In our house, birthdays are a time to give, not receive. 

By Pooja Makhijani
Updated December 08, 2017
You always need multiple Spotify playlists ready. Each should have different vibes to match the attendees, one for close friends, another for family/parents, and one for kids' parties. —Rebecca Hart, digital art director
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“In leiu of a gift for the birthday girl...,” I write on my daughter Krishna’s birthday invitation.

“In lieu of?” my 5-year-old asks.

“Instead of,” I say. “Instead of asking our guests for a gift for you for your birthday, we’re asking them to donate a new toy or book to children who may not have as many things as you do.”

“But what about presents for me?” she asks.

“I will buy you presents, and so will your grandparents, and we are having a big party with cake and a disco ball,” I say. “But this way we can help other children, too.”

I expect pushback, or even a tantrum, but my daughter simply asks, “How can I help?”

Although I have been celebrating my birthday with acts of service since I was in my 20s, this particular birthday tradition began a month before my daughter turned 1. Like many new parents, I accumulated so much stuff for her in just a year: stacking toys and blocks, musical instruments, board books. There was no need for any more! But I realized our guests might also be looking forward to buying gifts.

So on her first birthday, I asked for toys and books for babies in foster care in our city. This year, the first when Krishna was old enough to understand and help me plan, we decided to donate her gifts to a residential treatment program for pregnant and parenting adolescents and their children.

“You are deeply loved,” I tell Krishna as she grabs a laundry basket and starts decorating it with ribbons. This is the basket her friends can drop their gifts into at her party, she tells me.

“Your birthday is a time for us to share that love with others.”


  1. For babies, ask guests to donate new toys, boxes of diapers, or clothes to a family shelter or children’s aid organization in your town.
  2. Help older kids choose a cause they care about. will send invites asking guests to donate to their selected charity; the charity gets half, and your kid gets a Visa gift card for the other half.
  3. Keep you guest list small and send the money you would have blown on a big party to, which throws parties for kids in homeless shelters.