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Why I Put ‘No Gifts Please’ on My Daughter’s Birthday Invitations

birthday-2I can still remember the first time I saw ‘No gifts, please’ printed on a formal invitation. It was my grandparents’ 50th anniversary and it blew my mind that anyone would tell someone not to bring them a present. (I was 10 at the time, my entire world revolved around presents.) When I asked my mom about it she said “Grandma and Grandpa don’t really need anything, they just want to celebrate with their friends and enjoy their company.”

Huh.

People brought gifts anyway — I’ve finally figured out that when someone is really important to you, you bring them a gift even when they tell you not to.

Addie’s birthday is 11 days before Christmas, and for 10 solid years I have made every effort to keep her birthday and Christmas separate. She’s never technically had a birthday party, partly because birthday parties are not my thing and partly because it’s 11 days before Christmas. Everyone is busy, including me. Adding one more thing to people’s already busy schedules seems mean. Addie has always preferred a special night out with one or two friends over a party, but now that Vivi’s here and she’s made the rounds on the 3rd grade birthday party circuit, she wanted to give a birthday party a shot.

So we agreed, as long as ‘No Gifts Please’ was part of the invitation.

She looked at me as though I had just told her mermaids eat unicorns for breakfast, and I get it. Part of the fun of having a birthday party is the presents, but if we’re going to do this party thing, I want it to be about her spending time with her friends doing something she loves — not about inviting as many people as possible to get as many presents as possible. She isn’t going to lack for gifts come December 14th, and she certainly doesn’t lack in the stuff department even before her birthday.

Quality over quantity. That’s the idea.

Her party will be at her gym, where she does gymnastics twice a week. Her friends will be able to share in what she loves and I won’t have to clean my house in preparation for a dozen 3rd graders and their parents. There will a be spectacular cake, because a spectacular cake makes any birthday better. It will be simple, it will give parents a chance to do a little secret shopping or wrapping for a couple of hours and it will be good for the kids to run around and jump like crazy on a cold Saturday afternoon.

Now that we’re heavy into the planning with themed cups, napkins and plates the idea of no presents has faded from Addie’s mind; after all, she’s never received gifts from friends on previous birthdays because she’s never had a real party before, so her expectations are pretty low. Someone once asked if putting a no presents request on a child’s birthday invitation was tacky, but as a parent I see it as a sigh of relief — no need to try and figure out what some kid I barely know would want and possibly crowding their house with crap they don’t care about (which is why I’m always the parent that gives gift cards or asks parents what their child would like when I RSVP.) If the invitation is from a kid we know well, we will of course choose an appropriate gift and give it to them separate from the party. What I do think is tacky is putting gift registries or requests for specific gifts on birthday invitations. I once received one that read “Thomas would like gift cards for video games.”

If you’re that concerned about the gifts people will be bring, ask people not to bring them at all — or save the money you’d spend on a party and buy Thomas gift cards yourself.

Yes, I do feel some form of parental guilt for not allowing my kid to rack up presents at her own birthday party, but this is one instance where I feel it’s an important lesson to learn that parties aren’t about the presents, and birthdays aren’t about acquiring stuff, stuff and more stuff. December already makes my skin crawl with how commercial everything has become, no need to feed into it. (And in case you want to argue with me that I wouldn’t be doing this if her birthday were in the summer? I assure you, I’d feel the exact same way.)

How would you feel as a parent if you received an invitation that requested no gifts? Would you or have you ever put it on your own child’s invitations?

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Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy or her Babble Voices site Shutterlovely. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.

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