I think the “no gifts, please” trend on kiddie birthday party invitations is rude. There, I said it, and it’s a relief to get this unpopular opinion off my chest. Judging from the amount of gift-less parties we have attended in the last few years, I am clearly in the minority on this one, but let me explain.
- Invitations are not the place to say anything about gifts. This is an ironclad etiquette rule from back in the day. Unless it’s a shower (and even then some etiquette experts cringe), an invitation to an event shouldn’t say a word about gifts because events are about people, not presents. Mentioning gifts turns them into obligations. The best thing to do is to say nothing about presents on an event invitation. The same goes for using birthday parties as a reason to raise money for an event. Even if you are telling guests to bring donations, you are still telling them to bring something, and that’s not appropriate on an invitation. This even applies to asking for books for a book exchange—great idea; not invitation-appropriate.
- Gifts at birthday parties are a cultural expectation, and violating expectations makes people feel uncomfortable, which is the exact opposite of good manners. Think about it: manners are supposed to make us feel at ease. We have all been to a “no gifts” party where someone brought a gift anyway. This makes all of the non-gift bringers feel bad, and sometimes it makes the host act in an ungracious way. Discomfort all around! And, going back to the first item on the list, the party is, for a moment at least, all about gifts, which is just yucky.
- A “no gifts message” has a rude subtext that makes the host sound ungrateful. People appreciate the work and expense that goes into a birthday party, and it’s fun to show the host or at least the host’s child how much they appreciate the party and want to celebrate the birthday child. Sure, you can always have your kiddo make a card and maybe bring a small treat to the birthday kid, but the “no gifts” request can make guests feel unwelcome before the event even begins. It’s like saying to your guests Look, I know you are going to buy gauche plastic toys that take up too much space in my house, so just forget it. Or, My snowflake lives in an abundant land of plenty. They don’t need more things, unlike other gift-grubbing children. Or even Ugh, look, we’re just going to take it back, so save us the trip.
So what do you do instead of requesting no gifts?
- If parents of guests ask you what to get, you can tell them about the fundraiser for the local animal shelter your kid wants to support. You can mention that your kid loves homemade crafts from friends. You can suggest a book or two. You can even tell them a gift is not necessary. If asked what to buy the birthday child, think about things your kid can use, and think about the feelings of your guests.
- Purge before the party, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by all the toys in your house.
- Talk with your child before the party and suggest that they donate some toys to a nearby charity so they can share the birthday wealth.
- Scale down the birthday party to make gifts manageable. Want fewer presents? Invite fewer friends.
- Squelch any greed monsters living in your house. Remind your kids that presents are treats, not requirements. That way, they will be delighted to receive anything, and you can use the party as a gratitude exercise. Your birthday child can practice good manners by thanking guests in person and again via thank you note, and they can make or help you buy a tiny present for each party guest as well.
Listen, I get it. Nobody wants to drown in plastic clutter, and lots of people privilege experiences over material possessions. But, really, it’s rude to talk about gifts on invitations in any context. So, you need to be a gracious host to your guests and think about their feelings, not your own. To be honest, the biggest reason I think this trend is rude is that is just smacks of elitism and makes guests feel like their offerings could never be good enough, which might be the opposite of the intended message but still has the potential to hurt some feelings.
One more thing: If you have a “no gifts” party and someone is gauche enough to bring a gift anyway, you have to be nice about it. This should go without saying, but this past year, I didn’t notice the “no gifts” request on an evite, and my kid showed up with a tissue-paper-stuffed, super-hero gift bag. The host mom? Almost didn’t take the present, which was so uncomfortable for me, for her, and for my child. I ended up apologizing for bringing a present, and we both felt stupid.
Next time you host a party, make a choice to be grateful for your guests and whatever they bring—or don’t bring—to the party. Remember, their presence is the real present.