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What is a No-Gift Birthday Party?

At a no-gift birthday party, children celebrate their friendship instead of presents.
The host of a no-gift birthday party may ask invitees to bring food for the local food bank.
No-gift parties might focus on games and fun activities for attendees instead of presents.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2014
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A no-gift birthday party is a party where guests have been specifically requested to refrain from bringing gifts. There are a number of different styles of such parties, and there are a variety of reasons to decide to hold one. People who have been invited to a giftless party might think it's a bit strange, but it is important to respect the wishes of the people hosting the party. Those who are considering throwing a party should consider some things before taking the plunge.

This concept generally specifically applies to children's parties, since adults may celebrate their birthdays in different ways, and many adults do not expect gifts at their birthday celebrations. Many parents started turning to no-gift birthday parties because they were concerned that gifts placed a heavy emphasis on consumerism, and some of them wanted their children to embrace values of charity and fellowship. Others felt that the cost of birthday presents could get prohibitive for the parents of children with lots of friends, and holding a birthday party without gifts allows those parents to participate without feeling pressured or guilty.

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An invitation to this type of party usually includes a small line that says “no gifts please.” In other cases, the invitation may indicate that the hosts of the party are collecting donations for a charity. Attendees may donate if they wish, or donate to another charity if they do not support the cause that the hosts are collecting for. Some parents believe that teaching children about charity at a young age is important, and that parties without gifts may be ultimately more rewarding and enjoyable.

Some children seem comfortable with the idea of a no-gift party; in fact, some might even suggest it, especially if they have attended a no-gift party for a friend. Others might be extremely opposed, since the concept does seem to go against the very tradition of a birthday party. Parents who are thinking about having a no-gift birthday party should talk it over carefully with their children before committing, and they would do well to ask their children for input on what should be done with donations or funds collected.

The goal behind the party is to get a group of kids together to celebrate their friendship. Cake and food may still be served, and entertainments such as party games are typically on offer. Presents, however, are kept absent, with any gifts from the parents or close friends being given privately, and gift bags for attendees are usually not a part of the party planning.

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anon301576
Post 19

I grew up in a third world country and my birthday was very close to New Years! I never got gifts because a lot of our friends and relatives didn't have much and were most likely broke after Christmas.

Birthdays would always consist of a few dishes, like spaghetti. There will be cake and if we're lucky, ice cream! I remember looking forward to all the cake and ice cream the most. I moved to Canada when I was 12 and most birthdays stayed the same, only cake and ice cream was not so special anymore because it's available for me to eat all the time. The only time I had a pile of gifts was for my 18th birthday. I remember the gifts and appreciated them dearly, but what I really treasure the most was the party itself. And I don't feel like I've been deprived.

I think a no gifts party is a great idea. People shouldn't feel pressured to give a gift. Times are hard. If you really want to give something,stick to gift cards or money. Then it's much easier for the family to buy something they truly need and like or giving it to charity.

But there's always an exception to the rule. If you feel like there's something really thoughtful you would like to give someone, go ahead and tell them you understand the no gift thing but this gift really made you think of them.

anon285089
Post 18

Well, we feel like the gifts are a little too much for our daughter. Plus, our daughter inherited a ton of stuff from her older cousins (with more to come!). But there are websites that enable people to donate to charity online in our angel's name.

People still brought gifts so angel definitely didn't miss out.

anon226027
Post 17

Oh, and another thing: my kids will always get gifts from my husband and me, and probably other family members too, to "celebrate the day they were born," but it's really not necessary to shower them with toys and things that they will play with for a week (tops) in order to celebrate your love for them. I'd like to throw some lessons in there that will help them in the long run, while I'm at it.

anon226024
Post 16

I am in love with this idea, and in fact am planning a donation party for my daughter's seventh birthday - with her completely excited blessing. She has picked the Arkansas Children's Hospital to be the recipient of the donations, and I am very proud of her selflessness. This is what this sort of gesture teaches - selflessness. Everyone knows that kids are way too indulged these days. Every time you walk into a Target, they want to go straight to the toy aisle, where most of the time, we leave with some sort of toy. I can think of no better way to teach them a lesson in giving.

anon169964
Post 15

I completely disagree with Post #14 - Little Johnnie didn't have to have a birthday party in the first place and just because mom is tired of picking up broken toys that little Johnnie doesn't ever play with anyway, doesn't make her a scrooge.

We are planning a party for my seven year old and are considering doing a charity party - we are inviting over 20 kids and the thought of 20 more "Made in China" toys with tiny little pieces coming into my house is horrifying to me. We also have a very large family that will no doubt give him more Made in China garbage.

We just went to a charity party and donated bags of dog food and cat food and we thought it was a great idea. Don't get me wrong: both my kids had big parties when they turned five and got plenty of gifts, but now my oldest is seven and doesn't really play with toys. He has about 200 hot wheels and that's all he plays with. He would rather be outside riding his bike.

anon167121
Post 14

"Please give to a charity instead of little Johnny". This is teaching them what, exactly? That your mom is a Scrooge? That she wants to suck all the fun out of a child's party? I would be mortified if my friends decided to give to charity instead, and I'm over 40! I can't wait to see what people came up with! It's a gesture that says "I care about you, want to honor you on you special day, and I took time out of my busy schedule to find something for you that I thought YOU would like." Doesn't have to be expensive at all, just put thought into it, that's all.

If you want your kids to learn about giving to charity and helping others, take them with you and go volunteer at a local shelter or work with a chosen charity. This will drive the point home much better than opting out of a child's gift. Please. "Donating" in an honoree's name a few times a year isn't going to teach your kids squat, people, duh. Geez, when did parents decide that kids couldn't be kids and enjoy all that goes along with it?

I would never, ever do this no gift party with one of my kids. How insensitive. The whole point of a party is to celebrate the day they were born, and giving to someone or someone else on their day is inconceivable. Too many toys? Before every party, we go through all the toys and decide what to keep and what to give away to charity. This way, there's not a pile of toys we'll never get to the bottom of, and kids in need get some great items in great shape that they wouldn't have had otherwise.

Some of my fondest memories are of my childhood birthday parties, and yes, I even remember some of the gifts with fondness. Don't take that away from your child by attempting to stress a "value" on their day. This is a "value" you should be teaching them all year long, not on birthdays, ever. Nuts.

Consumerism? Honoring someone you care about with a gift is consumerism? Since when? If you're going crazy with buying junk on Valentines Day, Easter, or these other consumer driven "holidays", yet skipping the kid's birthday gifting, you're totally missing the point. Boy, am I glad none of you were my mom. Some of you sound like cold, insensitive parents.

Make their day special, let guests bring gifts if they wish, if they want to honor your child on their birthday, a gift for someone else is hardly going to make your point. Bring a gift and save the value of helping others for a more appropriate time.

anon156247
Post 13

I think we can have a common ground. A few gifts are great as long as kids have some thoughtful gifts, and others can give donation to add to college funds or charity. i think both are important to teach kids, to receive and to give.

I am planning on my child's 4th birthday and luckily stumble upon this article. At first, we were thinking of skipping the party and take him to legoland for his birthday, but i think he will also have a great time with his friends if we throw a party for him.

For the past birthday parties, I had hoped friends will give money instead of gifts because it will help with the cost of the party and limit the amounts of gifts to lavish my son. I think this year, i will note on the invites.

anon139631
Post 12

We are thinking of doing our child's party a little differently. Instead of "no gifts" we are suggesting that everyone bring a wrapped present valued at no more than $10 and doing a gift exchange so that everyone (including our child) leaves with a present. And it can also be a fun game.

anon135541
Post 11

For each of my children's last two birthdays we have done no gifts. My reasoning is that many of the kids' friends/family would likely not attend because they can't afford a gift, or feel pressured to bring one.

I do not give my children their gifts in private. Those are the only gifts they get at the party. We usually do a bouncy house, always a pinata, and always goodie bags (candy from pinata). All the kids have a blast and no one is left to feel like they had to bring a gift to come celebrate.

We do big birthdays and smaller Christmases. The birthdays are spread out so it's easier to save. My children are seven and five and love to have their parties this way. So, we still have a very traditional party, but we, as parents, are the ones giving the gifts.

For those who bring a gift anyway, we allow our kids to open them in private after the party or during a break away from the other kids. (in the presence of whomever brought the gift.)

A "no-gift" party is what you make it, and for whatever reason you choose! Have fun a keep the focus on the kids!

anon126329
Post 10

While altruism is sometimes phony (especially when done publicly), by reading the above comments, it is clear these people who want their children to have a "no presents birthday" are not being phony. I understand the whole "make your kids happy on special occasions" idea, but what I think I hear (and happen to agree with) is the idea that it is important to teach our kids how to seek happiness in something outside of material "stuff." As in, make your kids happy every day, by giving them something much more important and longer lasting than stuff- like unconditional love, patience, compliments, unexpected surprises (like doing one of their chores, allowing them a special privilege, dessert before dinner, allowing an extra half hour before bedtime, or a love note tucked under their pillow), or any number of special, meaningful, non-materialistic "gifts" or fun surprises.

On a "special" day (such as a birthday or holiday), when we traditionally give gifts, some extra-special gesture might let them know you think they deserve something extra-special because of the occasion- such as throwing a great party with their family and friends.

If we show our kids we love them every day without expressing our love through material stuff, our kids will gain so much more in the long run.

And to the comment that anyone prescribing to this idea is somehow "lazy" ("lazy old-fashioned geeks" was the term), I am puzzled- how is doing something hard considered lazy?

It is difficult, in this stuff-based, materialistic society, to teach children to value something outside the mainstream set of values. If you seriously believe that your kids' accumulation of stuff makes them deeply and truly happy, I believe it may be *you* who's old-fashioned. And I fear for the values you are teaching your children.

People who strive to teach their children values based on love, not material stuff, are fighting a tough battle- going against the mainstream. I call that anything but lazy and phony. Kudos to you!

anon104345
Post 9

The point that i want to make is that you shouldn't need a pile of 20 gifts to make you feel happy.

Having a fun day with cake, games, friends and family should be enough for a great birthday party. We live in an overindulgent society and we are very wasteful.

My son will be getting several gifts from me and family members, but as far as the party goes, we will ask for no presents. I'm trying to find a happy middle ground. I try to get him a small number of quality toys instead of a large amount of junk that's just going to add to a landfill.

anon99456
Post 8

You know I just have to say, forget not opening presents on your birthday. All kids look forward to their birthdays and not only for the presents but mainly because it's the one day a year where all the attention is on them and it's the most positive attention. They run around doing what they want, playing with who they want, eating what they want and they want to rush through the presents so they can get back to doing it all again!

This is the problem with parents these days! If you want your kids to learn the importance of saying thank you or the importance of giving, you should be teaching them these things on a daily basis.

anon84433
Post 7

My son is six and I have very mixed feelings about the no gifts trend. As new millennium parents, there is such a fixation on having our children be well socialized and we seem to forget that being a thoughtful and gracious gift giver and receiver is a social skill.

When attending some one else's party, it deprives him of the joy in giving. Consumerism run amok or not, giving him the opportunity to choose something that he thinks his friend will really like teaches him to be a thoughtful gift giver and he receives joy from that exchange by giving as much as the kid receiving.

When it’s his party, it teaches him to be a gracious recipient, no mater how large or small the gift.

anon70630
Post 5

My husband and I are still getting our daughter gifts for her actual birthday, but for the party we are asking guests to bring donations to a local children's hospital. We have three daughters, and they have more toys than they can play with. Their closets are stuffed and their rooms are cluttered. They have been very blessed with the amount of *things* that they have.

They are actually enthusiastic about the idea of sharing with others. I was worried at first that they may not go for the idea of a "no present" party, but they surprised me.

It's amazing how generous children can be if we give them the chance to show it.

anon63300
Post 4

I find it amazing that there are parents posting to this who think their kids don't have enough toys.

I'm sad, and would like to send all my son's extra toys to your children. My son is awash in trains, dinosaurs, blocks, trucks, coloring books, and all manner of things that go "Bing" or "buzz" and has, frankly grown tired of most of them before the end of the day when he gets them.

His fifth birthday will be one for giving to other children. He'll have a party, but in lieu of gifts, he asked for art supplies and puzzles that will be donated to a charity for kids with cancer.

I would rather that people give him the opportunity to do things: go to museums, learn music, take skating lessons, rather than have things.

I want him to understand how lucky he is to be healthy and well indulged, and that means learning how to give back. Making him a decent non-consumer is the best gift I can give him.

anon58722
Post 3

Apparently the children of the above two posters are happy only when they get presents.

Phony altruism?! That's the only kind!

anon58291
Post 2

Ok Seriously, make your kids feel happy at least once a year, you lazy old-fashioned geeks. It's the 21st century.

anon33419
Post 1

It's the kids party, stop ruining it by trying to appear holier than the next one with phony altruism.

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