When I was a kid, birthday parties were thrown at home and consisted of three elements:
1) Food: Cake (and one that generally looked like this)
2) Décor: party hats, a few stray balloons, a lone streamer taped to a wall somewhere.
3) Entertainment: pin the tail on the donkey, duck-duck-goose and an overall scene that looked a little like this.
Maybe this was just the norm for the ’70s, but I certainly don’t remember going to anything like the ones my kids go to today. For some reason, children’s birthday parties have morphed these full-scale events – one more elaborate or creative then the next! The birthday scene is big business in NYC, and I am simply amazed at the amount of places that have cropped up just to throw “theme” parties. I recently found myself at a birthday party for a one-year-old who not only slept through the whole birthday party but also had a full petting zoo of tiny animals set up in their apartment. A petting zoo. In a New York apartment. Have we really gone that far?
Tides are a turning though and even though people still want to throw great parties for their kids, they also want to give back while doing so which I think is great. Now that the ceremonial “oooohh-ahhhh” of gift opening in front of the guests after eating a cheap cake is a relic of the past (sigh…), a great deal of invitations I get these days have a “no gifts” policy and ask guests to bring something else.
Here are a few creative ideas that have been going around in the hood:
•Recipe Book – Have everyone bring a favorite recipe that they eat as a family. Put together the book at the end and pick a night each week to try one of their friends’ favorite foods!
•Book Donations – Ask your guests to donate a new or gently used copy of your child’s favorite book. Donate to the childrens library at school.
•Charity – Have families donate on behalf of you child to a favorite charity. It’s so easy to set things up on-line these days and will help your child learn about the importance of giving to others.
•Song CD – have people email a favorite song that their child likes. Download from itunes and make a CD for all the kids to take home.
If you have any other ideas, please post them!
I live in Japan and we belong to a bilingual playgroup, the gifts/no gifts thing is always an issue so this year we came up with a new plan. Since it is the same kids which are invited each time, the parents of the birthday child buy a book for the child then stick in a book plate that I designed which has space for the child’s name and year and then simply says it is from their playgroup friends. This way, the child gets a gift to open, it is a present which is a suitable level/interest and it gets rid of the whole, should I/shouldn’t I take a gift problem.
I write about kids’ birthday parties for About.com, so your post is really interesting to me. Petting zoos in NYC apartments?! That’s hilarious.
On my site, I try to show people how to have meaningful birthdays with less money, and a lot of times that means making things by hand (decorations, favors).
Here are a couple of my articles along those lines:
Saving money on party favors–
A handmade favor idea (custom coloring books)–
With my own kids, I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to do the \no gifts\ thing, but our guests never listen so I finally gave up last month when our youngest turned 2. I think giving the gifts a theme (like secondhand books) might work better than my wording on invitations (\your presence is gift enough\).
Anyhow, thanks for the interesting post. We’ve given CDs as favors before–they were a hit.
For my kids I’ve hosted several book exchanges and these have been a huge hit with the parents and the kids alike. Each child brings a wrapped book (new or in good condition). In lieu of opening presents the birthday boy or girl passes out the books to each of his friends (including choosing one for himself. All at once they open the books and after the excitement there is usually a big sit-down reading session. This has taken the place of party favors and everyone is happy. A nice bonus is you get some great ideas for new books. I can’t say enough about it!
Hurrah. So pleased you blogged this. I am desperately trying to get my circle of friends not to fall into the presents trap of gifts just going round and round and our little ones having “too much” to play with. Will def keep popping back to see what other suggestions people have made.
So far (in the reverse sense), as a guest, I have offered to make cupcakes instead of bringing a gift… and if i can, i discuss gifts before and make a “pact” not to do mutual gifts. Doesn’t always work though.. I guess in future, I will offer doing a party activity (e.g. art session), but our little ones are still too little (coming up to 2 years..).
From the type of parties -some- of my girlfriends in the States are throwing, I am so very glad the elaborate, huge party has -not- caught on yet in Germany.
Here, the general rule is invite as many guests as the birthday child is old, plus one. Gifts are usualy around 10-15 Euro and we have cake and a few party games. I have not yet been to a child’s no-gift party, but lower expense and fewer guests help keep things in check.
…and the kids still have a great time!
Laura (american expat in germany)
People will not listen to such request. Accept all presents with an open heart. I don’t like to be invaded with a million toys, specially ones that weren’t to my daughters liking. I never open all the toys unless she loves them. I donate all toys or I sell them afterwards. It’s a win-win situation. We can change the flow of toys that come in your house without having to have people change their views about conservation.
Hi Dina! I found your post while researching no gifts etiquette (and my lack thereof). I love your ideas especially the cd since I’m a music lover. However, I know I’d probably drop the ball in the end and never get the music on cds to hand out. Although I would thoroughly enjoy the music! Parties (even the lower cost, barely themed ones) seem to take a lot of coordination and effort. No wonder there’s a market for kids’ party planners!
I just wanted to put it out there, that I did a no gifts kid party with great results. Of course we still received gifts, but it certainly relieved a lot of the pressure on all sides. I wrote about it on my blog and thought you may be interested. You can find it here:
I love the idea of your site and friends around the world. Have any jens?
Best wishes, jenH (Encinitas, CA)
I never understood the no gifts for kids. Lets be honest. gifts are fun to give and to get. why take that away from a child! I could be in the minority here, but thats how i feel (about children’s parties at least)
I agree with you! Gifts are supposed to go together with Bday parties- it’s the fun of it! Especially the young kids… I hate it when I get an invitation that says “no gifts”… I bring one anyway. And the fact that that some parents do this without telling their kids is crazy, because one party I went to the parents had told me “no gifts” but when I got there, the kid was asking everyone if they brought a gift for him. Thank goodness some people igorned the request like me. (the kid was I think age 6) So he didn’t understand the no gift thing. 🙁
I agree as well… I LOVE giving gifts, for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries as well as just because. Nothing has to be expensive, and often find myself resorting to handmade gifts, just yesterday I made my fiancees Easter basket with things solely from the dollar tree, only $13 bucks for a bucket that was overflowing. Most people think of it as buying someone else out, but that isn’t nearly what it is. I think it’s about showing your love, and appreciation in a tangible form. Of course no one NEEDS gifts, but how great is it to get a little something every now and then. I’m glad I have never been invited to a “no gift” party, otherwise the host would have been thoroughly disappointed when i arrived with a gift. 🙂 OH, and Karla:: I think that would be the biggest bummer in the world. I have a 5 year old niece who will be 6 this June, and I couldn’t bear to see disappointment in her face as each person showed up without a gift. Like i said before, it isn’t that we need gifts.. it’s just nice to get a little something new every now and then.
I applied this idea to Christmas last year rather than the bday.
Since Christmas is a celebration of spirit, we donated to our favorite cause.
We make up for gifts on birthdays though!