My daughter is six, and for the last three years, we've put 'no presents please' on invitations to her birthday party. Her birthday falls in April, unlike my son, whose birthday sits close to Christmas.
But what we've found (at least until this year) is that she never associated her birthday party with presents. Yes, she happily rattled off her birthday list, and the morning of her birthday began at the crack of dawn so she could get stuck into her presents.
But, as all of our extended family is interstate, birthdays can stretch out for a week because there's usually a parcel arriving via post from one relative or another on any given day.
So when it came to her party, she was more excited about having her friends over for a play date than the idea that they would give her stuff. She helped pick out and decorate her cake in the days leading up to her party, as she excitedly ran through the names of everyone who was coming.
Sure, some kids brought presents, and that was lovely - we didn't ask them to take them back or sneak them in the back door. We taught our daughter to say thank you...but then she ran off with the gift giver to jump on the trampoline filled with balloons before even unwrapping it.
For her fifth birthday we again asked for 'no presents', but instead offered that each child could bring a book that we would donate to our local children's hospital. We talked this idea through with our daughter and left the decision up to her. We ended up with a stack of books and a number of the parents commented on what a different approach it was.
We're not blowing our own horn here, just trying to show that there can be many different ways of celebrating a birthday...and not all have to involve a toy-shop-size pile of presents. And you should have seen her face light up when she handed over those books at the hospital.
Don't get me wrong, we take presents to the birthday parties she's invited to —usually a homemade coloring book, or more recently a make-your-own-biscuit kit (the Smartie one's her favorite).
For us, a birthday—including the birthday party—is about celebrating the day you were born, with the people close to you and in your life now. We felt that, by and large, presents weren't a vital part of that celebration.
Yes, we bought her birthday presents, and yes, as she gets older she's associating her birthday with the gifts—not so much the party.
But we want the heart of what we were getting at with the 'no presents' request to remain: her birthday is a celebration of her life in the company of the people she enjoys her life with.
And you don't need presents to enjoy jumping on a trampoline filled with balloons with your best friend.
This post is a response to a post we ran from a parent arguing you should give presents at children's parties. You can read the original post here.