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No Gifts, Please


This past July, we celebrated our daughter Radhika’s 4th birthday. It was a memorable Saturday evening. Beautiful sunny Seattle weather, cool breeze at the neighborhood beach park, kids singing, dancing, and running loose, primarily because they were on a sugar high—it was a lollipop-themed party. The best part of the party, other than the lollipops, was that we didn’t have to go through the trouble of loading, unloading, opening, and sorting 25 gift boxes. Because there weren’t any (ok, maybe there were 2).
It was a no-gifts birthday party. We had requested our guests to make donations to the Seattle Children’s Hospital in lieu of bringing gifts for Radhika. It is convenient that the hospital has a wish-list on Amazon whereby people can pick items online and ship them directly to the hospital. Our guests not only complied and made generous donations to the hospital, but some of them also adopted the concept for their children’s birthday parties. As it happens too frequently, as soon as I start patting myself on the back for being a trend-setter, I find out that the concept has been well and alive and thriving out there. Anyhow, I caught up on it 3 years too late, but there is no going back. Below are some of the reasons why, in my opinion, the concept of no-gift birthday parties makes a lot of sense.

1. Saves Time and Energy

Think about every time you are invited to a birthday party. You have to set some time aside for gift shopping (there are only so many gifts you can recycle). If you are like me, you’d spend a good amount of time finding the perfect gift for the birthday child. Amazon helps save time, certainly, but even online shopping requires some thinking and planning.
No-gift parties are not only a time-saver for guests, but for hosts as well. It was such a relief that after our daughter’s party, we didn’t have to go through the whole gift-opening procedure—open each gift and note who the giver is, sort into “use now,” “use later,” and “re-gift and/or donate” (some tears are always involved here), and later send thank-you notes to the guests. I can’t believe I have wasted so much time and energy in the past on “gift management”—why didn’t I think of this sooner?

2. Reduces Clutter
Gifts come with beautiful gift wraps, gift bags, colorful bows and ribbons. Yes, they look lovely sitting pretty in a pile during the party and make for nice photos. But when your kids start ripping them open? Chaos and clutter! I always try my best to open the wraps very carefully so that they can be re-used. But realistically, I think I am able to save only 20% of the wraps and re-use only half of those. Rest of it makes for a big pile of mess that I have to clean up. Such a waste of resources! No gifts and no gift-wraps, please. Let us save trees, reduce clutter, and reduce stress.

3. Teaches Kids the Significance of Birthdays
We did get Radhika a toy for her birthday and enjoyed her expressions and squeals as she played with it on her birthday morning. But we really want her to start understanding that birthdays are not about gifts. Birthdays are about celebrating the year gone by and dreaming big about the year to come. Birthdays are about being grateful for being alive, healthy, and happy. Birthdays are for holding our children, squeezing, loving and cherishing them, and telling them how glad we are they are a part of our lives. Of course, birthdays are big occasions and must be celebrated with much fanfare—friends, family, laughter, and food (and free-flowing lollipops). But gifts trivialize the importance of birthdays. So much so that kids come to associate birthdays with gifts. They can’t wait for the party to be over so that they
can open the gifts and the guest kids can’t wait for the party to be over so that they can open the favor bags. But the party IS what it’s all about—about having fun—not gifts and favor bags.

4. Teaches Kids Gratitude and Empathy
When you are happy, share your happiness with the world. We need to teach this to our kids (and ourselves, too). Birthdays are happy occasions and one way we can share our happiness is by doing something for others. We chose to make donations this year to the Seattle Children’s Hospital because that’s where Radhika was treated for pneumonia last year. During her 3-days stay at the hospital, I found it helpful to distract and engage her with the coloring material, puzzles, and other toys the nurses brought for her.
Around the time of her birthday, when I was trying to explain to her why she wouldn’t be receiving any gifts and the gifts would go to the hospital instead, I reminded her of her hospital stay. “Remember the monkey they gave you…remember how happy it made you…and then you got better quickly…and came home?” I was apprehensive, but she was convinced. My 4-year old child could make the connection that the gifts our guests send to the hospital would “make other children happy, so that they would get better faster, and go home with their mommies and daddies” (her words).  We need to remind our kids to be grateful and giving—when you were sad, someone made you happy, and now it’s your turn.
We had requested our guests to include their children in the (online) gift-selection process for the hospital as a way to encourage them to ask questions that could help them understand the concept. “Why aren’t we buying a gift for Radhika?” “Why are we buying a gift for the hospital?” And I really hope some of them asked—“can we do the same for my birthday?”

5. Encourages Kids (and Parents) to Be Creative
When you can’t buy a gift but really want to give something to the birthday girl or boy, you are forced to get creative. Some of our guests made cards for Radhika (see cover photo of this blog as an example), some brought flowers from their gardens, and another child picked a bunch of blueberries from her garden—very sweet and heartfelt gestures, and exactly what gifts should feel like.
We had also requested every guest to write a note for Radhika telling her which gift they picked for the hospital. The notes she received are more valuable than any Lego set or coloring set she would have received otherwise. We read the notes to her after the party and she seemed very pleased. I hope that over the years, we collect a trunk-full of such notes. And one day when Radhika reads them, she can be glad that she included so many others in her birthday celebrations. I hope that the good vibes and blessings she collects from the people she helps in the process make her a happier and better person in turn.

Below is the text from a couple of Radhika’s birthday notes:

“Dear Radhika, Everybody loves colors in their lives. Hope the children at Seattle Children’s Hospital enjoy the crayons, posters, and other coloring material we gave them on this special day and they can enjoy those just like you. Once again, wish you a very Happy Birthday.”

“Dear Radhika, Because of your birthday, kids in children’s hospital will get a VTech musical rhymes book, 24-ct colored pencils, and 19-ct washable kids’ paint. May you always bring a smile to someone’s face. Happy Birthday!”


By: Meenakshi Sinha

I grew up in New Delhi, India and currently live in Kirkland, WA
with my husband and our four-year-old daughter. I am a financial economist
by training and worked as an economic consultant for many years before my
daughter was born. I enjoy writing about my family and my experiences,
and sometimes food recipes too.
Some of my writing can be found at this page: https://meenakshisinhablog.wordpress.com

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