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First Birthday Party Present Etiquette

First Birthday Party Present Etiquette

By Amalah

Dearest Amalah,

I have a birthday party etiquette question, and since you are my go-to etiquette expert (sending out procrastinated thank you cards six months post baby? Absolutely did that) I figured you’d be the perfect person to ask.

My daughter is nearing her first birthday and since hers, mine and my husband’s all fall in the same week we decided to have a super low key, open house style birthday party for the three of us. A drop by if/when you can type thing. On the invites I’m planning on noting that no gifts are necessary, but she’s the first grandchild on both sides so I have a feeling she might get a little spoiled anyway. (And I mean, if someone wants to throw something in there for mama too, I’m not going to say no.)

My question is, since there’s not going to be any sort of party structure, what do we do with the gifts we might receive? Do we open them right away or wait until after the party? I don’t want to offend someone who brought something by just putting it on the table untouched but I don’t want to make anyone who didn’t bring something (because we said they didn’t have to) feel bad either.

Ohh, what to do?


I think it would be both appropriate AND way less stressful for everyone involved to quietly set gifts aside until after the party. (After a gracious thank you, then whisked out of sight of any subsequent guests who arrive empty-handed.) Just like you have no obligation to open and serve a bottle of wine someone brings as a hostess gift, for example, I believe etiquette allows you to graciously acknowledge the receipt of a gift without immediately opening it, and to simply set it aside until a more convenient time.

A 1-year-old won’t really have any freaking clue what to do with the gifts in the first place, but will get quickly overwhelmed and possibly even distressed by being prodded to open and acknowledge a day-long ongoing drop-in parade of gifts. She’ll rather play with the wrapping paper, ignore/throw/cry at the gift itself, your house will quickly get cluttered with present and packaging detritus while you’re trying to entertain, and no matter when you choose to open them (as guests arrive or all at once during the party itself), you’ll run the risk of making the rule followers feel uncomfortable.

If, at the end of the party, there’s a lingering crowd of close friends and family members who brought gifts, you can go ahead and have your daughter open a few. (As long as she’s awake and semi-chill as opposed to exhausted and overstimulated.) Then space out the opening of everything else, take photos of your daughter with her gifts and send those along with a nice thank-you note.

I believe most people are accustomed to the modern-day kids’ birthday tradition of waiting to open presents in private, and anyone who chooses to ignore a no-gifts note on an invitation should be doubly understanding that the host can’t make a huge deal over a present when surrounded by guests who didn’t bring anything. Plus, you know, she’s a baby. She’s going to be way more excited by the box than the toys or cute outfits or whatever. Her first piece of cake will be a much better photo opportunity than a confused stare over yet another Elmo toy or toddler tiara or whatever.

If someone DOES insist that your daughter open their present immediately or asks when she’ll opening it that day, you can handle that on a case-by-case basis. If you’re really busy and there’s a string of people arriving, quietly explain that since you specified no gifts being necessary, you don’t want to be inconsiderate and plan to wait until a little later to open things. Or if there’s a lull in arrivals and there’s a quiet, empty corner of the house, pull your daughter and guest aside for a quick, discreet unwrapping.

If someone brings something for you or your husband, treat it more like a host/hostess gift than a birthday present and again go case-by-case. I typically set those gifts aside to open later as well, unless I’m greeting a single guest and can do a quick open right in the foyer out of sight of anyone who didn’t bring something.

(Tangent to party guests: Please don’t wrap hostess gifts, unless it’s something obvious like a wine bag or gift card holder. Or you know for a fact you’re the only invited guest. For bigger parties, it’s much easier for your hostess if she can simply accept and acknowledge the gift without having to take time on a big “reveal” — not to mention you’ll put her in the awkward position of opening something in front of guests who didn’t bring anything, while creating more trash/recycling for her to deal with. If you really want to bring something fully wrapped up, feel free to spoil the surprise a bit [“Just some pretty hand-towels I saw and immediately thought of you!”] so she thank you and then put the gift aside.)

And hey, if it becomes super clear that EVERYBODY ignored your “no-gifts” note and EVERYBODY is clamoring for a public opening of baby gifts, go for it. Watch your daughter’s mood and don’t feel obligated to make her open EVERYTHING, however — there’s nothing worse than watching a young toddler open a gift, be prompted to “do something” with it or acknowledge the giver (who might very well be a stranger), and then have said gift immediately yanked out of his/her hands and replaced with another package. (Which is why I still vote for opening things in phases post-party. But ultimately it’s your party, your call.)

Published September 3, 2014. Last updated September 3, 2014.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Karen

    September 3, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    One thing I appreciate about open-house style parties is when the invitation includes something like, “please stop by anytime, we will sing happy birthday and have cake at 3 pm.” This is a part of little kids’ parties that I and my kids really enjoy and it helps me to time my “drop in.”

  • anon

    September 4, 2014 at 2:14 am

    I’ve yet to be to a baby/young toddler’s birthday where the gifts were opened in the company of the guests. If it was family only, though, and there was clamouring for that sort of thing I might consider it.

  • Marie

    September 4, 2014 at 3:25 am

    I’d make it a first birthday party exclusively and leave you and your husband’s birthday out of the invite. I hate having to shop for something cute/meaningful/personal for adults who have everything already anyway and we’re too poor to buy substantial giftcards 754557 times a year (and never really receive them because we live in a tiny city apartment and don’t have the space to entertain).

    PS Regarding opening the gifts: that must be a cultural/US thing. In The Netherlands/Mexico (we we are from) it would be considered rude setting presents aside. You’re supposed to open them after handing out coffee/cake and thank the giver right then and there. There are usually tons of older siblings/cousins around who are more than happy to ‘help’ the baby open his present (even when said baby is upstairs sleeping :))

    • Kay

      September 4, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      In my part of the USA, I’m pretty sure it’s considered completely rude, too.  I am honestly horrified imagining someone giving me or my child a present and not opening it and giving effusive thanks over how lovely/thoughtful/perfect it is.  And I would absolutely feel a bit snubbed if I brought someone a present and it wasn’t opened.  But I live in an entirely different region of the country.  I guess what I’m saying is, LW, maybe discreetly ask some local friends/family for a ruling, here? If you’re not from the same part of the country as Amalah?  This is definitely one of those YMMV kinds of etiquette questions. (I do think it’s okay to open discreetly or case by case or later in the day if you’ve explicitly requested no gifts, to make the non-gift-bringers not feel bad, but still.)

      • Liz

        September 5, 2014 at 11:29 pm

        It’s a social circle thing, too. My husband’s family lives in the same county as Amalah and they would be super offended if you didn’t open their gifts at the party.

  • Natalie

    September 4, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    I went to a first birthday party last year where the baby was forced to open everything and it was terrible. Most people got clothes (we apparently didn’t get that memo and got her a stuffed animal) so baby was bored, but when she did get to a toy, as Amalah said, it was immediately yanked away from her in order to move on, which she did NOT enjoy.

    This is so very timely for me since my daughter’s 1st birthday is coming up. We are having an outdoor venue and I really do NOT want to open gifts in front of everyone but I’m not sure what to do with them. I guess we will have a table for them but I hope people are not expecting to see her open them. Many of the invitees do not have children so they won’t be all up on current baby party doings (i.e., not opening).

  • Jo

    September 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I have to say, i went to a birthday party where it said “no gifts necessary” and it kind of rubbed me the wrong way.  Are they ever “necessary???”  Like I have to bring one to get in the door?  It sounds so half-hearted that I feel like people don’t really mean it.  If you don’t want gifts, say “no gifts, please” and own it.

  • leslie

    September 4, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    I have been to a litany of first birthday parties, and the gifts are almost never opened during the party. Or, at best, half the time. While it’s nice to see someone open a gift you brought them, I honestly don’t think that most people want to sit around and watch every gift get opened. If you look around at a party while gifts are being opened, you will see that most people are not even paying attention. So, I love this newer tradition. We have now had three parties for my older daughter and one for my younger daughter, and we’ve never opened gifts during the parties. In fact, it’s usually been the next day, b/c we’re too tired to bother after the party!

  • Leslie

    September 11, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    All three together seems a little odd unless it’s just local immediate family members you’re expecting. No gifts necessary is irritating. “No gifts, please” is much better. I think first birthdays are a time to have a funny, sweet little party for your baby where you eat cake and open presents as it strikes your baby’s fancy. Honestly, all of my kids have enjoyed opening their presents and playing with them. Not once have they had more fun with the box or wrapping. And maybe they love the very first thing they open and you never get back to the rest – no big whoop. For people that care about your baby, it’s fun (as long as you’re not being a control freak about how it’s opened and when and where the wrapping goes, etc). If you suspect any guests would find it boring, then I think it’s a sign that you and your hubs should do a separate party for yourselves. At night. When people can bring you booze. I find kids pretty annoying in general, but for some reason I feel really strongly that they should have their special day. With presents.

  • Allison

    September 12, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Kids don’t open their presents at birthday parties anymore?! I did not get this memo, what is the logic behind it?

  • gen

    September 13, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Where I live (San Francisco Bay Area) I’ve seen a mix of save the gifts and open them at the party. It depends on the size of the party, the age of the birthday child and the cultural heritage of the family. For my son’s 5th birthday we played a fun game with the gifts after cake. There were 8 children and they all sat in a circle with the gift they had brought behind their back. We played spin the bottle and whomever the bottle landed on would pull out their present from behind their back and hand it to the birthday boy for opening. This made it more fun for everyone, it was a game to see who would be next, and it allowed both the gift giver and the gift receiver to have a direct connection. My son was reminded to say thank you both as he was handed the gift and after he opened it.  For younger kids it’s often hard for both the giver and receiver to keep track of who gave a present, especially if parents do the shopping, so this game was great!  My daughter’s last birthday (7) was a sleepover with only 3 friends, so she just opened the gifts as her friends arrived without any ceremony but lots of thank you’s an time to play with the new presents together.  

  • Tina

    September 18, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    I agree with the comments to make it a 1st birthday party only and not a birthday party for the parents. I think it’s lame to do a whole family party. I also agree with ‘No gifts, please”. It’s common where we are to not open birthday presents and I think it’s fantastic. Giving kids a bunch of cake and then expecting them to sit around watching another child hit the present jackpot – it’s too much. It prevents a lot of stress and mania by quietly putting the presents away for later.

  • susan coulter

    April 2, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Is it necessary to provide little gift bags to children at a 1st birthday party?

  • Diane Forbes Despas

    August 26, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Cultural bull it is rude to not open gifts. The purpose of the gift opening teaches children about giving and receiving. A most important lesson in life that they will use forever. It also teaches a child the ability to enjoy and get excited about new toys to play with. The other children join in on the excitement this is called having fun something this generation takes from kids. There is no lesson in not opening gifts. Keep parties simple games cake open gifs not like my son and his wife who had so many adults at the party you forgot it was my grandsons first birthday. I took my kids to disneyland for their first birthday the best decision ever.