A Case for Giftless Birthday Parties

Little Man turned three this weekend. yay! sob. hooray! weep.

Last year I shared why his birthday will likely always be a bit of a bittersweet anniversary, but this year those sentiments were compounded further by the sobering realization that: 3 = no longer a baby.

look at that big boy!

We hosted a simple backyard celebration with our dear neighbors (old and new), a dash of a choo-choo train theme thrown in for good measure. He’s obsessed.


simplest cake in the history of ever, because I’m no martyr. much obliged, costco.
train whistle favors– dollar store for the win


We have to keep things simple for Little Man, who, 16 months home from China, is still easily over-stimulated and shies away from the spotlight. Nixing gifts was an easy remedy and a relief to all.

If I’m being frank, I’m not really a fan of the whole gift-opening portion of the modern birthday party, anyhow…

We have all been witness to gift-opening meltdowns, where frustrated little ones wilt half way through the parade of gifts and accompanying obligatory exhibition of jubilation and gratitude for each item. The whole ritual can be over-stimulating and exhausting. Kids want to enjoy the party, too. They want to spend time with their guests and celebrate.

You surely think me an Ebeneazer now, but I assure you that we buy gifts for our kids. Our entire extended family sends birthday gifts for them. They still receive plenty of birthday presents, just not from their friends. Long before my kids were socially-starved Homeschool Kids (<—- joke) they just wanted to enjoy their parties and play with their friends.

Years ago, we nixed the gift opening portion of the party– packages were simply taken home to be unwrapped after the festivities (and inevitable sugar high) ended. We found it helpful to warn guests upon arrival, “Thank you for coming, we’re so glad you’re here– we can’t wait to celebrate with you! Thank you for the lovely gift, just a heads up that ____ won’t be opening them here at the party today, we just want [him/her] to enjoy [his/her] time with you all.”

Gradually, we hosted parties with an “in lieu of” printed plainly on the invitations. At a couple parties the girls collected new and gently used shoes to send to less fortunate children. Their donations went overseas to friends serving full-time in Africa, but this could also obviously be done on the local level. Center Sister once attended a fun bash at the local animal shelter where guests were encouraged to donate a dog/cat toy or food in lieu of gifts.

Here’s the thing: My kids don’t miss the present-centric birthdays. Their parties are a barrel of laughs that they anticipate and plan months in advance. This awesome Birthday Bike-a-Palooza? No gifts, tons of fun. We still do cake, and candles, and games, and singing. They still receive gifts from family, and promptly send hand-written thank yous for each. They are hardly deprived.


They also still attend plenty of birthdays where gifts are exchanged, and we happily participate. We aren’t offended by the custom, but have merely found a new tradition for our own family.


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