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The return gift culture

Birthday parties of children these days give me the heebies jeebies. It is like a mini-wedding in the family! You need to plan well in advance if you wish to host a party that is in line with the current trend. And, the dishes served are no less than at a wedding reception. It is mostly dinner, mind you. Whatever happened to those fun-parties that had the staple wafers, cake, one samosa and a glass of Rasna to wash it all down. When parties meant an hour of merry-making at the house of the host, give small presents to the birthday child, eat and come home.

Children anyway do not eat much at these parties, so the grub is all for the mothers who chauffeur the kids. Is it really necessary to keep an elaborate 4 course meal, apart from a kid's menu? And, what stumps me most is the return gift policy. Ok, I understand that kids feel happy to get something in return but when that 'something' looks and costs more than what you took as a birthday gift, it becomes a little too embarrassing and unnecessary. It is almost like one (the parents, that is) is clamouring to out-do the other in these events. I am attending a fair share of birthday parties these days and I wonder a lot at the extravaganza, not to mention the amount of wastage of many precious resources-food being one of them.

For all the boasting I did about how I managed to organize R's party just a few months ago, I felt like someone put cold water on my face when I attended the next few birthday bashes. I had certainly been living under the rock for I had not known that the showbiz that is a feature of Indian weddings had percolated far down to a child's party too. I felt small and muted by all the proceedings. I was painfully reminded of in many ways, how nowadays simplicity is not a virtue (not to mention being reminded of the 'small token' that I had doled out as return gifts :-0)

I, for one, do not believe in having a grand party each year for the child. Of course, the definition of grand is quite different from what I knew. These days, even at-home parties also cost a bomb and if you are going to keep up with the current trend, then there is really no end to spending. It is nice to see kids having fun at their birthdays and you want to give in and indulge since it is their special day. But, how and where do you draw the line is the million dollar question.

I know, these things are personal choices but I cannot help marvel at how much our generation is responsible in making the next generation more materialistic than we are. It is quite evident when kids attend a party with their eyes and excitement planted on (and sometimes only on) the return gift. The essence and fun factor is all skewed. But, isn't this all our doing? Kids are going to be kids. It is up to us to direct them correctly towards more meaningful things.

Comments

  1. Sometimes I think it is good we are lacking a social circle for D & S other than their school friends, and our celebrations are mostly limited to school. I was intending to have a small party for S this year, as I've never done it for him after his 1st birthday :). Return gifts though, I am planning to give everyone a seedling, what say :P ?!

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    1. I like your idea Aparna... kids should know what do want them to learn by going green...:)

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    2. I loved the seedling idea!

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  2. Uma, I think many of us face this problem. You know I've written abt this on my blog as well. Í've always had very simple parties at home for the kids - last year it was lots of games for advaith at home, then some cake, french fries and juice. Really simple. Return gifts are generally books cos I think a child can never have too many (and more kids need to read!) but I really like Aparna's seedling idea.
    I think we need to keep it simple. Does it really matter to the kids I wonder? I don't think so.

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    1. Yes, Aparna, I remember reading about this on your blog. I guess the challenge will be to swim against the tide and also explain to R if and when the question of why we do it differently arise.

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  3. I practically live in terror when I see the whole craze which happens on going to birthday parties and also the whole thing on how things need to be done! I can not imagine those wedding reception like birthday parties with face painting and tatoo corners et al.

    I console myself saying... right now my daughter is just 1.5 years... I have a few years more of peace. But, i do intend to keep things very toned down as much as possible. I would like to give something which a child should learn with, not bang/ shoot with!

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    1. well, probably you have just about a year before the madness begins..
      Even I feel a return gift should be something useful.
      Welcome here, Aathira :-)

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  4. True Uma .. Am reading quite a bit these days about these grand b'day bashes .. This culture hasn't caught up too much in Chennai I guess .. Parties for my nephew and friends, my cousin's kids etc still retain the simplicity in some measure .. Maybe there are people who do it all big and grand but there are still people who throw simple parties too..
    You are so right about the parents being responsible for instilling materialism in their kids .. Good post!

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    1. thanks, Aarthy..It all boils down to keeping our head above the water..hmm..

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  5. You are so right Uma. B'day parties for us meant cake, wafers and samosa. If we were served cheese sandwich or pav bhaji, the party was the talk of the town for years! I cannot imagine parents spending so much money, especially when the kid doesn't understand half of what's going on around him/her.
    I'm told theme-parties and extravagant return gifts are the trend right now. A friend hosted a Batman theme party for her son and the b'day outfit costed her 4000 rupees!!!

    Preeti

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    1. gosh! I haven't even bought something so expensive for myself in many years now :-0 Kids pick up all the wrong signals at such lavish parties, Preeti!

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  6. I don't subscribe to ostentatiousness in anything, find it an utter waste. And children really ought to be spared of this. I think now that return gifts is become a norm rather than a surprise or exception in a birthday party, the onus is on us to keep it simple. I like the idea of books and seedlings/plants or even an experience they can take back.

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    1. True, Vibha..but at times it is difficult to maintain your stand when the general norm speaks otherwise. Being the odd-man out feels very awkward and difficult too.

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    2. Sometimes, Uma, it is a what-to-gift issue too! Currently am just caught up with a gifting dilemma of a kind. Simple just not do it for some parents!

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  7. We are responsible in every way Uma. Hiring an event management company, giving hefty return gifts, having an anchor to host the games.... It is all getting out of hand. I am all for the small at home bday parties where nothing fancy is served and given to take back home.

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    1. I wish I had more such like-minded people around where I stay, Jas :-)

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  8. I can see what you mean. Birthday parties have lost their essence of being a get together for kids having fun games and (for them) the least concern food. I totally remember the birthday parties we had. Potato wafers which would often be covered in the cake icing, the cake itself and samosa/ idli chutney. I mut have probably spoken about this to my husband a few months back when we were planning for Aarnavi's birthday.

    I had, what you could call according to the American Indian standard, a basic party with not much fancy. Here there is a biiiig fad about having theme parties. So if it is a girl it'll be a princess theme, or one of the girl characters like, Dora.

    I avoided having a theme party. The "theme" was no theme. I had some colours working and that was about it. Having said that, I cannot say we spent less. Blame it on the prices of stuff here being expensive for no reason. To give you an example, the cake alone cost us $200, which if you convert works up to Rs. 10000 odd! I would perhaps have had 2 birthdays in that amount back in India.

    For the return gift, since the kids were of different age groups, I gave them customized ones suiting their age group all in or under $5. Some got a story book, some got crayons and the teenie ones got somewhat like a sippy cup. I did not invest in fancy toys that may r may not be liked by the kids or their parents. I really hope they were useful. Anything below that was not available and anything above that would have cost a bomb.

    Anyway, my point is that parents are clearly competing on whose birthday is the best. The poor children can only see the final result. One parent starts doing something new and then the rest of the bandwagon feels obligated to at least duplicate if not go a step further. I guess they are answerable to their kids innocent questions later. I mean think of it from a child's point of view. If I had attended a lavish birthday party and my parents didn't throw me anything of that level, I would probably interpret it as my parents do not love me as much as his parents do. That's how kids relate to it and that could probably be one of the important elements as to why parents feel the need to follow a trend blindly.

    I am wondering if a parents' meet would solve the issue. Just an idea from my side. Is it possible to gather the peer group and discuss on how and why should there be a limit to the extravaganza (not just limited to the birthday parties but also many unnecessary things that I have seen parents buy for their kids)? It is possible that many people feel the same but are too shy to admit it.

    It is not about how much disposable income a household has, it is about not turning kids into some materialistic monsters that we often see today!

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    1. Oh, don't get me started on these theme parties..I see FB updates of US friends putting up cakes that are straight out of a fairy tale story ( many of them also personally baked..*gulp*)..but these theme parties are catching up very fast here..I resisted it completely for R's first birthday. His first birthday, although was on a larger scale, was very toned down as per the general standards.

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  9. Agree with you, Uma. I am now tempted to write a post on return gifts...been on my mind for a while...oh god...it drives me crazy...

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  10. I can so so understand the frustration da...I thought you did a wonderful job with R's birthday..perfect as per my standards..

    Dont even get me started on return gifts...I can write post after post on it

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    1. Thanks, RM..you are a true friend :-)))

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  11. This is precisely what I have written about http://cybernag.in/2013/01/is-big-fat-a-status-symbol/ Do read and take part in the discussions.

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    1. Hi Zephyr, I opened up your page multiple times to read the post in peace but have been unsuccessful so far..Loved whatever little I read..will read it fully shortly and give my comments.

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  12. I agree with you! I remember the return gifts policy being there even when I was a child but it was restricted to stationery items or chocolates...These days it seems that parents just use birthdays as an excuse to showcase the amount of wealth they have!

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    1. Very true, most people have a lot of wealth to flaunt these days it seems.

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  14. Its really interesting to read the blogs and comments as well.
    i think now parents have to teach their kids that birthday party is not all about getting return gifts.

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  15. You echoed my thoughts.On my kid's first b'day, I gave age appropriate books as return gifts and you know one kid told me on my face 'Aunty why you have given books, return gifts are something else!!!' :)

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  16. Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!
    Return Gifts | Silver Plated Gift Items Online

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  17. I had always wondered this. Thanks for the post!

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    ReplyDelete
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