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Partying Coast to Coast

Partying from Coast to Coast

By Amalah


I’ve been reading your column faithfully for the last year or so and always find your advice very helpful, pertinent and incredibly witty. So thank you! That must be hard to maintain with two little ones (and one on the way, I see…congrats!!!)

Advice Smackdown ArchivesI’m sure I could ask you TONS of questions, but I’ll limit myself to just one for now. It’s in regards to the big NUMBER ONE birthday coming up. Our sweet little girl is turning one in December, and I am excitedly planning for her first party. While I want it to be meaningful and special, I really am trying to keep it low-key and low-cost, and I thought a great place I could save would be on invites. I decided to just use an online invitation and then use regular, in-the-mail cards for Thank Yous after the party. We’ve compiled a list, I’m just about ready to hit “send” but I have huge thing I’m stuck on.

My husband and I live in the middle of the country, with the huge majority of our family members (including both sets of grandparents) on either coast, many, many hours away. We are seeing them all during the holiday season, so I am not in the least bit mad or sad or anything about them not being able to make her birthday party. We understood things like this would happen when we moved here and that really isn’t a problem. The problem is this…should they be INVITED to her party? I mean, if I know, if I’m 100% sure that there is NO WAY any of our out-of-town family will be attending her party, should I include them on the online invite list or not? (I’m just asking about family: Grandparents, Aunts/Uncles, Cousins) My husband thinks no…thinks it just serves as a reminder that we aren’t all together and maybe even looks like we are asking for presents. I think yes…that it shows them that they are a special part of our lives, no matter where we all live, and it shows that we want them to feel included. Most likely at some point during the holidays there will be some talk about her party, whether before or after, and I don’t want them wondering why they weren’t invited. But I do understand my hubby’s point and don’t want them to get the email invite and feel like it was rude for me to send it. He said whatever I think is fine.

My one sis-in-law always sends us the invites to our niece’s parties, even though we aren’t going to fly back for them. But they do always include a picture of our niece, so I always save the picture and through away the invite. I can see that an online invite doesn’t share that sentimental value.

Anyways, this isn’t an incredibly crazy, difficult question. I just want to know the etiquette on this one. Do you send an invite to someone you know can’t attend?

Thanks so much,
Party Planner

Personally, I send invites regardless of whether I “know” if the invitee will be able to attend or not. Thus, I am for sending invites to far-flung family members, for reasons of inclusion, symbolically bridging the distance, and to let them know that they would, of course, be more than welcome to attend. (I also like receiving them, because I am NOTORIOUSLY bad about remembering the exact birthdays of nieces and nephews, and appreciate getting the timely “HEADS UP, SEND A GIFT/CARD” a few weeks before I’m officially behind the eight-ball.)

You never know when somebody might be discussing a possible business trip with work that week, and would just need to extend their travel plans an extra day, or if someone else is keeping track of $99 airfare sales. While, yes, there is the potential for a moment of deflation when they realize they can’t attend, I still don’t like the idea of lumping close family members into a group of “Eh, I KNOW they can’t come, so I won’t even bother.” I think it really is a personal call though — I know many brides usually compile invite lists with a narrow category for people they’d like to honor with an invitation, even though it’s likely that person is too old or far away to actually attend. But it’s not any huge breach in etiquette to NOT send birthday party invites to every person far and wide, especially if you are concerned about looking gift-grabby. I am fully aware that many of my far-away nieces and nephews have yearly parties to which we are not invited, and your family is too. But you know? It’s still nice to feel included, no matter what.

As you mentioned, though, an emailed invite is hardly on par with a lovely, personalized wedding invitation. Again, PERSONALLY, I would not use the Evite approach for the family members you’re talking about. I would go to the store and buy a cheap 6- or 8-pack of party invitations, fill them out, include a photo of your daughter and a note expressing your understanding that they can’t attend, but they will of course be on your mind and in your heart that day, etc. etc. etc. And perhaps a “no gifts, please” note on the invite itself. I think what your sister-in-law does sounds just right, so maybe follow her lead and do the same, while reserving the convenience of the emailed invites for your in-town friends and guests.

Published November 12, 2010. Last updated July 21, 2017.
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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  • Cassie

    November 12, 2010 at 11:07 am

    OMG! How timely is this! We are in the midst of planning our own kiddo’s first birthday party! (His big day is on Weds, 12/8.) We’ve been debating this very thing, with no clear idea on which we’d prefer. Glad to hear some input.
    Now if only someone could clear up the WHEN for us. We wanted it the weekend after, but now that’s a company holiday party, and the weekend before somehow seems wrong, and… Gah! But that’s an entirely different issue and column. *g*

  • HereWeGoAJen

    November 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Ooh, ooh, ooh! I SOLVED this one already because I have the exact same problem for this year’s coming birthday for my daughter. I am going to send out invitations for the party and include a note that says “and if you are too far away to come to the party, please join us at six o’clock online to watch Elizabeth open her presents and eat her cake.” Then I am going to live broadcast that bit. (You can skip the presents part, if you don’t want to seem like you are going for presents, but for us, it is the first grandchild and I am only sending it to the really close family members like grandparents. There will be presents, no matter what I say about it.) I am probably going to use the website JustinTV, which you can password protect, but it just kind of broadcasts to anyone who is watching. I don’t know if something like Skype would work if you wanted to let more than one person watch.

    • Isabel


      November 12, 2010 at 12:56 pm

      @HereWeGoAJen, that is BRILLIANT!

  • JB

    November 12, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    I would say….just don’t invite them. It’s not like they’re “not” invited, but next time you talk to your parents just mention “oh we’re having some neighbors over for his first birthday, it should be really cute, I’ll send you some pictures.”

    Would you invite your far-flung relatives if you were having a Halloween party? Neighborhood BBQ? If not, then I don’t think you “have” to include them on this.

    I dunno, I mean…they’re ONE year old. Not to be all “in my day” but….in my day, the kid got a cupcake and a bib that said “I’m One!,” and that was it. We turned out ok. 😉

  • Therese

    November 12, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    It seems like your family already has a tradition that is working (i.e. your sister-in-law sending the invite with a picture) if you want to follow that lead. The previous commenter’s suggestion regarding the video link is another awesome idea if your relatives have access to computers. In my family, the far flung relatives are not invited and it would probably seem like a “asking for gifts” situation if I did send them invitations. Good Luck!

  • Julie

    November 12, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    We had this situation for my son’s first birthday. I invited all the extended family members, and was surprised that most of them actually decided to come after all. So go for it! But I also included the note that “for those who are out of town, if you can’t come, please feel free to call to say hi” or something along those lines – much more nicely worded than that, but basically something to indicate that I didn’t expect the out of town people to come, but they were welcome if they wanted to, and if they couldn’t that we were thinking of them and wanted them to feel included.

  • Kate

    November 12, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    I wouldn’t send invites to people I know aren’t able to come, but I would definitely send them a link to my photo share site, so they could enjoy the big moment, after the fact. I just feel that an invite can come across as a reminder about a gift.

  • Katie

    November 12, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Why not a 1st year birthday announcement? “So and so is turning one!” With a cute picture? I’m not a parent, I don’t have any experience with this, so I could be totally wrong. Is that something you could do?

  • Caitlyn

    November 14, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    this still feels like an awful lot of planning for a one-year birthday.  or maybe my baby just responds worse than most to crowds?  (don’t answer that 🙂  

    her one-year is still a couple months away, but I probably won’t even bother with proper invitations – just agree on a date with my parents and my in-laws, and shoot a quick email to others who might be interested in watching online.  dessert or muffins or something, no decorations, no games.  I’m not even sure about the watching online – what if she melts down?  probably better to try, though.

  • Party Planner

    November 15, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Thank you SO MUCH for answering my question. This is SO helpful…and I also love the suggestion about having our family watch on Skype.


  • LB

    November 15, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    My sister sent me an invite to her kid’s first birthday parties, and I was really touched to be invited. I live about 9hrs away by car and couldn’t make it to either party, but I was delighted that she thought to invite me.

  • Amanda

    November 16, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    What a great topic, I’m starting to plan my daughter’s first birthday party (which will be in Jan) and had the same question. I think HereWeGoAJen’s idea is brilliant, since I have an aunt who is in poor health and can’t travel but loves being included in my daughter’s life.
    As far as if this is too much planning, I think of it like this: My daughter LOVES other people and being the center of attention, so she’ll do well in a party atmosphere. Knowing that, I can invite 15-20 people and she’ll be fine. So I want to do it up right without having to spend a lot of money, meaning I need to plan way early… Especially since she decided to have a birthday a week after the Christmas holidays! LOL

  • Christine

    November 17, 2010 at 7:43 am

    I think it’s clear from the responses that this is very much something that you can tailor to your own family’s way of doing things. My own reaction was definitely “No – it’s not a wedding”, but I can see that for some people it’s a very big celebration and inviting the out-of-town family would be appropriate. My family members are all an ocean away, and any such thing would be nothing but trawling for gifts. It didn’t even occur to me – I kept the guests to some close friends the baby actually knew, and we just had some cake and a play in the park. But horses for courses, as they say. Have a lovely celebration!

  • Katie

    November 18, 2010 at 10:07 am

    We have the same issue. My daugter was born on Jan 29th but my family was going to be here for her first Christmas and couldn’t do both. So, I planned a small little “almost 1” birthday party for just the family 1 month before her 1st birthday whiel they were here for Christmas. That way they could be a part of the birthday festivities. I think my daughter actually enjoyed that one more! I did the evite route, but had I thought of it I would have totally sent the out of towners a real invite with a picture. I did include a picture (a collage of the last 12 months) in the evite but nothing you could print. Best of luck!

  • Lauren

    November 18, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    My sister-in-law, who grew up in Hawaii, is of Japanese and Hawaiian descent, and apparently in her family & cultures the first birthday is a *huge* deal. She decided to hold my niece’s 1st birthday in Hawaii. Since my husband, myself, and my in-laws all live on the East Coast, we weren’t able to make it, but I really appreciated receiving an invite to my niece’s party. I never saw it as gift-grabbing, but definitely appreciated, as Amy mentioned, the heads-up that my niece’s birthday was approaching, since we did want to send a card and gift.