When We Open Presents

Hunter had 3 birthdays to go to this month. It made me think of a switch in how we do things at ours, that I thought we would share, in case you wanted to try it, too.

Birthday parties have changed a lot since the ’80’s. When I was little, you went to birthday parties and they were always the same. You would show up at their house in a nice dress or good pants and greet the birthday girl or boy. Then, everyone would play some games like pin the tail on the donkey or guess how many sweets in the jar. Afterward you have lunch, then free-play with your friends and cake in the early afternoon. After that….presents were opened!! You would sit in a circle and take turns handing your present over to the birthday girl or boy and they would greedily rip open the packaging. If there was time after the present opening, you would have time to play with some of the new toys (and if the birthday kid allowed it).

I remember sitting in those circles, coming down after the sugar rush of cake and watching anxiously to gauge my friend’s reaction to the gift I painstakingly picked out. My family often had money troubles, so my birthday gifts were a big deal and the only time I got something new since Christmas, so I took a lot of care picking out birthday gifts for my friends, just in case it was the same for them. Often, the birthday friend would be so simultaneously hopped up on cake and tired that we didn’t get much more than an “oh, thanks!” as the present was tossed to the side and the next present opened. One year, I taped the present up extra good, and pointed out the tape edge to the birthday girl, in an effort to help. I even peeled up a tiny corner for her, hoping to help her even further, so I could see her reaction to the fancy doll I got her more quickly. I was accused of opening the present for her and it started a feud between us that lasted all of elementary school. The end of the party, when you’re over-tired and sugar crashing, can be tricky.

It was the same template for every party I ever went to as a kid. We never had theme birthdays or birthdays out at hosted clubs. There was an occasional bowling birthday party and those were rare and special. Since I knew nothing else, I started out with the same template for my kid’s parties. Now, I find it easier and cheaper to sometimes rent a space or host it at a sports club, but I still followed the same timeline that I grew up with for the longest time. Activity, lunch, play, cake, open presents.

Until one day. A party I took Izzy to was shorter than the birthday parties she had previously gone to. The mom had rented a space with a pre-planned activity. We did a craft and played some games, then the kids ate a snack and had cake and went home. One of them asked when the birthday girl would open presents and the mom replied,

“Oh, I think we will do that at home so she has more time to open and appreciate them. Plus, we won’t lose any that way. I will get her to tell you at school what she thought.”

A week later we got a very sweet thank you card, thanking Izzy for the gift we gave the birthday girl.

I had an a-ha moment that day. Why not let my kids open the presents after the kids go home!? There are no official birthday party rules that say we can’t. I think it is genius. That way the kids that gave presents get more than a cursory ‘oh, thanks’ and instead will get a thoughtful thank you later or even a thank you card. And my kids can open gifts at any point that day or weekend, when they feel like giving present opening their full attention.

What do you think of the idea?

Is this what you do at your parties?



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