Last winter, we were invited to a first birthday party for Tokki’s little playmate. On the invite, under a sweet photo of the babe in his party outfit, was a request, in all-caps: “NO GIFTS ALLOWED.” No gifts allowed?
But...but....but! I wanted to shower this little guy with something shiny and wondrous, wrapped in beautiful paper that existed merely to be shredded to bits.
I emailed my friend with one line: “REALLY no gifts allowed?”
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“Nobody will exactly be turned away if they defy instruction but it is truly, truly unnecessary,” she wrote back with a smiley face.
I ruminated on this no gifts policy. Of course, I completely understand. Who needs more stuff? And yet, what does a grateful and enthusiastic guest do in this circumstance? How do you attend a party, knowing all the prep and care that has gone into putting one together, without showing some appreciation?
Yet, there was a rule - shouldn’t I respect it?
I decided I simply couldn’t bring myself to show up empty-handed. I compromised by making the present a really little one, physically. It was a small box of paints the size of my hand.
As we entered the party, I gave it to my friend apologetically. I slipped it to her as surreptitiously as if we were scoring drugs.
“Thank you so much.” She smiled graciously and whisked it away.
Then, unexpectedly, I saw our mutual friend enter the party. She had brought a present, too! Were we all bringing presents? If so, who was abiding by the request for no gifts? There was no way to tell.
On the way home, I told my husband Isaac what I saw.
“What does “no gifts” really mean if everyone still brings a gift?” I wondered. “Is this some kind of code?”
A few weeks later, we were invited to another birthday party, this time for a two-year-old. The rule was on this invite, too: “No gifts please.”
Again! The quandary!
I knew this family a little more intimately and felt more comfortable following their edict. I didn’t get a gift. But as it was the dead of winter, I picked up a thick spray of tulips, a pink harbinger of spring.
At the party, I hovered around the cheese plate with the birthday girl’s dad.
“So why no gifts?”
“Truthfully,” he replied, “We didn’t want a bunch of crap.” I had to laugh.
It turns out there is no code. “No gifts” simply means the host doesn’t want gifts.
Well, the time has come for Tokki to celebrate his own first birthday (I know, this is intense – I am experiencing a double rainbow of emotion). And I’ve been bolstered by this recent discovery of the no gifts rule.
Back when Isaac and I married, we didn’t want wedding gifts but didn’t have the nerve to say so. I knew that giving gifts is in large a part of the joy of celebration. So instead of refusing gifts, we created many gift options including an online registry and a favourite charity. We thought it would be the easiest way.
Then, when my friend Tania threw us a baby shower last year, I again thought about the embarrassment of riches that lay ahead. I told Tania to tell invitees that presents were not necessary. If friends wanted to bring one, we would be most happy to receive hand-me-downs.
The thing is, you can suggest you don’t want gifts but unless you expressly say, “NO GIFTS ALLOWED,” there’s no hope of the message even beginning to register. We were showered with all manner of adorable, designer baby things. We felt overwhelming gratitude. Our baby had everything he could ever need and more, before he ever sipped his first breath of air.
I know that when Tokki gets older, presents may dominate the excitement of birthdays. For now, however, this is a kid who is surrounded by fancy toys but loves garbage the best (a plastic water bottle, an empty yogurt tub, newspaper).
So when I sent the invite for Tokki’s first birthday party, I knew what it would say: “No gifts.” And I knew there would still be gifts, especially from family members who cannot resist, and of course, I am happy to receive their generosity. Still, I almost feel guilty that my child has so much material wealth when there are other children who don’t even have the basics.
We held the first of Tokki’s birthday parties this past weekend (see? he really does have it all, including two birthday parties, one in Toronto and one next week on the west coast).
The no-gifts request was politely ignored by many. Tokki received a small mountain of birthday fun, from dump trucks to books to a traditional, tiny Korean gold ring. Others, who obeyed the law of our land, came with other tokens like a carefully chosen bottle of wine and a bag of farmer’s market sour cherries.
There were even a few agonized feelings expressed. My friend Kristine gave me a running monologue of her to-gift-or-not-to-gift inner turmoil as she handed me a beautifully wrapped present.
“You said no gifts so this is just something for you but Tania got Tokki a gift and I didn’t know! I should have gotten him one, too!” I assuaged the affront to her social graces. I had once felt this way, too.
“Please don’t feel bad. And thank you so much for this gift.”
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