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Letter To Myself: Your 'No-Gifts' Birthday Party Idea Was A Real Downer

When good intentions and cultural expectations collide. (verjaardag/flickr)
When good intentions and cultural expectations collide. (verjaardag/flickr)
This article is more than 8 years old.

Dear Hinda,

You thought you were doing your friends a favor by asking them not to bring baby gifts to your daughter’s first birthday party. You even thoughtfully crafted a sentence in the invitation that asked them to please bring a dish to share “in lieu of a gift.”

You should not have hit “send” on your PDF invite.

You thought you were being enlightened and anti-consumerist. You thought you were saving your friends money, a trip to the toy store and the hassle of gift shopping.

Your intentions might well have been sincere, but really, you were just being annoying.

Because, in effect, you unintentionally mandated that your friends bring a dish to share and a gift.

Nice going.

“No one goes to a 1-year-old’s birthday party and doesn’t bring a gift,” your wise friend Ellen said at the festivities, as you both stared at the growing pile of wrapped presents.

But you knew this already! Or did you forget the gift table, buckling beneath the weight of so many gifts at that 1-year-old’s birthday party last winter? “I thought the invitation said ‘no gifts,’” your husband muttered. To which you replied, while slipping a simple card on top of the pile, “People always bring gifts. They don’t listen.”

'No one goes to a 1-year-old’s birthday party and doesn’t bring a gift,' your wise friend Ellen said at the festivities, as you both stared at the growing pile of wrapped presents.

You should have known that a simple request on an emailed invitation would be weak ammunition against the deeply-embedded social etiquette that commands us to bring wrapped presents to a birthday party, not to mention a first one. You went to grad school and studied the way cultural hegemony works. You went all cerebral on yourself and cast your daughter’s birthday through this highfalutin lens. Your reasoning went like this: we feel compelled to obey social norms (in this case, bringing gifts), even if it’s not in our best interest (in this case, needlessly spending money while contributing to toy box metastasis). So you innocently asked friends and family to buck societal expectations.

Who do you think you are?

Apparently, you fancy yourself part of a growing trend of parents who write some version of "your presence is present enough" on their tots’ invitations. You have no proof that such a trend exists, mind you. Which didn't prevent you from conjuring one in your defense when explaining your stance to your mother and sister, who thought you'd gone goofy.

I know. I know. You got freaked out by the 2012 UCLA study detailing the extent of our clutter-crazed culture. But if you don’t want gifts for your child, then don’t throw a first birthday party for her.

And that link you’re considering adding to next year’s invitation? The one suggesting a donation to a charity instead of a gift? You think you’re spreading the material love to others. You think you’re ahead of the pack on this one.

Get over yourself.

Didn’t you read the New York Times story from 2007 about the havoc that such a request is wreaking on birthday parties everywhere? It's resulted in a new breed of competition over whose birthday raises the most dough. Besides, if you do that, you’re all but requiring that your guests make a donation, schlep a dish to pass and bring a gift.

Not cool, self.

If you’re so concerned about those who don’t have any presents on their first birthdays, then make your own donations.

At your child’s party, just let your guests have their cake and eat it, too.

Remember. This is America. Any attempts to curtail consumerism are futile. Besides, that glow-in-the-dark unicorn pillow your sister-in-law gave your kid is really something.




Hinda Mandell Cognoscenti contributor
Hinda Mandell, a Boston-area native, is associate professor in the School of Communication at RIT in Rochester, New York.



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