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A No Gift Birthday

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As I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to realize that holidays are really about celebrating with those we love. That’s the number one priority. Gifts? A nice dinner out? Those are definitely bonuses, but the celebrations spent with loved ones laughing, playing games and sharing conversation are the days I cherish the most.

cupcakes stacked

So, what about instigating a “no-gift” birthday for your upcoming birthday or perhaps your child’s birthday party?

Go ahead, pause for a minute and double check your current wish list. Can you go without? Would the world end? Pause again and think about directing those gift dollars at something worthwhile. Perhaps a favorite charity or cause close to your heart.

Earlier this month my husband and I decided to host a no gift birthday party for our one year old. It wasn’t because we didn’t want him to get presents. But rather, we felt that 1) between he and his sister we were already experiencing a toy overload and 2) at his age, he wouldn’t miss it. Most importantly, we saw the opportunity as a gateway to bless others. So, on his invitations we asked that guests bring a food donation that we would then pass on to our church’s food bank. Specifically, something kid-friendly like cereal or peanut butter or favorite granola bars.

It went off without a hitch! We had a brimming basket of yummy food at the close of his party and everyone enjoyed their time snacking, socializing and celebrating our sweet boy’s first birthday.

Now, randomly toss this idea at your 8 year old and it might not be received well, but possibly mom or dad could give it a try first and see if other family members follow suite. Choose something you’re passionate about and make a big deal with the kids about how you’re not missing out, rather you’re giving a greater gift to someone who really needs it! What valuable lessons to experience as a family – sacrifice and sharing, compassion and kindness.

I know firsthand that kids can grasp on to this concept. You see, years ago my younger sister aspired to become a veterinarian and for her birthday she hosted a no gift party with her fellow animal loving friends. Instead of gifts, they were asked to bring a donation to the local animal shelter. Before the party Katie called the shelter to ask what they were most in need of and learned that dog and cat food and old towels were high priorities. She included that information on the invitations and on party day her gaggle of girlfriends enjoyed cake, games and the knowledge knowing they were blessing a whole shelter full of animals.

a no gift birthday

Interested in a no gift birthday, here’s a few ideas …

  • Baby shower (especially for a second baby or same gender) —> diaper donations for the food bank or donations for a local pregnancy center
  • Pool party —> donations to a charity like charity:water
  • Mani/pedi party —> fancy women’s toiletries, new shoes or mittens if it is cold out for a local women’s shelter
  • Late summer/early fall birthday party —> school supplies for a charity like Little Red School House
  • Sports party —> call a local low-income school and see what sports supplies are currently needed
  • Arts and crafts party —> same as above, sponsor a specific craft or luxury craft supply for a local classroom
  • October or November birthday party — Christmas boxes for Operation Christmas Child

Basically, hone in on the birthday boy or girl’s interest, plan an adorable themed party to celebrate and then communicate the no gift plan to the guests! Fun will be had and the spirit of giving will be shared by all!

Comment with your thoughts on a no gift party and other theme/charity connections! Let’s brainstorm together!

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Gretchen Bossio

Sunday 1st of September 2013

The fun part about donations, is you could ask that it still be wrapped, that way there is still a presents part of the celebration. And really, isn't the best part of many gifts the activity of unwrapping?


Sunday 1st of September 2013

We've done this with both of our kid's first and second birthday. Almost no one paid any attention to our request, even when it was printed on the invitation as 'no gifts, please'. It's hard to be irritated by people wanting to celebrate your little one, but I do wish they would honor our wishes. We will likely request it again this year, and we'll see how it goes.


Thursday 29th of August 2013

We’ve been invited to a couple of these, and they’ve gone well. The invitations have clearly read “Your presence is your present!” At which point I followed up with a phone call to make sure. I like the idea of having a gift for donation though, so people are allowed to bring something. I think the whole thing is a great idea for the “friends” party. Family can do gifts privately at a separate time which I’m sure would be more than enough gifts for any birthday. – great article, thank you!


Thursday 29th of August 2013

I did try this once, and unfortunately, people completely ignored it. I had asked guests to bring a donation for our local humane society, and only one guest did it. It was for my daughter's first birthday. She's always been spoiled by our family and friends. They watched us struggle with infertility for years, and finally adopt this beautiful baby girl, and I think they just enjoy celebrating it by spoiling her. I can't get mad at that!

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