Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The "No Gifts" Gift Thing

With Halloween now in the rearview mirror, it's time to gird our ladyloins for the upcoming holidays and the festivities they necessarily involve. No, I'm not ready for it either, but how could umpty million retailers foisting their holiday wares on us already be wrong?

Anywhooo, with said holiday parties come the requisite etiquette issues - mo' parties mo' problems, as the saying goes. The one that I & some friends (hey, TippyL!) have run into lately is the "no gifts" instruction on party invitations.

Etiquette mavens are divided on this one. I double-checked my Emily Post (16th Edition for any fact-checkers in the audience), and though traditionally one never makes mention of gifts one way or another on a written invitation, if a host requests that no gifts be brought, then that request should be respected.

The devil is in the non-etiquette book reality, of course - culturally here in the US, people do bring presents to most events, and in particular we do for birthday parties and weddings. So when a host wants to share such a celebration with friends and family but does not, for whatever reason, want them to feel obligated to buy gifts, they end up having to convey that message proactively.

Of course, there's always one person who shows up all Smug Mummy style to one of these "no gifts" events with a gift (beautifully handcrafted and wrapped, no doubt) because OF COURSE, so there's an understandable hesitation to be the one who shows up present-free and risks looking like a cheapskate. It's unfair, and no one should feel duped for going by a host's request, but them's the Mommy Mafia rules.

My take on this all is . . . it depends (lawyered!). I've attended a number of second weddings lately as part of Weddingpalooza 2011 for which the bride and groom specifically asked for no gifts on their respective invitations. These friends are long-established in careers and households, and therefore not in need of the household goodies a bride & groom just getting started might be. Frankly, given the expense involved in attending those weddings, I was only too happy to comply with those requests* and took no offense at the suggestion.
*In the case of one of those brides, who is a close friend, I made a small donation to a charity she supports in her & her husband's name in lieu of a gift. I kinda sorta cheated here but in a way I figured the bride might approve.

Where I struggle to comply with the "no gifts" request is for children's birthday parties. I absolutely understand a parent's wanting to teach a child about the perils of materialism, and I also believe in respecting another parent's (safe, legal) choices about how they want to raise their kid. I can also see wanting to throw a party for more distant friends & family - my playgroup, for example - without wanting to add a gift obligation.

For reasons I can't quite explain, however, it just doesn't seem like a children's party to me without giving a gift. That's selfish, I realize. Call me culturally brainwashed, but it just feels strange showing up to a kid's party empty-handed - frankly, I tend not to when I'm close with the child and/or parents, though I sometimes rein in my gift budget a bit when there's a "no gifts" advisory in play.

Master P's first birthday - yes, there were gifts. And cake. And cupcakes. And the most ridiculous hat I could find.  
In the end, etiquette exists not to give an excuse to judge people - though that's one of my favorite pastimes, don't get me wrong - but rather to make people feel comfortable in a given situation. In this day & age we may need to evolve the "no gifts" veto to more of a case-by-case situation.

Have any of you thrown a "no gifts" party? Care to share your rationale? I can go either way here - I'm bigiftual, if you will - but confess a preference for the presents when there's a kid involved...

15 comments:

duchessbelle said...

For weddings and birthday parties, I pretty much always have a gift of some sort. I think I've yet to run into an invitation that specifies no gifts. Presents make me happy, giving and receiving. What trips me up is the holiday parties. I'm supposed to bring a hostess gift to everything? What if it's casual? White elephant exchanges are easy enough but what about going over to the neighbors for dinner on a Saturday in December, am I a heel if I show up sans gift? My brain, it cannot compute.

Jessica said...

Ugh. This is so timely. I just threw Julia's first birthday party, and in my sleep-deprived "Shoot I have to order these TONIGHT or they won't get here in time for me to send out!" haze, I put "No gifts please!" on the invites and hit the order button. I definitely regret it. I ended up apologizing to about half the people on the guest list - the family and close friends - and explaining that I wanted to invite some people with whom we weren't especially close and I didn't want them to feel obligated to get her anything. Besides, she's ONE. She's the only grandchild on both sides with a shopaholic mom. She needs NOTHING.

Most people brought gifts anyways, although a few were homemade. One or two people brought just a card, and someone brought flowers for the house. But I realized it definitely put people in an awkward position - who wants to disobey the hostess? But who wants to be the one to show up empty-handed?

It was kind of lose-lose. (Except for Julia who got all those presents, of course.) It was frustrating because she truly doesn't need anything, and we just wanted people to come hang out with us for a few hours. I meant well, but I wouldn't do it ever again.

Amy @ Forever 29 said...

I just pulled the trigger on LB's birthday invitations and included "If you would like to bring a gift, please bring an unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots" I'm sure this is the only time I will do this though, while he has no clue. There won't be any family at the party so he will get gifts from them AND way too many Christmas gifts 6 days later. I know my house will be overrun with toys already and I thought this way people can bring something to the party (which is part of what makes the no gifts thing feel so strange)...it just won't stay in my house!

Danielle said...

First of all, I laughed out loud with your "it depends" being followed by "lawyered" because if I've heard that once out of my still-suffering-attorney-husband, I've heard it a million times!

For my son's first birthday, I did ask for no gifts. My reason was that I was selfishly using his day to reign in some old friends and I didn't want them to feel like they had to get my child something - someone most of them had yet to even meet! I guess it was sort of selfish on my part to try to share his big day but I'm also of the camp, "what does a 1-year old really need that they don't already have?" A ladder?!

AEOT said...

For SYT first birthday, we requested no gifts. Our family and very close friends all live out of town, so they weren't coming to the party, and we didn't want our friends who don't have kids or our neighbors to feel obligated to bring a gift. Plus we didn't feel that SYT needed a lot of stuff (ie- more clutter). He's one and has no concept of gifts anyway. Most people brought gifts even with the specific request. I understand where they are coming from I guess, but I just didn't want them to feel like they "had" to.

Lindley said...

I did a no gift invite for my three-year old this past summer. I had a newborn and it was.a very casual play date party at the pool, and I didn't do favors (just lunch and cake). My little one doesn't need any more than what she already has, and in my sleep deprived state, I selfishly did not want to deal with gifts, thank you notes, etc. most people complied with my request, but not everyone. I think the casualness of the party helped enforce the no gift request.

Emily said...

To gift or not to gift an adult making that request is situational, I think, depending on both the occasion and the relationship. Like with your very close friend, you wanted to mark the occasion by doing something, and no one wants a piece of silver to polish for which they didn't register. In the past I've also given a gift card to a high-end restaurant with a message encouraging the newlyweds to celebrate a monthly anniversary.

For a child, I'm with you. Part of the fun is seeing them rip into the paper with their eyes lit up. Plus, in the past when I have heeded the request for no gifts, I felt like I was the only adult meanie who did not bring something!

Tippy said...

See all the comments on this post? They all MEANT well, but most of their guests still brought gifts! So obviously, I'm bringing something tomorrow. I actually had bought this for Miss C but had never given it to her: a package of about 100 different types of stickers. I figure it's a) small and b) consumable - it's not an extra toy that will take up space.

I just think it's not cool. Don't tell your guests what to bring/not to bring. Period.*


*I'm inflexible that way. I know it's why you love me. xo

Tippy said...

And I want to clarify, my irritation is strictly with children's birthday parties. For the 2nd weddings, I totally get it and would abide by their rules.

Mrs. Type A said...

I don't know that I would ever actually write "no gifts" on an invite, but I have, and will continue to, occasionally tell people invited to certain gatherings of ours to not bring gifts. I think about this with regards to my future kids (I know, like I know anything...) sometimes because I see how insane the amount of presents my niece and nephew get for every holiday and birthday is and can see them learning to expect it. I don't know about saying "no presents" for a child's birthday...but we will DEFINITELY be one of those houses with a limit on chrismas and hanukkah presents.

Miss Southern Prep said...

I do think that some children get insane amounts of gifts, but I don't think I could ever tell someone not to bring gifts to my (non-existent) child's birthday!

Petunia said...

This has become the trend lately with a few of my daughter's friends (parents) and honestly I find it a little annoying. I feel uncomfortable showing up at a child's birthday party without a gift. I wouldn't mind at all if it were just about any other occasion. It almost comes across as a little show-off-y. Think about those childrens' memories later on in life "Mommy made me tell all of my friends not to bring presents to my birthday party every year"...nothing that a few years in therapy can't fix, right?!

Perfectly Imperfect said...

I get the no gifts thing, I do, but I don't follow it when it comes to children's birthdays. Maybe it's just me, but that's there day. It's a day to be spoiled. I actually agree 100% with Petunia's comment above mine. It's a birthday. Birthdays get gifts. At least from this girl.

Grove Gals said...

i agree!!!!!!! i did a post on this last year...somehwere people seem to have gotten confused...gift does NOT equal expensive, but it should mean lots of THOUGHT! a child should embrace and enjoy their birthdays, parties included, because in the blink of an eye we stop looking forward to our birthdays. i ignore the invite. my mother said the host decides to throw a party, but it is the guests choice whether or not to bring a gift

Kendall said...

Hi! This is my first time stopping by and it looks like our babe's are close in age (my daughter is 14 months). For her first birthday party...we DID throw a "no gifts" party. Mainly because my husband and I were getting married 3 weeks after the party (yup, you read it right!) and we were on gift OVERLOAD and were running out of room. And Charlotte's grandparents spoil her to the END, so we knew we wouldn't be without gifts. People still brought them of course..next year will be a different story. She will be 2, and know what a present is so we will accept any form of gift!! Love you blog, and your son is adorable :)

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