The Changing Culture of Birthday Parties: Where Did All The Presents Go?


At risk of sounding my mid 40s age, there are many things that have changed about birthday parties since I was a kid. I have many fond memories of both my birthday parties and being a guest at friends’ parties – the anticipation, hanging out with friends, games, activities and more.

The party activities were fun but the present part was always very exciting. Whether you were the birthday girl or boy or a party guest, many of us have memories of being surrounded by a mountain of wrapping paper and ribbons, cards strewn about the floor and the circle of friends becoming increasingly smaller and smaller around the birthday boy or girl as the presents were opened.  

Each opening came with lots of ohs and ahs, excited claims of “that’s from me”, followed by a chorus of I have that and love it and I want that too! It was 15 minuets of pure joy and excitement for all the kids.

At today’s parties the presents are collected and quickly piled up in the corner or even put directly in the car to be opened later. Why has this part of the party disappeared?

Where have all the presents gone?

At a recent party, where refreshingly the presents were opened, a friend of mine commented on how rare that was. She recounted her memories of opening presents and watching her friends open presents as one of her favourite birthday party memories. She thought it was sad that for the most part, presents are no longer opened at the party. Her philosophy was that the birthday girl or boy should open their presents with their friends….no matter how long it takes.

For the next few days I thought a lot about my friend’s views on present opening at parties and her thoughts really resonated with me. Especially the part where it doesn’t matter how long it takes, just open the presents and enjoy it!

This motivated me to make a change! For the past few years I have been following the new party norm of not opening the presents and not really thinking much about it. But I’ve thought about it and it’s time to bring the presents back! Now, with twins, I haven’t quite figured out how much time that might actually take. But I am determined to make it part of their party this year.

It also got me thinking about how the kids are affected by this. I know that many parents make selecting a gift for a birthday party a part of the process. The child often makes a card for their friend and I know I look to our children for ideas about what to buy for each present.

Regardless of how much or how little your child is a part of the present buying process we now have kids coming to parties with presents they have generally participated in somehow, yet they don’t get to learn the second part of giving – seeing the joy on your friend’s face when they open your present.

How can we teach our children the concept of giving if they are only encouraged to take the time to think about what someone would like but don’t get to experience the positive feedback from actually giving the gift?

At the few birthday parties I’ve been to where the presents have been opened I see the excitement in all the kids faces, not just the guest of honour. Each child has their present in their lap and is so eager to have their present opened next they can hardly contain themselves.

I think the actual giving part is more important than the buying part. It gives kids the chance to participate in the act of giving and receiving. The giver learns what joy looks like and receiver learns to say thank you.

These are simple, yet important lessons every child need to practise. What better place to practise these life skills than at a party?  

Picture of Amy Schlueter

Author: Amy Schlueter

Amy lives with the love of her life and their three children in Waterloo, Ontario. She enjoys discussing and debating random facts and trivia especially on the topics of history, sports or politics. Her current hobbies include traveling, with or without children, photography, and shopping for shoes, bags and purses. Amy is also a dedicated hockey Mom as well as the Vice-President of the Schlueter Group, a multi-generational family business. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram or at

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