When I was growing up, birthday parties were not a regular occurrence. My parents did not throw any. What was done was that a few neighborhood kids were asked to come over to enjoy some home cooked food, samosas or kachoris from neighborhood halwai and some prized cold drinks or sherbet. There were no fancy invites, no neighborhood halls booked, tattoo artists called or designer cakes bought. A local one from the bakery sufficed. And there were no return gifts. What is the point of getting a gift if you had to give one back? Meh!

When I had my children, I seriously did not know what I was getting into. I hate planning for parties. I still preferred making some home-cooked stuff when a lot of kids from the neighborhood were called. I still did the rounds of homes with my kids and personally invited people. The cake was bought from outside and the venue except for the first birthdays was always the home. Blow up balloons, put up other decorations on the wall and allow the kids to make some noise. The part I hated the most was buying return gifts. I mostly bought comics or bubble blowers or toy cars that I hoped the kids liked along with chocolates. Why I hated buying them was due to the kids’ reactions. The way they elbowed each other and literally begged to get one first was really putting off. It was just a trinket that some were willing to squabble over. Then getting them not to throw the wrapping on the floor was so tough too. It made me wonder why with affluence better manners would not follow. I would have killed myself before hankering for a return gift (if it were offered) in those childhood parties that I had attended. But no such qualms for today’s children.

Then comes the amusing issue of gifts. Now these gifts are quite entertaining because we love recycling our gifts. Of course, it is perfectly fine not to let junk accumulate in our houses, so the best way would be to offload it on to a child as a birthday gift. Here are some gems that I have received over the years:

Books: These are my favorite gifts to buy for children. I am sure other parents think similarly. Hence, I often get offloaded stuff that has their child’s name written on Pg. 93 in pencil. That would have been fine as well if their child was not years older than my child who the gift was meant for. I understand that it is tempting to give away books once they have been read but it would have helped if at least the ages matched.

Home trivia: I do appreciate that something is given for the house even if it is an ugly melamine set or a wall décor item. I think these are meant more as a challenge for me to figure out ways to make a 6 year old understand how this was a gift for him.

Toys: My younger son loves toys especially the automobile kinds. I have gotten broken toys at times. Even a doll as well. I really do appreciate parents who are teaching boys that playing with dolls is good for them. I am all for gender neutrality in gifting. But, my son took one look at it and tossed it away.

Stationery items: Some of these are suspiciously similar to return gifts by other parents. That my kids may have gone to the same party never crossed their minds perhaps. A great use according to me is to collect all those crayon sets and donate them to the needy. Your house help may appreciate some. However, other mommies may not if you try to re-wrap them and give them as gifts.

Clothes: This is not such a bad choice except if it is a size too small and I recognize it to be from a recent sale at the neighborhood mall. Hey, but I am all for buying stuff in sales and passing them off as gifts. At least it must be a bigger size if it cannot be the same size. That way some day in the near or distant future, the child may actually use the gift.

Frankly, I don’t even know what to buy for the kids any more. I end up buying chocolates or a toy/game or sometimes even give money/vouchers (I know impersonal). But, no recycled gifts.

Thank heavens, I am done with birthday parties for my children and the silly business of recycled gifts.

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46 Thoughts on “Pass on the gift

  1. Recently, when we celebrated Rishi’s birthday, we unearthed a ‘gem’ amongst the many gifts he received.
    It was a gift set of after shave and cologne. I could have assumed they’d meant it for me. If only they hadn’t written ‘Happy Birthday, Rishi’ on the little note.
    Getting gifts and presents – difficult ask. Even more so for kids.

    • Wow! This ‘gift’ takes the cake and the bakery. I wonder what you did with this gem. 🙂

      Buying gifts is so difficult and more so for kids. You are right there.

  2. It reminds me of my childhood. The things used to happen in the same fashion except the return gift thing. We only received gifts from neighborhood children. No return gifts. 🙂

  3. Oh you nailed it! Where have those simple days gone by, I wonder! I know the recycling kind… I get some of them at my store for getting the recycled gift wrapped up. Then, of course, there are the generous people too. They buy new stuff from my store. I’ve noticed though… very few bother to tell me the age of the kid unless I ask for it specifically. I find it difficult to suggest something unless I know the age and gender of the kid and the budget of the giver. And the return gifts are even more difficult. It is difficult having kids these days. Very expensive too.

    • Wow! How do they manage to ask for suggestions without giving the age and gender of the child. When I buy toys, I carefully preserve the receipt so that the parent can go back and exchange if need be. Yes, I’ve seen people take old gifts and get them wrapped in stores to acquire the new look. Man!

      Yes, it is expensive having kids for certain. I am just so glad that I am passed that birthday party stage.

  4. rohan on June 17, 2015 at 6:31 pm said:

    till date i don’t understand why people celebrate bday’s and throw parties.when i was kid ,none in my house used to think bday is something special.for us bday means ‘take a head bath and wear normal clothes and have hot sweet porridge or payasam made by mom.’ my dad never bought me gifts or i never hosted a bday party.this concept is to keep kids grounded and to stick to culture where they don’t fall into cycle of commercialisation and to keep kids away from expectations.when you buy something for bday,they keep expecting better one next time,if you don’t meet their requirements or expectations,they will be disappointed.same thing happens with parents,they buy things for kids and expect something from kids in return,if kids don’t meet expectations,parents will be the end ,these actions will lead to sorrow of some why to bring up kids in such a house had mini library,my dad used to buy things for house not for specific whatever he bought must be useful to everyone in family .i don’t believe in cutting cakes and westernising kids,if indians don’t follow their culture,who will follow indian culture.

  5. Return gifts are the bane of birthday planning for me. I now stick to books as return gifts. At least let the kids read. As for gifting I either pool with other moms and gift cash or just send e vouchers. Easier on parents too. Too much of retail overload anyway.

    • haha I can imagine. A bane for all of us. Those Panchtantra or Amar Chitra Kathas come in handy there. Yep, these days, I prefer giving vouchers or cash or at least provide them a receipt if I buy something so that they can exchange if need be.

  6. Hmm! Our celebrations were ALL in-home affairs for family alone. No gift business 🙂 Still haven’t learned to accept gifts gracefully 🙂 As for giving…haven’t I said it before: I hate shopping 🙂

  7. Which is why many parents these days insist on a no-gifts policy.

    When Tee was a young kid, I had the biggest collection of puzzles in town. And then came a time when I used to dread the gifts she’d get. Couldn’t even say no because I knew how much they meant to her.

    • Yes, a friend and I had tried that as well. Yet, some parents sent gifts. Also, the child feels deprived because birthdays are interlinked with gifts even meaningless ones. Sigh!

  8. Lata Sunil on June 18, 2015 at 8:52 am said:

    I have been stumped with the return gifts too. And there are whole items catering to this trend all wrapped and ready. And I hate the cleaning up of the wrappers, food on the floor and everywhere after the party. And as you mentioned, we used to get our closest pals home for a home cooked meal. And no return gifts.

  9. Totally with you on this one! Recycling gifts do give us funny things to laugh on but there is a limit to that too. I often wonder where those intimate birthday parties with a normal cake and some potato chips or other savories have gone. Those were cherished memories unlike today’s parties where the focus is somehow shifted from celebrating a special day together to getting some gift.

    • Exactly the shift of focus is terribly dismaying. Also, this entire outlook of recycling gifts feels so cheap and demeaning to the child who is being gifted.

  10. Gifting can pose such practical problems! Certainly for kids, but also for adults too. Interesting post, Rachna! Can’t fathom why would anyone gift a home decor item for a kid’s birthday 😀 But then the world is full of all strange things, isn’t it?!

    • Me too, Beloo. 🙂 I was quite astonished the first time I received a home decor item. Then I read Sid’s comment on the post and really laughed heartily. It takes all kinds I guess. 🙂

  11. I also don’t understand the concept of return gifts …What is the need? Birthday parties were so much better, simpler in our times! sigh!

  12. Abhijit on June 18, 2015 at 2:14 pm said:

    The whole birthday party scene has changed so dramatically. Many parents throw party in joints like MacDonalds and KFC and likes. If our kid joins the party, then we are obliged to throw a similar party in a joint of similar stature. In smaller towns, hosts ask caterers to deliver food at home. The concept of return gift is also strange. Parents snigger if a book is given as a return gift. I do not know where are we heading to. As kids grow older, they throw party in a hotel, if they or their parents can afford Those who cannot suffer from inferiority complex. This is thrown at parents for their inability to support certain lifestyle. The time of plain living and simple life is certainly gone.

    • You are absolutely right, Abhijit. I have been watching with dismay as parties get bigger and better pulling children into the consumerism of it all and leaving behind the actual emotions. Luckily, I explained to my kids the futility of such parties and stopped throwing even the home-held affairs after their 5th or 6th birthdays. Now, it is just immediate family at home and an outing of their choice. But, I know that kids feel peer pressure and parents too. It is just snowballing out of control.

  13. I seriously don’t even understand the concept of return gifts… it wasn’t like that during my days … I think I will gift my kids a travel trip and do away with all the party and stuff … {I am such a fun killer :P}

    • I think that is a great idea. I don’t throw parties either. I just take them out for an outing and a cake is cut at home only with family. 🙂

  14. I had a friend who always gave out potted plants as return gifts. As a child, I really didn’t care about the plant and usually let it lie in our tiny balcony. The maid watered it. Now, I think potted plants can actually be good return gifts. You need to build interest in the child though, and parents need to be involved. It can be a fun and learning process to watch the plant germinate / grow.

    Other times, we usually got sketch pens as return gifts. We were very happy with them. They made our summer vacations fun.

    By the way, what do you mean your parents didnt throw birthday parties? They only called kids home and were offered home made goodies ? Hello, my parents did the same. But they told me that was my birthday party! I loved those parties. We ate cake, home made pav bhaji and played indoor, kiddie games like passing the parcel.

    Are you telling me it’s not a party anymore if it’s at home, with no fancy store bought food and tatoo artists available?

    • Oh, I merely meant that there were times when even the neighborhood children were not called. Sometimes there was no cake either. So no formal parties. Just mom making some home cooked food and being extra nice and lovey dovey. 🙂 I like the idea of potted plants. We gifted them to friends last Diwali. In my kids’ school, fed up with the avarice for toffees and the littering, the kids are not allowed to bring any food stuffs. They can bring a sapling though. Good idea, I feel.

  15. I never understood the concept of return gifts. I remember getting gift bags as return gifts when I was a kid — usually a book with puzzles, maybe some trinkets and those annoying things you blow in that make a noise or balloons.

    I still remember when my cousin had his 6th or 7th birthday, there was this other kid who was holding on to the present he had to give my cousin but before giving it, he wanted to ensure he was getting a return gift at the end of the party. My cousin is 8 years younger than me so things had definitely changed a lot more since I was a kid! I remember feeling appalled but all adults seemed to think it was cute and funny.

    • Ugh, that is really atrocious behavior. Which adults find that adorable? I could not take this rubbish and hence started throwing parties. Luckily, my kids did not mind.

  16. Tell me about it. Here, it is not that bad, but sometimes it really is. I 100% agree with the wrapper throwing and all that. These days, I just get $5 gift cards as return gifts for Baskin Robbins or some food place. Especially ice cream places as kids enjoy them. For Ammu’s bday, I bought a set of rubber bands and clips with frozen theme. I made sure each one of them is same lest the girls throw a fit. I will end up writing a post on this. I dare not. Trust me, there is a post lying in my drafts for so long now…glad you did this, I don’t have to write up mine 😛 I so itch to tell this…for the house warming, we got a gift which is a super heavy glass bowl(looks like crystal, but it is not). The box looked old, so I could make out that it had been lying in their garage for a long time. Which is still fine with me, I would think they made an effort to give something. After I unwrapped the whole thing, I saw the name of another family written on the box of the bowl. Seriously???

    • Yes, I can imagine. The husband said that some feathers are going to be ruffled. I said if they can’t take humor then I may as well stop writing. Ugh that glass bowl thing. I once got a handbag like that which has a card that said someone else’s name. 🙂

  17. Yep return gifts had me in too. I mean what do I give to kids of various age groups coming to the party of a three year old (I ended up buying different things for different age groups). And I so agree about etiquette and affulence not going hand in hand…infact they are inversly proportional. As far as gifting goes, I either buy books or art & craft materials. That way I know it will be used.

    • Yes, that part too Jaibala. Different age groups have to be given different return gifts. I used to just buy books of varying tastes. But then they compare and crib. I think any gift that shows some thought for the receiver is fine. What leaves a bad taste in the mouth is when it is obvious that the gift is being recycled irrespective of the fact whether it actually even suits the receiver. That makes me mad.

  18. Being an introvert and a loner, I’ve hardly attended birthday parties, nor have been a part of them.
    But I do remember one birthday party I had attended a long time ago.. I had taken a book as a gift, and the friend whose birthday party it was accepted it gracefully: by throwing it along with her pile of Barbie dolls and makeup kits.
    Gifting for birthdays is really a long charade and too time – consuming, unless you know the person very well. But then, with kids, you can’t really decide as to what might appeal to their personality! It’s best to stick with books! And if you really want to gift a game, some word puzzles and other sch education games would be welcome! Gifting Barbie dolls and racing cars are inferior compared to these gifts which will help develop the child’s personality.. !

    • hahaha Well kids do behave that way sometimes. I agree unless you know the child well,it is best to stick with vouchers or cash or anything with a receipt so that it can be exchanged if need be.

  19. Haha! Such trauma! Frankly inviting adults to your house for the first time is no better. I get bowls with dragons on it, glasses that probably stink, candle stands that I have no use for…I can go on and on.
    As a rule, we should only give and take vouchers/cash but no one is ready to start the trend!!!! Perhaps gift registry will start soon in India too.

    • Yes, that calls for a separate post altogether. A used handbag, some really old wall decor etc. are some of the lovely gifts that I’ve had the good fortune of receiving. 🙂 Yes, I like the idea of vouchers/cash but they seem impersonal to so many people here. Gift registry is a great idea, I agree.

  20. I never bothered a lot about choosing return gifts. We can’t please everyone and someone will definitely have something bad to say about what we give, so I just spend a few minutes wondering if people would use it or gift it to someone. And thank god for gift vouchers these days, saves the trouble of getting worried if they’ll like our gifts or not.

  21. Nice post Rachna.

    You’re thanking your stars because you don’t have to plan parties anymore. On the other hand, I still have to get married. The dreaded days are yet to come 🙁

    • Perhaps you can take some lessons from my experience and when the time comes, you will do just fine. 🙂 But recycled gifts chase adults too. 😀

  22. Fortunately I was spared the problem of parties and gifts for a long time, thanks to my son, who wanted to do a full day outing with his best friend every year. In fact, this was the first year, when we actually took couple of kids and took them to a farm 🙂 Your return gifts and gifts problem are right on dot !

    • In our layout, kids get invited to birthday parties so often that they end up wanting to invite others and receive gifts. But it got so boring after a while. Luckily the kids took up the offer of an outing pretty quickly.

  23. I envy you finished organizing birthday parties because I’ve just began. Great and really helpful ideas for presents. Thank you for sharing them.

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