone else’s) as a way to talk about generosity and graciousness and being thankful, thoughtfulness, being able to appreciate someone else’s joy without participating directly in it, all of that. I realize that many parties have degraded to the point where all of that is lost and it’s all about consumption. But I think it’s worth trying to hold on to the more selfless things behind gift giving and receiving.
    @soh, OMG! I can’t believe there was a gifts table at a ‘no gifts’ party. That’s just ridiculous. This is what makes parents crazy. People not saying what they mean. Just saying things for ‘appearances’.
    @Moxie, It is SO sweet that your son, as another poster put it, got behind the real spirit of gift giving. That really should not be a bad thing. Ever. After reading all of the comments I think if we were ever in the same situation I would tell DS that we could bring it to the party but we would have to give it discreetly to the parents of the kid as they specifically requested no gifts and we don’t want to make the other people feel bad for not bringing one. OR, we could arrange another time for him to bring the gift so that he could give it to his friend openly, without reservation and with pride.
    @MD, ITA with everything you wrote, with the exceptions of #1 and #8. So far, our party invites will mostly be people we know really well, so it’s easier to read what they will consider clutter and what they won’t (in terms of party favours).

  51. An etiquette question, yipee! @Jennifer (@7:34am) is correct. She said – “I researched this topic when planning my daughter’s fourth birthday party. I was surprised to learn that “proper” etiquette dictates that gifts are always optional, so it is not necessary (sometimes even interpreted as rude) to put “no gifts” on an invitation.” Amen. “No gifts” proclamations are a big etiquette no-no. I think this is because they generally confuse the hell out of everybody and their mother. ;)It is also an etiquette no-no to publicly present a gift at a “no gifts”-proclaimed party. It risks making everyone else feel bad/confused/like they didn’t get the memo because they’re an outsider. It could certainly be construed by some as “assy” (love that word) although I personally wouldn’t draw that conclusion. It also completely ignores the express wishes of the host. When is disrespecting/ignoring a person in her own home ever in good form?
    The behavior of really listening to others and respecting their choices (even if you just do not agree; even if a sweet kid wants to give the other kid the supercoolest thing ever)- well, I think teaching kids to demonstrate real empathy comes first. Really hearing people and respecting their express wishes are among the cornerstones of empathy, and that ought to be modeled more often for children. Assuming we know better what others really want despite their express wishes to the contrary, because we have such good, pure intentions? Um, I think we’re all stocked up on that in the world.
    @Rudyinparis said: – “As Jan says, no gifts means no gifts. Similarly, I am aghast (flutters white handkerchief by her brow) that some invitations state no gifts and then when party goers arrive they see a table laden with gifts. Astounding poor taste there, IMHO.” LOL! Amen, sister!
    Gifts are among the foreseeable outcomes of hosting a birthday party. If parents don’t want their homes filled with random crap that might offend their various lifestyle choices, then they shouldn’t throw birthday parties involving a ton of their child’s friends. Whatever happened to the idea of the intimate, meaningful, family-only birthday party where the child didn’t receive a ton of gifts, but instead was surrounded by sincere, loving people who truly cherished her for who she is as a person? Maybe that’s just a fantasy?

  52. I live in the south where culture dictates that you don’t show up empty handed to a party — any kind of party.My best friends’ have a son the same age as my son, and they had a “no gifts” first birthday party for him last year. Knowing that my friends were hoping to keep clutter and useless toys to a minimum, I bought only small practical items for their son. He was one, so I think it was a spoon and fork set, a new sippy cup, a book and a T-shirt.
    And, I wasn’t alone in bringing a gift. There was a table piled high.
    I’m not sure “no gifts” will ever work in the land of southern hospitality. But, hey, people can try.

  53. If it says no gifts we do no gifts. We’ll give a card – maybe with some stickers inside – but that’s it. I do not think the parents throwing the party are snotty, I think they are saying “your child’s presence at the celebration is gift enough”I never knew it before I had kids but I have VERY STRONG FEELINGS about birthday parties.
    1) No “friend parties” before age 5. Until then it’s only family and close family friends – cousin playtime is all that’s needed for a great party! This goes for attending parties as well – my daughter (age 4 1/2) as only been to a handful of parties, all realatives and very close family friends. Otherwise we would be going to one 2-3x a month.
    2) Starting with age 5 you get a friend party every other year.
    3) Guest counts for friend parties are limited to your age.
    4) In a party year you can always opt to skip the party and use the budgeted money for the purchase of a big gift for yourself.
    5) Gifts are opened at the party so you can show gratitude at the time of receipt.
    6) Gifts are not played with/used until a thank you note has been written.
    Remarkably (not!) these are more or less the rules I grew up with – expect as a 3rd child it was a friend party every third year. I’m not a fan of big parties every year. We’ll reserve them for the bigger “ages” (i.e. 5, 10, 16, etc).

  54. I loved the idea of a no-gifts party until I had a kid . . . and realized that no matter how many toys he has, a gift is not primarily about the gift itself: as they say, it’s the thought that counts. There’s a whole lot of stuff that goes with gift-giving, and not all of it is bad. It has a lot to do with social interactions, for instance. Gifts are symbolic, and I don’t want my kid to miss out on that particular ritual. We have few enough shared rituals as it is.I suppose the trick will be keeping all that from getting corrupted. Or probably just trying to contain the damage.

  55. We have only ever had no gift parties for our boys (just turned 2 and about to be 4). The almost 4 year old is in preschool and knows the difference now, so his birthday will most likely include gifts. Most of our experience has been no gifts up to this point.Our thinking is that the gift is one more chore for the parents and nobody needs anymore stuff. We just want to celebrate with friends. We’ve had a few people bring gifts and we’ve put them aside for later. Many were donated. Some parents/kids brought a balloon or homemade card. That was sweet. (Family usually brings gifts, but that is somewhat more expected.)
    As an example, our youngest turned two last week. We weren’t even going to have a party (just cake with family) but the 3yo insisted. So, we had a play date with cake and ice cream after school. Just friends with similar age siblings and little bottles of bubbles for everyone to blow after the cake. Loads of fun. No gifts. A few cards and balloons. Everyone enjoyed it.

  56. We have always had “no gifts please parties” for our kids for the simple reason that watching another kids open presents is excruciating and lame for all of the other kids. I would rather that my child played with her friends and had a wonderful time on her birthday. We’ll do presents from family at another time. I like to pack tons of fun activities into the party so there is no lull time for the presents to happen anyway. My daughter has never had a problem with this.

  57. We always say no gifts, and we mean it. My kids have so much crap, and my apartment is small. Seriously, they don’t need anymore toys.But people always bring them anyway. Next year I’m going to try the “bring a food item” route and see if that works.
    We don’t bring gifts when the invite says no gifts. If you wanted someone to bring a gift, then don’t say no gifts, period. I’m not a mind-reader.

  58. We have family giving tons of stuff; we don’t need more. I am a fan of collecting presents for the patients at the local children’s hospital, because kids who love to give presents still get to pick something out.We’ve had close friends give presents at a time other than the party, and that’s fine. But I think it makes other people feel awkward not to bring a present, even if they understand why the hosts don’t want ’em.

  59. We haven’t been invited to a no gifts party yet. But that would be lovely, because frankly, it is a chore to shop for and spend money on a gift – especially when you get invited to every kid in the preschool class’s birthday party. When the birthday kid is a close friend of my son’s, we put more thought into the gift, but the price limit is always $10-12 and my son makes a card. I try to steer him towards the art supply type gifts. When we don’t know the kid/family too well, I’ll pick up a Friendly’s gift card. The family can go out for ice cream on us one day.My son is a December baby so the whole birthday gift thing is something I put a lot of thought into. It’s already present overload with Christmas and Hanukkah and grandparents. The whole clutter/materialism thing is a big issue for us, too. For his first friend party (four years old), we had it at home and only invited four friends. That was quite manageable from a gift perspective. For his fifth birthday, we had it at a gymnastics place and invited the whole class (which is the norm where I live). I think 15 kids came, so we had 15 gifts. I seriously considered putting “no gifts” or “bring a gift for Toys for Tots” on the invitation, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But after the party, I discussed donating a bunch of the gifts to Toys for Tots with my son and I let him decide (with some gentle pushing) and he agreed to it and thought it was a good idea. I helped him separate the gifts into piles of the ones he was going to keep and the ones we’d donate (which were the ones I *knew* he wasn’t going to play with).
    The hard thing about this was making sure he didn’t tell his friends that he donated their gifts. The other hard part was explaining how Santa fit into Toys for Tots since he is still a believer.
    I’d love a follow up post on how out of hand birthday parties have gotten!

  60. In the Pacific Northwest there is a real culture of avoiding waste. I think people really do not want a lot of gifts because it usually means more stuff headed to the “landfill.”For my son’s first birthday we asked for a second hand gift. For a friends birthday everyone did a book exchange and every child came away with a new (to them) book.
    I think it is hard to do away with the culture of gift giving at birthdays, but there may be ways to employ the concept of “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

  61. I’m also a bit shocked, and frankly, a little offended, at the snarkiness of the comments regarding No Gift Parties. Maybe I move in lower class circles but in my neighborhood the gift thing is really not A Big Deal. Granted, my older son is just turning 5 so I could be in for it later!We’ve only had one birthday party that included non-family members and we only invited four kids. Since our son knew birthday parties = presents we didn’t specificy No Gifts. Also, the kids we invited were pretty close friends with him. If we’d done a whole class party we would have specified No Gifts. One kid kid that early in the school year and it was fine as far as I saw. I personally feel like it’s rude to invite people we barely know and expect them to shell out for a gift. Not to mention the clutter issue. Why does my child need presents from all 28 kids in his class?
    Our younger son turns 2 next week and we are still debating whether to invite a few friends over for the party. If we do we’ll specify No Gifts. We’re late with the invites, he doesn’t know the difference, and I personally don’t feel like our friends our obligated to buy him presents.
    But again, I must be weird. We didn’t invite non-family members to our wedding nor did we have a formal reception. Just a party at a pub the day after we got married. We were very clear about no gifts because we felt rude asking people to buy us stuff when we hadn’t gone the traditional meal or appetizer reception route. We got tons of wine. It was great!

  62. I’ve both been to and hosted “no-gift” parties. The only flack I received for the no-gift invitation was from my in-laws. Go figure. We’ve also been to a party where the guests were asked to bring a gift for the kids at a local hospital…they ended up with, you guessed it, a huge pile of gifts for the hospital AND a huge pile of gifts for the birthday boy. You can’t win!I like buying and wrapping presents, but I prefer to give something the recipient will actually enjoy. In that vein, and in the hope of not contributing to the amount of stuff in the world, we’ve given the following in the past:
    – anything consumable: movie tix, gift cards to restaurants, art supplies, etc.
    – books (small, usually appreciated)
    Likewise, when we throw a party (we have a 5 and 2-year-old), I try to keep the party favors reasonable and fun:
    – large decorated homemade sugar cookie in cellophane
    – punch balloon
    – stickers, temporary tatoos
    – small amount of good quality candy
    We don’t open gifts at the friends’ party because it’s time-consuming and gives all of the other party-goes gift envy. Not very fun for anyone. Family gifts do get opened in front of family back at the house.
    Can we as parents make a pact to eliminate the ready-made favor bags full of useless McDonald-quality plastic toys? No one’s kids play with them for more than a second and then they’re in the trash…

  63. I think “No Gifts” should be respected 🙂 One of the big negatives to me of even having a birthday party for my child (and one reason why we haven’t had a big one yet) is the concern of everyone bringing a present that might not be in line with the types of toys we use in our house and also that I have to find a place for. We have far too many toys as it is, and the thought of bringing in even more (multiple times per year) is daunting.Plus, I don’t want my kids to start expecting presents at their friend birthday parties.
    If someone did bring a present, I would take it and put it away so none of the other parents saw, and wouldn’t let my child open it until later.
    I think one thing you could do if it was an especially good friend is to give it to them at another time, not at the party, because it does put pressure on other people to feel like maybe they should have brought something.
    I’ve have decided that when we do a real party, I will be much more elaborate on the invitations than just “no gifts” so people realize I’m serious, but really, someone shouldn’t put that on there unless they mean it.

  64. I haven’t read all the comments, but i’m simply amazed at anyone who finds any offense in a ‘no gifts’ birthday party. I agree with only putting it if you mean it (and so what if wouldn’t be the 2 yo’s ‘choice’ — he also wouldn’t choose to go to bed or take a bath and that’s why I’m in charge). I also agree that if a gift comes in, the giver should be thanked but it should all be done discreetly. That said, we don’t have ‘no gift’ parties because the older’s birthday is in June (younger is not 1 yet) and I can pull out a present each week through the summer to give him something new to play with.

  65. When the invite said “no gifts”, I brought a small gift (these are people we like and have known for years but only see a few times a year), handed it to the host on the way in to stash wherever and went about my business. I knew the grandparents were bringing gifts, so I knew there would be gifts.The worst I ever saw was a child’s birthday party invite with registry info. I guess they wanted to make sure they got the “right” kinds of presents, but if I can’t get it at Target or amazon, it’s not happening (it was a registry at a toy boutique an hour from my home with no website).
    I’m surprised everyone likes the book exchange so much. My son’s kindergarten class did that at their holiday party, and it wasn’t great. Most kids wanted to keep the book they brought. The girl and boy books were all mixed together and the reading ability in kindergarten varies so wildly that picture books to chapter books were all represented (and the books were wrapped so the kids couldn’t pick). Also, the price range was $5 – $7, which is an awkward range for kids’ books, so I ended up sending a $3.99 chapter book plus a (new)picture book that I had, but then, I had sent 2 and that’s not fair because then some kid got 2 books and everyone else only got one. You can’t win.

  66. One more thing to add, is that we go through and pick out toys to donate (or put away for little bro) shortly before birthday time to ease the clutter.

  67. Don’t quite have time to read all responses right now — our son’s first birthday party with friends we said “no gifts” but then he attended a whole bunch of parties where the kid received gifts. I felt a little bad for him that we did that. So we did the next year with gifts, and this year, his new schoolmates seem to be trending toward no gift. I far prefer no gift, on both ends.

  68. Haven’t had a chance to read comments yet, but I believe if the invitation says no gifts, there’s much potential for other guests to be embarrassed if someone DOES bring a gift. If there’s a special friendship between birthday child and guest, then give the gift another time–or make it small enough that there can be an inconspicuous hand-off to parent before leaving the party.When my older son had his first birthday party, we specified no gifts–not from any “holier than thou” attitude, but because of the particular party venue and my son’s temperament. We were having the party at a indoor play area (climb/slide place), with a specific time limit on the use of the facilities. Gift opening takes a lot of time, and it already seemed to limit our 2 hours to take 1/2 an hour out of it for cake, snacks, drawing on the paper tablecloths, and singing happy birthday. No gift opening = more time to play.
    I also sensed at the time that the gifts would actually detract from the party for my son. (As it later turned out, he has an autism spectrum disorder and does best when there aren’t too many stimuli competing for his attention.) I was concerned that he would be so distracted by what might be inside the gifts that he might not be able to enjoy playing–and that AFTER they were opened, he might not want to return to playing with his friends.
    He enjoyed his party greatly.
    Not sure why I’m going into all this detail, other than to illustrate the point that I’m guessing most parents have some specific reason when they decide to ask for no presents. The parties my son goes to–he’s now 6–are about half and half between gifts/no gifts. As a further data point, we live in a medium-sized Midwestern city.

  69. I think more interesting is the change in culture. I got gifts at birthday parties, and for my birthday, my whole life.For most of that I wasn’t living in a world where it is do easy to produce a “thing” for a child and “cash” for an older child without heart or mind in it.
    More consumerism in general = a house full of stuff = please don’t bring us anymore.
    How will a kid learn to be a thoughtful giftgiver if they don’t have experience with it … ?
    I don’t need more crap in my house, I don’t want to look greedy but part of all of this doesn’t sit well with me.

  70. My kids are old enough (7 and 8) to expect gifts for their birthdays, and to have an interest in giving something to the kids they are close to for their birthdays. But when the whole class is invited and my child doesn’t know the birthday child very well, I have a stash of gifts we’ve received and never used that I try to “regift”. Some of these are gifts my kids received that I am fairly sure were also regifts. It seems pretty silly, but I’d rather keep a few unused gifts circulating around than have to buy new things to put into circulation.A side point — this year was the first time my daughter received a gift card instead of a present from someone other than family. What’s the point? When did people start giving money gifts to elementary school-aged kids?

  71. Wow, this is the second birthday party post today that has made me appreciate the no drama crowd of parents we have at our day care.I have yet to receive an invite to a “no gifts” birthday party. We all show up at the parties with smallish gifts. My current “go to” for the 4 year old birthday parties we’re working through now is a coloring book (chosen by my daughter based on what she knows about the birthday kid’s preferences- she does a good job), an “activity” book (mazes, dot to dot, etc) and a pack of markers or crayons.
    For her closer friends, we might do something bigger, but we include a return receipt.
    We’ve gotten some random crap that I would never have picked out for her (hello, Polly Pockets!), but we’ve also gotten some random good stuff that I would never have picked out for her (some awesome paper dolls, for instance). I’ll take the good with the bad.
    I have no idea what I would do if faced with an invite that said “no gifts” please. Maybe bring a fancy balloon or something, and keep a fallback emergency gift in my car, in case the invite lied? Argh. Seems more stress than it is worth.

  72. Goodness. We’ve only had ‘no gifts’ parties for my 5-year and 2-year olds. I don’t think that it’s been a problem. However, we have no family nearby, and we’ve only ever invited close friends and our babysitting co-op kids, so I am assuming that no-one would read anything “snooty” into our no gifts decision.Often the party is a pot luck at a local play park. No gifts, no goody bags, pretty low key.
    We also had joint parties with 2 children in the baby-sitting co-op.
    This summer is the first time we’re going to have a party and invite the preschool class. I’m a bit nervous, as we have never done this before. We really don’t know any of the other parents, so maybe they will read something into ‘no gifts,’ but since they are not close friends, that’s OK.
    The 5-year old is about to start school, and then we’ll have to see what we will do.

  73. Oh, yeah- and in our crowd, gifts are always opened later, not at the party. Why invite trouble? We do thank you notes after the fact.

  74. I’ve done both – no regrets either way. When my oldest turned 3, I did not specify “no gifts” and we got a lot of them. I tucked them all away and turned a closet in our garage into the “prize closet”, where he could choose a toy after staying in bed all night without getting up for 3 (or 5) days in a row. Those gifts sure came in handy!For little kids, I understand the “no gift” policy. For my youngest, who does not understand that birthday = presents, we’ve done “no gift” but those parties are just for families (he’s 2, he doesn’t really have friends yet).
    The thing I get hung up upon isn’t so much the getting of gifts, but the not giving them. I want to teach my children the joy of thinking of a present for a friend, buying a present for a friend and giving it to them….and “no gifts” kind of deprives them of that pleasure. I usually honor whatever the invite asks unless my son wants to give a gift and then we give it privately at another time.

  75. Thanks to a previous commenter for the tip about Echoage – I just checked out the website and it looks perfect.*E-vites
    *Guests donate money: half goes to a charity of your kid’s choosing and half to the kid for their ‘dream gift’.
    *Simple, environmentally friendly.
    I’m going to use it for a future party!
    Agree that “No gifts” should be respected and if your kids wants to give a small gift, the most polite way to do that is in private at another time.

  76. I love the no gifts policy. We’ve been to two parties so far with no gifts, we’ve (and most of the attendees) have taken it literally. I think it makes sense that the birthday party be more about the party and having fun with friends, and I like the idea of giving other parents a chance to simply bring their kids to a bowling alley/science center/skating rink and enjoy the afternoon, like they’ve done for me in the past. I’m considering this policy for my own children, too. It has never occurred to me that it could a badge of false piety at all, but I’m concerned that others would see it that way.However, I do think it’s okay if kids make a gift for other kids for their birthday. These gifts from the heart are more treasured than the purchased ones, I think (my son still digs out the cards his friends made him for his last birthday, more than six months ago, but he can’t remember whether toy X was a gift from a friend or someone else).

  77. There have already been a million comments, but here’s what I think:1. I hate “no gifts.” It sounds rude and ungrateful. I don’t want any more clutter either, but I feel like giving/receiving gifts is part of the birthday party culture.
    2. I hate it when they open the presents later, after the party. It also seems ungrateful. I like to see kids open presents, and I think the other kids do, too.
    3. As a side note that nobody has discussed, please don’t have a joint party with your kid and another friend who we don’t know. I don’t like that you split the cost of the party, but I still have to buy two gifts, one for a kid I don’t know.

  78. I’ve only been to a couple of no gift parties and I took it literally. I didn’t bring a gift. At one party there was a mix of gift givers and no gift givers. At the other party we were literally the only ones who didn’t bring a gift, so then I felt dumb.I wanted to have a no gift party for my daughter’s 1 year birthday because I feel so guilty asking people to bring gifts and a 1 year old doesn’t even know the difference, but my 5 year old freaked out at the idea because it wouldn’t be fair.
    When my son was 3 we did a combined birthday with a friend and we asked people to bring a gender neutral book. We did a little book exchange instead of gifts and that was pretty fun.

  79. Every year I say no gifts. Every year, a fresh avalanche of stuff falls on the house.We have an extremely small house and twins whose birthday falls within two months of Christmas. It’s not fun.
    They have plenty of toys, and every additional thing that comes into the house means we have to get rid of something or the girls have less space in which to play. Again, not fun. It’s May. They STILL have presents from Christmas that they haven’t played with yet, and they haven’t noticed.
    This year we finally gave up and have just been donating things to Goodwill almost immediately. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the thought and the effort (we do), but we just don’t have room.
    I shudder to think about how much money has been spent on presents for the girls over the years, especially since their favorite toys at the moment are a ream of paper, some crayons, and a tupperware box of buttons.
    I’ve tried asking relatives to, instead of buying a gift, come with me to take the girls to the Zoo or something (No cash outlay required! We have a pass!) and am always told “Oh, but we can do that any time,” and another crapalanche falls on the house.
    I’ve asked them to help me take the girls to the pool, which I can’t do alone. No takers.
    Goddamnit.
    So, we’re a no-gifts-please house, and it never effing works. I’m about to donate another pile of barely-played-with toys to Goodwill.
    It just seems like a waste of time and money for everybody.

  80. Forgot to mention that we are big time on the gift recycling. At the last party my son got several things that he was so uninterested in he didn’t even open the box. when I realized he was not going to play with them, I asked if we could put them away and give them to other kids. We had to have a big talk about not telling the other kids they were recycled, but he has been fine with it. It definitely helped out with my budget to have a stock pile of gifts in the closet. I swear we go to a party every other weekend. I would say no and limit them, but my son is a social butterfly and loves going.

  81. You know, I really think that people may be saying “no stuff” rather than “no gifts.”If you come up against a No Gifts event and you really want to give something, why not
    *ask if the birthday girl/boy is saving up for something and offer to contribute a gift certificate?
    *ask if there’s a movie you can take them to, or an event (zoo? circus? beach?) you could sponsor?
    *offer to babysit the other kids so that Mom and Dad can give the birthday boy/girl a special Only Child afternoon?
    *make a contribution to a college fund?
    *slip them a gift certificate to a grocery store so that the kid can pick out a box of their favorite cookies, or buy all the raspberries they want?
    *make a charitable donation in the kid’s name?
    *teach them how to do something cool (whistle with your fingers, fold an origami swan, draw something cool, say a funny phrase in a foreign language, speak pig latin, make a paper airplane, etc.)?
    There are a ton of ways to give that don’t involve STUFF.

  82. @ hush – AMEN! I agree with everything you said.@ kakaty: I *love* your rules. I’m going to try hard to implement them in our house henceforth.
    @ Foster: My one guest per year of age policy does not extend to family parties with grandparents, aunts, etc. It’s purely a ‘friend party’ rule.
    It’s a tricky line to walk, all this balancing between the evolving culture and traditional etiquette and pragmatism and wanting to give our kids a wonderful experience AND wanting to teach them things like generosity, thankfulness and manners. AND not wanting to wrestle a sugared up, overexcited, child into a car at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon after a birthday party.

  83. I’m reading with huge interest.My soon to be 5 year old will be having a party (my year to host) and has been to so many parties over the past year in which gifts were present. It seems like where I live the “no gifts” parties end around the 4th birthday. I’m torn because I need balance reciprocating the many invites from past 6 months from both daycare and neighbourhood, with the fact that my son will likely not see the children he has been with at daycare since he was 18 months old after the summer…..crazy as it could be 18 kids!!!!! That’s too many presents for 5 year old to handle. But I want him to learn how to handle receiving graciously. I have encountered too many adults who do not know how to receive a gift graciously. And similar to other posters, I think it’s the decision of the guest to decide to bring a gift or not. What I want my son to learn (and it might not happen) is to thank friends for coming to his party, and to graciously accept a gift or not – just like he has been learning about giving gifts to others.
    Some background – no family here on my side or his fathers. He receives money from both sets of grandparents for birthdays. I make choice to put it in his educ fund or to purchase a gift “from” his grandparents. I don’t know what his father does. My siblings don’t send presents. If they arew in town at some point or if we go to visit, there is gift exchange at that time. His father’s siblings don’t acknowledge birthdays between cousins. So, “family” celebration is non-existent. Friends are whom we celebrate with.

  84. I have had “no gift/donate here”. And I think it is becoming more of a “thing”. I know I hate all the presents the girls get. Drives me nuts and I typically give them away.

  85. Haven’t read through all the comments yet (this is obviously a hot issue for many people :P), but the wording I like, and might use for future parties with my daughter, is “No gifts necessary.” It’s not as snippy sounding as “please, no gifts” (which, as someone said upthread, has a “you won’t bring anything to our house that we want to keep anyway” connotation), but it lets people off the hook who can’t afford or don’t want to bring a present for a child they barely know. I suppose it could be looked at as TOO ambiguous for someone who’s on the fence, but to me, it is possible to interpret completely literally without anybody feeling bad. It is not necessary that you bring a gift for my child (implied: but if you want to, that’s ok, too). And I think opening presents after guests have gone helps with keeping track of who got your kid what, and keeps those who don’t bring a gift from being uncomfortable.My bigger concern about birthdays is having a party at all. When I was growing up, we had parties with immediate family, only. At the ages of 6 and 8 we got a bigger party at the skating rink or bowling alley, and at 12 we got a slumber party. For all other birthdays, I got presents just from my parents, sometimes $5 from my grandma. There were other special treats (eating out, breakfast in bed or cartoons) that made birthdays a big deal, but no party outside cake and ice cream with my parents and siblings. I don’t remember feeling bad about this, and would love to maintain the tradition with my daughter, but it seems like where I live, you’re practically expected to have a big weekend party with a bounce house and everything, even for a two-year old. And I think if I didn’t at least invite my husband’s family, they’d be offended. It frustrates me to no end, because to me, there’s no need for birthdays to be giant events before kids are even in school.

  86. I agree with what hush said.We’ve had one no-gifts party out of maybe a dozen this year, and we followed the instructions which said “if you MUST give a gift, make it art supplies” so we did a very small token art supply gift.
    I’ve thought about this because we do suffer from affluenza at my house. But…it’s not the fault of the birthday party guests, or the birthday party. It’s my husband’s and my problem for having bought a lot of ‘base toys’ and also for teaching our son to shop at garage sales where his $2/wk allowance goes too far.
    We have allowed gifts and it got out of control last year because we invited too many kids…period. In my area and at my son’s age, they don’t open the gifts at the party.
    So, we talked to our son about it and we made some choices around donating toys, mostly older ones but a couple that he had received that he wasn’t into.
    We also are alternating big/small parties and plan to tone it way down in numbers next year.
    I guess in this big ramble what I’m saying is…any storage or toy issues are something I prefer to address year-round rather than seeing the birthday party/gifts as the problem/solution.

  87. I am amazed that people are offended by “no gifts”. Amazed.In an ideal universe where every gift is a meaningful expression of friendship, I get it, gifts are wonderful to give and receive. But in reality, if your kid is invited to every birthday of every kid in his class, you’re looking at buying a gift every other week. Most of those aren’t going to be meaningful, they’re just going to be some random item that fits your budget (and that will often end up going to Goodwill or getting regifted!) I just feel like it’s often a waste of money, almost like there’s a shadowy cabal of Toys R Us managers driving the whole thing, chanting “Consume! Consume! Consume!”
    Anyone remember the study showing that your happiness with, say, a new iPad starts out high and decreases over time, but your happiness with a trip to the Grand Canyon starts out high and increases over time? I wonder if “experience parties” (someone mentioned going to the Humane Society and donating things for the animals) wouldn’t be a good option?

  88. Traditionally (e.g., if you read Miss Manners), it is considered rude to make any comment about gifts whatsoever, blatant or implied, in an invitation. Even stating where you’re registered for a wedding/shower is inappropriate (if I remember correctly, you only ever give gift ideas if people call you up and ask).I’m not saying these rules are followed now, or that customs and expectations don’t change over time (we certainly didn’t follow these rules for our wedding). But for those surprised by people offended at “no gifts” requests, it really does violate traditional ideas of etiquette, because you shouldn’t ever expect gifts for any occassion – and thus to specify “no gifts” or “please bring only books” indicates that you expect something. And there are people who refuse to buy off a registry or “follow instructions” for this very reason.
    Of course, this is completely cultural. My husband and I attended a Vietnamese wedding, not knowing that tradition dictated a card with cash in lieu of a gift. We were the only ones who brought a (large, unfortunately) wrapped present, ended up taking it back to the car because there was no gift table, and still have it almost a year later, since we haven’t seen the bride and groom since their wedding.
    There is obviously an extreme disconnect between theory and practice when it comes to manners, but I find the differences interesting all the same 🙂

  89. Wow, I’m really in the minority here. I hate the ‘no gifts’ trend. I don’t think it’s rude, it just somehow feels like it’s diminishing a part of our culture that I really enjoyed as a kid. I thought it was nice and fun to pick out a gift to bring a friend, and I loved watching the birthday boy or girl open them. (And I did enjoy receiving gifts, who didn’t?) I like that it will teach my daughter how to be a gracious and thoughtful guest, and a generous person. I’ve been to no gift parties where she then goes home with a nice favor herself, and what exactly is that teaching her?There are many ways to pick out or make a thoughtful gift. It may be a problem that people don’t know how to do that, but writing ‘no gifts’ just seems controlling to me, another symptom somehow of the overprotective culture that we live in.
    There is a lot to be learned and enjoyed with gift-giving, it seems to me that it comes with the birthday party territory, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

  90. Midwestern mom and I cannot even comprehend of a no-gifts party for a child’s birthday. That’s more something an adult would do for a gathering like an anniversary party or a 100th birthday. JMHO. So, I can’t really comment on what about when somebody brings a gift anyway. It seems to me like somebody should just say thank you and carry on.

  91. @Rachel…another symptom somehow of the overprotective culture that we live in.I completely agree. Let kids be kids, let them enjoy a party, with gifts that are opened at the party. As a parent, you can still teach giving and receiving and how to do that with grace. And as a parent, if you are concerned about clutter and excess consumption, you can also control the number of kids you invite to the party…really you can limit the guest list.

  92. “I just feel like it’s often a waste of money, almost like there’s a shadowy cabal of Toys R Us managers driving the whole thing, chanting “Consume! Consume! Consume!””I kind of feel (in a mild way) like there’s a shadowy cabal of anti-materialists who are chanting at kids under ten (and their parents) “you shouldn’t want/buy mere things.”
    And sometimes I am _one_ of them. So I sympathize. I’ve just come down on the other side for our family. We will reinforce our values around stuff 363 days a year, and birthdays and Xmas – while we won’t provide some kind of expensive fantasy-land over-the-top Party Mamas experience – will not be where we make our point. Bring a gift, don’t bring a gift – whatever, we’ll deal with it in our way when the party is over and meantime we’ll thank you and enjoy your company.
    We correct my son if he says something like “what did you get me?” but we’d also correct him if he said “why did you get me that?” – y’know?
    ‘No gifts’ or ‘books only’ is an essentially moralistic stance, similar to “no non-Christian gifts” or even to “cash-only please” because it kind of ups the transactional nature of the gifts.
    I don’t get upset about it. But I do notice.
    I feel the same way about philanthropic experience or charity parties. I wouldn’t necessarily love the idea of my son at some of the big name shelters in my city (I have issues with policies there).
    I’m pretty sure I’d still let him go, but why is your kid’s birthday party an excuse to proselytize for a cause? What about if I choose to have my kid’s birthday party at a Pride kid’s event? I mean, they do face painting.
    But I wouldn’t, because I’m aware that is pushing my values on others when really as a hostess it’s my job to make people feel welcomed and appreciated.

  93. @akeeyu, This is brilliant: “You know, I really think that people may be saying “no stuff” rather than “no gifts.” I think somehow we’ve lost the notion that gifts aren’t always about stuff. And much of this discussion is about ‘stuff’.Also, I think @sfsaf brings up a good point about the reality of the world we live in today (especially in Canada and the US) in regards to increased consumerism and accumulating of stuff, and the impact all of that has on our environment. It hasn’t always been like this. People certainly didn’t buy this much stuff in the 50’s or even in the 70’s when I grew up. You brought modest gifts to birthday parties. And they were very welcomed as you didn’t get a lot of stuff throughout the year.
    I suspect that part of the reason this is such a hot button topic is that many of us are wrestling with the realities many of us grew up with (gifts at parties) vs. our desire in the here and now to act more responsibly regarding the environment – specifically the effects of consumerism and the amassing of stuff (much of which eventually ends in landfills).
    Which brings me back to @akeeyu’s comment in that perhaps we are loosing, as a society, the art of gift giving?
    Ack, my head’s starting to hurt. I’m beginning to feel like @SarcastiCarrie …you can’t win.

  94. My head is spinning a little with this conversation – I think it’s a bit of culture shock. In the Midwest also (Michigan), and I’ve never even heard of a no-gifts party. The birthday parties I’ve attended (and hosted!) are often big and always gifty – though when I say “big” I mean “lots of kids;” none of this renting a bounce house and ponies for the yard stuff. And my two-year-old was somehow quite clear that on her birthday she would be getting cake with candles and gifts… so I’m impressed/amused by those of you whose kids are in the dark on these aspects of birthdays yet on their way to kindergarten!

  95. I’m from as WASPy a background as anybody, but it kind of puzzles me when people quote Emily Post et al when it comes to gifts and how they must never be mentioned. I think being polite is really important, but tomes of etiquette were largely being written in an era when middle-class Americans simply spent a lot less and had lower levels of consumption overall, and threw much smaller parties.People certainly didn’t buy this much stuff in the 50’s or even in the 70’s when I grew up. You brought modest gifts to birthday parties. And they were very welcomed as you didn’t get a lot of stuff throughout the year.
    Yes, exactly.
    I’m not a Grinchy anti-present person! I think celebrations are lovely. I don’t really know what to say if even experience parties are offensive, though. Modern life is so complicated, and you certainly can’t please everyone, as this discussion shows.

  96. My understanding of this is pretty much exactly in line with @Hush’s, adding only that my understanding is that specifying “no gifts” is seen as an absolute no-no both because it implies you might have been expecting them and because it prevents guests from doing what they may want to (as happened in this case). The closest I’ve seen to what seems a tasteful middle ground is a statement running toward, “We invite guests who wish to do so to consider making a contribution to [generally appealing charity]” or “… the charity of their choice.”That said, when faced with a “no gifts” request as an adult attending adult parties — shockingly, some of the people I know and whose company I enjoy don’t strictly adhere to the principles of etiquette — I’ve tended to manage it by (a) complying if I was inclined to anyway — i.e. wasn’t planning to take a gift — or (b) taking something immediately consumable — wine, chocolate, or flowers (the last listed not for eating, but for enjoying in the moment) as being “for the group” or “for the event” but not (necessarily) for the celebrant/host(ess).
    My DS is 4 and we’ve attended exactly one birthday party for another child and his parties so far have been entirely organized around a small group of family making all of this a non-issue so far for us. But I figure part of the purpose of kids’ parties is to bring kids into the world of appropriate behavior, some of which does involve giving and getting presents. And yes, in my larger life I’ve been known to regift, as well as to pass items along to Goodwill.

  97. Yes, one can limit the guest list to avoid a multitude of gifts. However, in my daughter’s preschool community, birthday parties are a primary way that parents socialize. And that’s fun for the adults! Not to mention it’s useful to know some families in my daughter’s class, for a whole host of non-party-related reasons.It’s also a way for my daughter to have a “playdate” with children we can’t/won’t/don’t know well enough to arrange a one-on-one playdate with. It’s a means for me to gauge if I’d want to spend more time with a child’s parents. And so on. So while I respect that as one solution, it would definitely have its drawbacks given the preschool culture we’re in. I’m sure that will change as my daughter grows older (and parents don’t accompany). For now, I’d rather invite more children and parents, and address the multitude of gifts in a different way.
    I think the other piece of the “no gifts” solution that I’ve heard verbalized (by the parent of the one “no gift” party we’ve been invited to) is that the friends’ presence is gift enough, that sharing a fun activity together is the point of the gathering. That is also a meaningful take on how to celebrate a special occasion–spending time together is the “treat”– as important to expose children to as the art of thoughtful gift-giving.
    Personally I think there’s room for a range of solutions to these issues, depending on the child’s age, the size of the gathering, what the “norm” is in that child’s group, one’s financial means, how close a friend it is, etc. It’s interesting to hear the viewpoints, and realize how differently people interpret these situations!

  98. We seem to see some split between “gifts” and “no gifts”. I just follow instructions and we make a card for the “no gifts” parties. Very few parties have included opening gifts- probably because so many of them are in rented space and there is so little time. The last big party we had was for my DD’s 5th birthday and I think we asked people to consider a donation for Haiti and just bring a homemade or 2nd hand “new to us” gift. Some people still bought things, but there were also some very sweet handmade things and passed along toys. We’re lucky to have a locally owned toy/book store and we usually buy our birthday gifts there. We have also gone in on gifts with other families.

  99. I’m with @Jan in the unmannered Seattle area. If it says “no gifts” I don’t bring anything except a card (child or adult parties) and I don’t worry about the metamessage or what people think of me. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to dwell on it.That being said, I also have a tendency to decline parties I’m invited to that I don’t know the honoree well and where the guest list is huge. I’m getting the sense that BabyT is similarly introverted/low-key like me so we’ll she what she thinks of the huge “everyone in the class invited” parties.
    However, I also subscribe to the one friend per year of age thing for kid parties so that’s the plan for now. I may live to eat my words (she’s going to be 2 in the fall), but we’ll see how it goes 🙂
    I personally don’t like the idea of mentioning gifts on an invite, but am happy to point people to our Amazon wishlist *if they ask*.
    For her 1 year party with our friends and their babies, we got lots of presents, and opened them afterwards. More playtime with babies that way!

  100. We had a joint 40th (for me) and 1st (for my son) birthday party. I might have confused my guests because I wrote “Your presence is our present!” on the bottom of the invitations. Every. single. guest. brought a gift for each of us. And we had a lot of guests. We are in Michigan and I haven’t seen very many ‘no gift” parties. The whole thing is annoying.

  101. Also, I got the idea to open presents after the party from this site. I had never seen that growing up in Pennsylvania 🙂 And a no-gifts party was unheard of in the 80s. However, the acceptable gift from about 5th-8th grade was $5 cash, and then it was $20 so that made it easy on the parents, I think.

  102. My 2 cents – we just had our sons 1st b’day and said on the invite ‘in lieu of gifts please bring a plate of food to share’. I thought that way people would be comfortable not bringing a gift and it meant I didn’t have to monitor RSVPs for catering purposes etc – but when people bought a gift and food – which many did I was embarassed and can only assume they thought I’d just said it to be polite…

  103. “People certainly didn’t buy this much stuff in the 50’s or even in the 70’s when I grew up. You brought modest gifts to birthday parties. And they were very welcomed as you didn’t get a lot of stuff throughout the year.”I personally think a lot of it really is the “throughout the year” piece. What I dislike are toys with meals, if you want a cultural toy bugaboo. 🙂
    “I don’t really know what to say if even experience parties are offensive, though.”
    It’s the charity aspect that makes me uncomfortable, just to be clear. I am all about experiences. I just am not a fan of putting small kids in the middle of a decision about whether to support a charity and go to a friend’s birthday party, or not go ’cause we don’t support the charity. (FTR I would mostly decide in favour of the former.)

  104. Normally I hate commenting after the thread is practically already dead, but this is a topic I feel strongly about. I live in NYC and I always have no gifts parties for my son (soon to turn 3). Well, last year I did a book exchange with the other attendees, which worked out well.We DO NOT need, nor do we have space for, the plastic crap that many people are going to give. People don’t open the gifts at the parties (which are not usually in their own homes, anyway), so the kids don’t have to be aware that birthday parties are about giving gifts. (At least, not yet. I imagine it changes as they get older.)
    Relatedly, the thing I hate most about these parties is the ridiculous goodie bags that always get foisted on us. I wish Oriental Trading would spontaneously combust and cease to exist.
    I recently went to two parties that suggested we donate to their favorite charities, which I gladly did. I really prefer this option so much.
    Finally, when I do have to get a gift, I always get a nice quality book. I’m just not going to be complicit in getting kids more disposable crap.

  105. I love “no gifts” parties. I tend to bring a consumable food item, though – cookies for the kids, etc. (I clear it with the parents ahead of time) since I was taught never go to party empty-handed. I like the idea of not having people bringing in a bunch of cheap junk to my kids, too.

  106. @Hush: I couldn’t agree more!@Kakaty: Nice rules!
    Here are my data points:
    First and second birthdays were teeny tiny affairs at home; yes there, were some other kids, but just a couple. Mostly adults. I said no gifts (because, obviously a one or two year old barely has a concept of what a birthday is), but still got some anyway.
    Third birthday party was the first real party (a few kids at a playground with pizza). I said nothing about gifts (because IME, the ‘no gifts’ directive is routinely ignored) and we got some random stuff, some of which I re-gifted or donated. No big deal.
    Fourth birthday was pretty big– my son personally named 13 kids he wanted to invite, and given that most of the kids know each other it’s hart to cut one from the guest list but not the other, YKWIM. I have always felt it is kind of tacky to tell people what kind of gift to bring, but, oh well, I guess I’m tacky: our invite said, “No gifts are necessary, but if you’d like to bring something we’d especially appreciate books and art supplies.” I know it’s a breach of etiquette, but IME, most people like to know what the kid wants– and my kid actually plays with all the presents he got this year (pens, paper, paints, etc.) which is awesome.
    FWIW, I think for a kid older than 4 or 5, saying ‘no gifts’ kind of sucks for the kid. I think it is possible to teach your kid to be appreciative and thoughtful without taking away their birthday presents. We wrote thank you notes the day of and the day after the party and several months later, my son still remembers where the various items came from (and even expressed his appreciation again, months later, for one item in particular, which really surprised me). We don’t routinely get new stuff, so his birthday really is a special occasion as far as new toys/play things are concerned.

  107. I think it’s terribly sweet that your son had a specific gift in mind for a friend – and I feel that in that case it was appropriate to bring it.In general, I take no gifts requests at face value. I’ve had several no gifts parties because we tend to have large birthday parties, and the number of gifts they generate is huge. We live in a small apartment in San Francisco, and there really isn’t anywhere to put all the stuff.
    That said, when people bring gifts anyway, I’m not annoyed – and as my kids get older, I anticipate we’ll try for smaller parties and regular gift giving. (And thank you notes, which we entirely failed at this last year. I’m mortified.)

  108. I’m in OR and I see parties go both ways. When an invite says no gifts I don’t bring gifts. When our kids have birthday gatherings we always request no gifts, and we mean it. We usually ask that people bring their favorite snack, a list of their favorite books that they’ve read recently, and as my kids both have birthdays in early to mid spring, people have the option of bringing seeds or starts to exchange. My kids get so stressed out with gifts. There are always too many of them to be able to give them as much attention as they would like. And honestly I don’t have the space or inclination to deal with so much “stuff” and as my kids are 3 and 5, it is still me who has to deal with much of it.Personally I hate it when people bring gifts anyway. I feel like if people really can’t help themselves they should give the gift later on the sly and not necessarily expect to get to watch them open it if there is no good opportunity away from the group.I don’t however feel guilty when I don’t bring a gift and others have. I do always have my kids make handmade cards.
    I think we’re lucky though as our circle of friends and kids all seem to think fairly alike so more often than not this is only an issue with family.

  109. Wow. A lot of comments here!I don’t like the “no gifts” parties for one simple reason — I want my daughter to have the opportunity to make a generous gesture. In return, I want her to have the opportunity to be gracious and say thank you.

  110. Ok, so, we live really close to my entire family- kids grandparents, great grandparents and even as far as cousins who are barely RELATED get invited to the parties for our children. I haven’t had more than one or two guests come that aren’t related, and all of our parties seem to run the same way (“all” here meaning “all of the children, from my nieces,kids and cousins kids”) We attend, gifts are given, opened, finger foods, cake and ice cream are served, talking and/or playing happens, we go home) I don’t think that I could throw a party for either of my kids that said “no gifts” and have anybody listen to me. Of course, my family, “the barbarian horde” kind of has their own way of doing things, some of them I have to fight (the whole point of a smash cake for a one year old is for the CHILD to decide what to do with it? Hello?) But yeah, I would gladly do “no gifts” and be happy. And the younger child would not care. Wish that I could not have to open with everyone watching them- there have been several instances of people (stupidly) getting their feelings hurt because the then three year old liked the sleeping beauty doll her aunt bought her better than the clothes that a cousin brought. (The kid won’t like clothes more than toys for a LONG LONG time- it is still appreciated, of course…)

  111. My son is about to turn two, and we are having a “no gifts necessary” party at a park. Why? Because half the invitees are colleagues of mine who have babysat for him (and who will have fun socializing) but have no desire or inclination to figure out what a two year old wants, and I wanted to let them off the hook. I suspect the people with kids will bring presents, but I don’t care one way or the other.At this age, it’s easy, because my son has no expectations for presents (although he is definitely expecting cake). The comments above indicate that this is going to get much more complicated as he gets older. I will definitely keep in mind going forward that there is a ridiculously large spectrum of opinion on this topic and hope my child’s friends’ parents will, too.

  112. I am really late to this discussion because I’ve been busy preparing for my twins’ four-year-old party! It’s on Sunday. What we did – because they have so many books, craft supplies that there just aren’t enough hours in the day for them to play with them all – was put a charity donation suggestion down the bottom of the invitation. What we said was: “Please consider, instead of bringing A and B a present, donating to children’s charities XXXXXX and YYYYYY.” After reading this discussion, I’d change it to “Please consider, if you had planned on buying E and L a present, instead donating to ….” And I really do hope that a lot of people choose that option.I’d just rather other less fortunate kids benefit as well from my girls celebrating their birthdays (and they’re so excited simply about the party – not once have they mentioned getting presents).
    I LOVE akeeyu’s suggestions for alternative “gifts”. And akeeyu, I miss your blog.

  113. I haven’t read all of the posts here but we were recently invited to birthday party that had at least 50 or more guests for a 2 year old and there wasn’t a ‘no gifts please’ on the invite. We brought a gift, but REALLY????? Does a 2 year old really need 50 gifts? I was highly annoyed. The party really wasn’t for the kid, it was for the adults, so WHY would you NOT have a no gifts request????

  114. Haven’t had time to read all the comments.Another family in our preschool solved the “my kid realllly wants to bring a present for the birthday kid” even when the invite says no gifts problem this way: The “present” is a box of bandaids and perhaps a hand-made picture.
    Gotta admit, I wouldn’t buy themed bandaids for my own household, but it’s become a great, inexpensive token that lasts a while.

  115. When my daughter (age 3.5) got invited to parties of her preschool classmates, we followed the indication on the invite. If the invite said “no gifts,” we went to Target, found the $0.99 section of cards, and she chose a birthday card for her classmate. The morning of the party, I gave her a cup of crayons and a pile of little stickers and she decorated the card. I added some actual birthday wishes with a pen, wrote the kids name on the envelope, and that was what we brought to the party. Still honored the party-givers’ wishes, and my daughter still had a chance to learn about giving and being thoughtful and choosing something special for a friend.

  116. Wow…I agree that the no gifts thing is fine and should be followed and not ignored. I love the idea of a book exchange…much more fun for the kids. I hate the goodie bags.But, please people, DO NOT make CDs of your favorite kid songs and pass them out. Unless you are willing to buy real copies of the music for everyone, this is illegal!! When you copy CDs, you are cheating the musician out of their royalties and that is how they make their living. So please don’t do it, because you are teaching the kids that it’s okay to do as well. It’s the same as walking into a store and shoplifting.

  117. I’m about to send out invitations this weekend, and I’ve been debating this issue for weeks. The girl is turning 4, so it’s not the first time, but we recently moved from Portland to Los Angeles and the culture here is very different. Here’s a version of what a friend suggested: “M would love a treasure you found in nature, something you baked, something your child made or a book or a toy you’re ready to pass on.” I love this because it incorporates presents in a largely unstressful way. My girl would love a handful of marbles or rocks, dried flowers, a well loved old book or doll or just about anything else. We do most of our toy and clothes shopping at goodwill and garage sales, so brand new toys are foreign and unappreciated in our house.

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