Over the past week, there’s been a lot of celebrating going on in my world: a milestone birthday followed by Mother’s Day celebrations with my mom and again with my mother-in-law. There have been laughter and sweets, photos and games. And yes, there have even been gifts.
One thing I’ve noticed post-celebration–even more than the tightness of my pants*–is the way we, as a society, tend to talk about celebrations. What’s become especially interesting to me is the way we seem to want to measure their success. “What did you get?” If I didn’t field that question twenty different ways in the day following my thirtieth birthday, I’d be shocked. I tried to talk about the surprise party my husband threw. I tried to mention how friends from high school, college, and work all went in on the surprise. But all anyone really seemed to care about is what I unwrapped.
It’s time to reframe the question. I don’t have anything against gifts. In fact, I’m a big fan of gifting experiences, requested items, or little indulgences that I know someone wouldn’t normally splurge on. Giving can be quite fun. However, I don’t think it is a requisite part of any celebration, let alone the single determining factor of a party’s success. So rather than talking about things, here’s how I like to reframe the conversation around celebrations:
Who did you celebrate with? Let’s put the focus back on people, not things. After all, a party really isn’t a party without guests. Asking a question like this gives people an opportunity to give shout-outs to people who were able to make it out to celebrate and the chance to share different memories from the day.
How did you spend your day? Maybe there wasn’t a big party or maybe there was. Either way, asking people how they spent their time will give you opportunities to learn more about them, bond over common hobbies, and take the focus off finances. The celebration’s size, cost, and structure are really irrelevant–as it should be–when the question is phrased like this.
What will you always remember? Memories are made regardless of price tags. Could someone mention a gift in response to this question? Of course. But it also gives people the chance to share silly stories or sentimental moments. A conversation framed in this format will be a whole lot richer–even if things are never mentioned.
*Double chocolate cake with buttercream frosting was worth every.single.calorie.
So Tell Me…What’s your favorite way to inquire about a big celebration? Care to share a memory from a recent party or gathering?
The people who were there and the experience itself are all that matter to me in terms of a celebration. My idea of the best “gifts” are those that are highly personal and those that are not even given for a specific celebration. When I see something that I think someone would really enjoy, I buy it and give it to them. It doesn’t have to be a special day – they are special, and that is all that matters.
Emily @ JohnJaneDoe
Wow, we do tend to focus on the material, even from a very young age. I love the fact that in most of the kid’s parties we go to, the presents don’t get opened at the party, but we still tend to ask children “What did you get?” instead of “Did you have a good time?”
Frankly, my daughter has been more excited about throwing a party for her friends than the presents she’s gotten or even wanted. Her birthday is next month, and she’s mentions where she wants her party at least once a week, but hasn’t mentioned a present she wants yet.
Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor
Great questions. I agree that there is an inordinate focus on gifts surrounding celebrations. Pricey outings are also a popular way to celebrate. Your questions are a beautiful way to inquire about a celebration while focusing on the person, not just what they may have received.
Gary @ Super Saving Tips
This isn’t something I’ve thought about but I couldn’t agree more. I think these habits are formed in childhood, where gifts have primary importance, and we just never evaluate that process as we grow and learn to value the other aspects of celebrating even more. But we definitely should reframe the questions we ask, and the answers we give.
Very well said! Exactly my thoughts on celebrations!
Our Next Life
I love how you’ve reframed the question. It must be because I’m more of a do things person than a stuff person, but I’ve always asked, “What did you do?” for pretty much any celebration, weekend, you name it. Which has definitely ruffled some feathers when I showed disinterest in what they received. So that’s the flip side! But I still think it’s a worthy thing you’re suggesting. 😉
Great post! I ask “what did you do?” too. I don’t really care much about the gifts, but I know that’s the highlight for some.
Our family celebrations focus on a meal (with lots of dessert) and spending time laughing, talking and playing games together.
Oh my gosh! The food! How did I forget the food? If you’re not stuffed to the gills, someone in my family is bound to take offense. You can still breathe? You can still button your pants? Eat some more!
The gifts are being with the people you love and having memories to cherish for years to come. Great insights, Penny.
Last Christmas, Mr. G’s grandmother (who I wrote about recently passing) was staying with his parents. To keep her busy, my mother-in-law gave Nanna little, light chores around the house. Before dinner, Nanna was dozing off on the sofa and my MiL said “Maaa – go set the table”. Nanna got up, started walking towards the dining room, saluted my my MiL and said “Aye-Aye, Captain”. We all broke into fits of laughter. And for the rest of our lives we’ll be imitating Nanna’s “Aye-Aye Captain”.
You wrote a beautiful piece about her. That memory will last a lifetime. So happy that you all have those fond memories 🙂
Belated happy birthday! I usually don’t like getting presents and my family loves food, so we normally eat out or go for a trip to celebrate special occasions. When it comes to asking other people, it’s either ‘What did you do?’ or ‘Do you have plans?’ for me. Sometimes I also ask ‘Did you have cake?!’ because I love cake and I get excited for other people who get to eat cake. Your cake sounds awesome, by the way.
I’ve never commented before…I’m honestly surprised people ask you this! Never in my adult life have I been asked what I got for my birthday. TBH, I find the “So what did you do!” equally daunting, because people expect some big over-the-top party or splurge, and I feel like I’m letting them down with “I ate cake with my family”. when my husband turned 40 a couple years ago, I spent a good amount of time & energy setting up a scavenger hunt in our house and baking my first double layer frosted cake and planning an outing with our little family. And yet people seemed like it was insulting that I didn’t plan him a big party (he’d hate that) or some amazing vacation.
Double layer cake is SO tricky! And I only make it from a box. Ha! The scavenger hunt sounds like the memory of a lifetime!
I love asking about who they celebrate with. Knowing that fact shows so much about who is valued in that person’s life.
After seeing my nieces’ rooms, which were an explosion of toys with debris so deep you couldn’t see the floor (Shopkins are a thing?!?), we asked them if they’d rather have a full-day adventure with us without a sibling or if they wanted a present to open on holidays. We weren’t sure what they’d say, but they both chose the “special day.” Last year’s events were smashing successes, and we’re taking the older one to the waterpark this month for her birthday. The little one is already planning her special day in November.
I adore this idea, Julie! What a fantastic idea. I am positive they will cherish that time with you and those memories forever. Maybe they will even continue the tradition down the road.