On Sunday I read this post from The Fabulous Adventures of Mrs. Haid, where she said the following:
I am totally stressing over first birthday party. I don't want DHH to get lots of plastic JUNK. I don't think a one year old needs a theme birthday party or non-family guests. He doesn't have friends! He doesn't get thank you notes! He thinks a hair brush is a toy! However, I have this side [of me] that makes me want to invite lots of extended family members and people with babies that I know and put on this amazing party with lovely decorations and a theme and parting gifts and all that jazz. I have a hard time not idealizing things like this and not getting disappointed when they don't turn out perfectly. I think I will say, "No presents, please!" or suggest a donation his college fund or something. I really want to start a family charity and have all gifts going to that except one. I haven't got that worked out just yet, and people already think I am a nut for saying no to presents, so I'll probably have to give that some time. I have been thinking so much about how I want to raise my child, and spoiled is not an option. Gratitude is. Living simply is. Less stuff is. That sort of thing.
I wanted her to know that I agree.
I didn't always realize I felt that way, though. I wish I came to that conclusion before the first party for my first born. It wasn't until Caleb's 3rd birthday and Sarah's 1st birthday when I came to realize that tons of people and tons of presents just didn't set well with me, and I didn't think it was good for my children either.
Since Caleb and Sarah both have August birthdays, we have always had a celebration for them on the same day. As Sarah's 1st birthday rolled around in August of 2007, I just knew that we could put together something big and fun and coordinate it with Caleb's. We were still relatively new to our town at that point, but we had started making friends, so I decided to invite all of our new friends, Caleb's little friends, and family (extended family included - whoever could make it).
There were a total of 55 people who were able to come and celebrate in our back yard that day. Everyone gathered to see my little Caleb and my little Sarah eat cake and be merry. But as I saw the piles and piles of presents after it was all over, I began to feel convicted about this sort of thing.
On the left, if you look behind Caleb at the table, you can see a glimpse of the gifts sitting there, waiting to be opened. On the right, just a small portion of the collection from the day (Sarah is in the pink shirt).
People may think I'm weird. I've been criticized (and misunderstood) for my similar views about Christmas and Easter. Call me consistent if anything because I do feel the same way about birthday parties for my children.
To celebrate is one thing. I may be jumping ahead a bit with this post - I have so much to say - but as an example, last year we just asked a few of Caleb's friends and a few of Sarah's friends to come over and play in our back yard with a cool new water slide that my parents and Josh's parents got for them. The kids had fun with water, and then we had cupcakes. That was it. They still had tons of fun, we still sang "Happy birthday to you..." and I saw my children's faces light up as they knew the singing was for them.
Simple. Easy. Fun.
On the left, Sarah looking on as I light her number 3. On the right, Caleb smiling as we get ready to sing to him. I pulled a Kate Gosselin and made everyone sing twice...once for Caleb and once for Sarah.
It wasn't all about stuff. It was about recognizing their special day in a simple way.
We did something similar for Gabriel in November for his 1st birthday, asking just a few close friends and family over to watch him smash cake and to sing to him. Kids played and adults visited. It was a nice afternoon.
To me, it's like July 4th or Thanksgiving or New Years Eve...those are examples of people getting together and having a good time celebrating without gifts.
So when do we do gifts in our house?
Yes, we still do gifts for birthdays and Christmas. It's just on a smaller scale. Our children usually receive one gift from us for their birthdays and one gift from each set of grandparents. When it comes to Christmas, we do three gifts for each child, correlating it with the three gifts Jesus received - one from each wise man.
I just prefer to teach our kids to earn the things that they would like to have. In April we started Caleb on the FPU Junior envelope system (via Dave Ramsey), with a SPEND, SAVE, and GIVE envelope. He has four basic chores that he has to do to earn a set amount. He also has a "fines" list, so if he is unkind or disobeys (and pretty much anything he does "wrong" fits in those to categories) I deduct a portion of his earnings. This has taught him that he has to save for bigger things, and it also teaches him to give his own money at offering time during Sunday school.
"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." 1 Timothy 6:6&7
We try to teach contentment. That is very difficult when they have tons of STUFF.
With all that being said, I will always write, "No gifts, please," on my children's birthday invitations. It's just how we do things. I have a girlfriend who collected gifts for a children's hospital at her little girl's party. I've been at others who collect donations for the Humane Society or even Operation Christmas Child. It's good to know that I'm not alone in this premise.
How do I feel about other birthday parties that don't do it that way?
This is just how our family does it. I know not everyone feels this way. I enjoy seeing other children at their birthday parties, and I go with a small gift in hand. If I didn't think other parents would be offended, I would find gifts at yard sales like my sister-in-law does. She has found the cutest and nicest things for my kids - clothes, toys, etc. - from nice yard sales in her area, and given them as gifts! Very practical, economical, and green!
So there's another one of those different perspectives from me. We can still be friends, even if we don't agree, right? :o)
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