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A few weeks ago, my 4-year-old daughter and I made the world's quickest sprint through Wal-Mart to find a birthday present for the party my daughter was due at in five minutes.
We snatched a gift off the shelf, stood in line (forever, as one does at Wal-Mart), and then I wrapped the gift in the car, finishing just moments before we pulled up in front of the birthday girl's house.
When I was growing up, presents were a staple of birthday parties. I can't remember attending a single birthday party where I didn't bring a present (although I do clearly remember a party where my mom made a birthday present because we couldn't afford to buy a gift).
But all of my (and my sibling's) birthday parties were gift-free, which was pretty uncommon in that day. We could invite as many friends as we wanted, but all the invitations said something about no gifts. As a child, it was a little bit disappointing to not get a huge pile of presents, but I also liked not having to open that stack of gifts in front of an audience (something I still do not enjoy doing—baby showers? Very stressful for me).
I want the party to be the celebration, not just an excuse to collect a bunch of new stuff.
Twenty-five years later, gift-free parties aren't nearly as uncommon now. And as a parent myself, I think this is the best party development ever.
It means I don't spend 20 minutes standing in the toy aisle at Target trying to figure out what a child I might not know all that well would like and what they might not already have.
It means no awkward present opening where some presents are way better (or expensive) than others.
It means the focus is on having friends over and celebrating with games and treats, not on "WHAT PRESENTS WILL I GET?!"
And it definitely means no last-minute rush to the store to grab a present (a big bonus for me!).
I'm not worried about my kids not getting gifts for their birthdays. They'll still get plenty of presents from us and their grandparents. And it's not like they even really need more toys in the first place!
More importantly, I want my kids to see their birthday parties not as a time to get-get-get, but as time to enjoy having friends and family over and to celebrate together. I want my children to enjoy helping plan a party that will be fun for both them and the guests, to be in the moment at the party (instead of just looking forward to the pile of presents waiting at the end), and I don't want to make all the other children sit around while my kid opens present after present. I want the party to be the celebration, not just an excuse to collect a bunch of new stuff.