We've been getting birthday party invites with some unexpected fine print lately. Instead of "bring your bathing suits" or "feel free to drop off," it's "no gifts please." Sometimes in lieu of presents, they ask for a charitable donation and provide a link. I can't decide whether I think this is a great idea or a terrible idea that deprives a child of one of life's simple thrills -- tearing open tokens of acknowledgement on their special day

The first few times I got invites like this, I admit I blatantly ignored the request. Not getting a kid a gift just seemed so ... harsh. But more recently, the wisdom's started to sink in.

After our daughters' joint 6-year-old dance party last year, the amount of presents my husband and I hauled home literally made us sick.

Our girls don't get a ton of stuff during the year and they know their birthday is special and that they're lucky to have all that they have. But because there were two of them and a guest list of girls from two classes (our school's suggested policy), the riches seemed obscene. It took days to open all the presents and write thank-you notes, which I insisted they do themselves. But would going to the opposite extreme this year really get the message of gluttony across? How do you go from heaps of goodies to zero when you're still buying Barbies for your friends?

My sister-in-law introduced me to a website called ECHOage.com, which seems like a promising middle ground. It works like a cross between Evite and PayPal with a donation component built in. Guests contribute money with a credit card. The total gets split between a charity of your choosing and the birthday kid. They'll have a lump sum to put toward one meaningful gift like an iPad or a bike.

The site emphasizes compassion and the good feeling that comes with giving, of course. But they also underscore a practical bonus that hadn't occurred to me. Not receiving gifts also means, if others follow your lead, not having to spend your weekends shopping for them.

Do you think "no gift" birthday parties are a good idea?


Image via shorts and longs/Flickr