I'm a parent, and birthday parties stress me out.
It's not the idea of having ten screaming 7-year-olds in my house that gives me the most anxiety: it's the gifts.
North American parents are fighting a tidal wave on consumerism. Our kids have way too much stuff. And it's a real challenge dealing with the mountains of toys that our kids get from McDonald's, family, Christmas and birthdays.
On the other side of the coin, shopping for birthday gifts for other people's children is equally stressful. When I was young, kids gave one GI Joe or one Ninja Turtle; these toys cost around $5. Nowadays, at least in our area, the average gift is $20.
In some social circles, there is an underlying competition to see which kid can bring the most extravagant gift to a party. Invariably, a birthday party invitation means driving to Wal-Mart, and trolling the shelves for something that you hope will "fit in."
With my 6-year-old's birthday party approaching, we decided to try something different: A Sir Laurier party. Here in Canada, it is Sir Laurier who graces our $5 bill. In the birthday invitations, we invited our guests to make a creative card, and give "a Sir Laurier" instead of a gift. Our hope was to:
Teach our daughter a valuable lesson about materialism and waste
Reduce stress amongst parents (so they wouldn't have to run to the store to purchase an expensive gift)
Reduce stress amongst the invited kids (so they wouldn't compare each other's gifts)
Reduce our own stress that comes from the clutter of having too many plastic items laying around our home
It felt like a risk: we were all a bit uneasy about it. My daughter wasn't sure it would be as much "fun." My wife and I were worried about the kids and parents misinterpreting our intent.
The result? it was a total success: parents called to thank us, kids made the most beautiful cards, and our daughter had an amazing party. She is now saving her "birthday money" for something (that we hope) will be of high quality and use for her.