The Birthday Grinch: No Presents Please!

Four children (5-8) at table, laughing at girl with face in cake
Four children (5-8) at table, laughing at girl with face in cake

Ahh, birthdays, that wonderful time of year when we celebrate getting older by dressing in a big sparkly frock, jumping on a bouncy castle and eating our own body weight in cake.

Or perhaps that's just me.

My twin girls turn eight next month and, as is tradition, they've been planning their birthday party extravaganza since May.

I love throwing them a big party, inviting all of their school friends and lavishing them with all the traditional party fripperies; party rings, pass-the-parcel and an unfeasibly large birthday cake.

What I don't particularly like is my girls receiving an avalanche of gifts.

In this age of austerity, I think an excess of birthday presents is not only unnecessary but a little embarrassing and over the top.


Birthday parties should be a celebration of their special day, an opportunity to eat cake and spend quality time with friends not a mass call-out for Monster High booty.


So as I prepare the invitations for their zombie princess party (don't ask) I scrawl a nice big NB on the bottom of each one - 'no gifts please, your presence is enough *smiley face*'.

This is not the first time I've been the birthday grinch. This is their fourth big birthday party and I learnt my lesson from the first one, when 30 children turned up each bearing two sparkly-wrapped gifts, one for each girl.

By the end of the party, the pile of brightly-wrapped presents was so huge it looked like I'd gone out and mugged Santa.

"I think it can be very overwhelming for children to be deluged with gifts." says Siobhan, mother of two. "I have a new method now to avoid the plastic tat, I buy clothes. Just a little, pretty top or a T-shirt. They're inexpensive and for 8/9 yr olds you can't go wrong really."

One year was like a Polly Pocket convention in our house. My girls had received more than 70 presents between them and seeing this huge pile of gifts for my two wide-eyed five year olds did not sit well with me.

The present-opening frenzy lasted for hours and after the first few they barely even acknowledged the toy before moving on to ripping open the next one. A lot the gifts that year made their way into the Christmas charity box at school, others were broken within days or sat untouched gathering dust at the bottom of the cupboard.

"When I threw a birthday party for my girls this year, I was gobsmacked at the stuff they got. And quite embarrassed. I'd obviously been short changing people!" says Siobhan.

As a mother of three school-aged children, I know how expensive and time-consuming it can be buying presents for the numerous birthday parties children get invited to each year.

"I give money to the birthday child so they can put it towards something they really want, or I ask the parent if there's something they would like," says Paula, a mother of three. "It only takes a moment - a cheap plastic doll shows a lack of thought for the person who is celebrating."


Despite coming across as a miserable, fun-sucking grump, I'm not against my children receiving presents for their birthday, just not in excess.


And looking at the state of their bedroom, I can safely say they certainly don't go without. In a one-woman rage against the commercialism of children's parties, I spoke to a number of parents and it seems I'm not alone in my crusade.

"I think a no-gift policy is a great idea" says Sarah, mother of two. "My kids have so much junk in their room they have no idea what to play with."


Children can have too much of a good thing. I want my kids to appreciate the gifts people have kindly chosen for them, not just rip open the paper, take one glance at the toy before flinging it into a corner in anticipation of the next one.


"I tried the no-gift rule one year and everyone ignored it!" says Linda, a mother of one. "A friend in the US asks people to give items for their local shelter instead of presents."

Which is a nice idea, however, I'm not sure how well it would go down having piles of presents turn up only to be given away again. They are only eight after all.

I don't spring the no-gift rule on the girls on the day. They don't sit in their party dresses waiting patiently to receive their brightly-wrapped booty haul, only to be devastated by all their friends arriving empty-handed.

Each year we sit down and discuss the big event and I give them the option to have a small gathering with just a few of their friends (gifts allowed) or a huge party with lots of their friends but no presents. They always vote for the big party and even on the day, they are so pleased to see all their friends they don't even register the lack of parcels. But not everyone agrees with me.

"I think the no gift rule is mean!" says Kate, a mother of three. "I think childhood should still have some magical moments and if that means plastic tat, party bags and crumbling cake wrapped in a soggy napkin then bring it on. They grow up so fast, don't take away the fun and excitement a birthday party brings."

Which in part is true, however, in years to come what will my girls remember from their eighth birthday?

Will it be the Moshi Monster colouring set they received or will it be the huge cake-fuelled pile-on on the bouncy castle?

I know what my money's on.

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