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Getting Less to Give More: The New Birthday Party

yes cake, no presentsAs the holiday season approached, my husband and I experienced more than the usual anxiety. It wasn’t a matter of what to buy, for us, it was important to consider what not to buy and the many reasons why:

We wanted to avoid the crush of gifts that create an association in a child’s mind that the holiday is all about her and what she gets. Our little family has some solid traditions in sharing meals and occasions with friends and family and we wanted that focus to continue since that is the most important part of celebrations for us.

Additionally, with 90 percent of toys coming to our country from China, and 82 percent of the toy recalls involving these imported items, every new bit of inexpensive plastic is as much of a concern as it is a gift.

Beyond the hazards, many toys now have little educational or imaginative play experience, the focus is on the acquisition of the toy, of having the latest movie character item, and all the associated collectible merchandise. Merchandise inevitably headed for the landfill. Fostering this kind of consumerism in our children isn’t acceptable to me as a parent.

Not only do many of these licensed toys introduce young people to fashion and consumerism before they have developed critical judgment, but we as parents give them the stuff too early. And so much of it is junk.

— “Toys for Saps” Gary Cross, New York Times

Despite our efforts, presents will come anyway. We chose the most durable, lasting items of value and bought one or two of these instead of many. Friends and family filled in with plenty more. We have toys — enough that I trip over them daily. Funny thing, my child spends more time with books and outdoor activities than anything else.

Our child’s birthday arrives before the abundance of Christmas presents has faded. While we plan on one well-thought-out gift from us, we decided to do something different with her birthday celebration. There will be cake and food, there will be lots of friends, and there will be a fantastic indoor gymnastics session filled with trampolines and tumbling and bouncing. There will not be any presents from friends. Instead, we are going to encourage the other parents to place a lightly used or new book in a box for donations to the National Center for Family Literacy.

This new approach to kids’ parties is growing, according to an article in the New York Times. Some parents will be surprised by it. Some will bring gifts anyway. And perhaps, some will be inspired to do the same thing .

As for my child, I don’t think she’ll miss out on anything. She’ll be too busy having fun with her friends.

[This post was written by Beth Bader.]


  1. My 11-year-old daughter’s birthday was yesterday. The most wonderful thing she received–which she got last year and requested again this year–was homemade coupons. We made things like:

    Get out of chores for the day
    One hour of uninterrupted computer time
    Homecooked meal of your choice
    5 articles of clothing from Once Upon a Child [used clothing store that she loves]
    Trip to the library
    Trip to the movies with daddy
    Trip to Barnes and Noble (and one book!)

    Let me tell you: last year she kept track of all of the coupons and used them REGULARLY (and she is not an orderly child). It was a lot of fun, and as I said she completely loved them. Yesterday, we gave her only these coupons and only one other toy (a ball like her 1-year-old brother’s. LOL! She really wanted it!)


  2. Brava. Memories never wear out or get dusty, and will be revisited together with friends and family forever.

  3. I like the coupons, Nicole. And, thanks, Sarah, that’s exactly how I feel about celebrations.

  4. Just found this blog and I’m so happy I did! One of my closest friends just started a company that sells “birthday party boxes” filled with everything you need to throw a beautiful party without paper. It’s called tinparade.com. Different from giftless parties, but they could go hand in hand…


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