Today I am going to lay to rest this ongoing dissension regarding the self hosted adult birthday party. This topic is *the* sacred cow of this site with a considerable number of people reacting quite defensively about their perceived right to host their own birthday celebrations. Any threat to the sanctity of the sacred cow yields dozens of comments defending it, as if being deprived of having birthday parties is the worst hardship an adult can possibly face. It also brings out the trolls who submit all manner of puerile insults and threats revealing their own lack of maturity. There is even one hate blog created a while back in which the main accusation against me is that I disapprove of selfie birthday parties for adults.
Lest anyone think that the prohibition against selfie birthday parties is solely an Etiquette Hell one or a personal pet peeve of mine, I present to you Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, who has quite bit to say about selfie birthday parties.
The Gentle Reader writes that a friend has invited several friends to celebrate her birthday at a local restaurant and asks, “I’m assuming she doesn’t expect to be treated, but that each of us will pay for his own meal. Nonetheless, is it customary for the person whose birthday it is to choose the restaurant or other activity when he or she is not actually hosting?”
To which Miss Manners replies, in part,
The justification for children’s birthday parties was supposed to be to teach the child the responsibilities, along with the pleasures, that go with having friends and being a host.
The opposite is true nowadays. Apparently the only lesson learned from those childish parties, now continued throughout life, is It’s All About Me, with people eagerly and lavishly honoring themselves by ignoring the circumstances, wishes and tastes of their friends.
Lest you think Miss Manners is alone in her understanding that children’s birthday parties are training ground for future duties as a host, read Emily Post.
And to clarify, both Post and Martin are referring to future training to host other people’s birthday parties, not one’s own, and many other hospitable opportunities. Miss Manners further expounds on the rules regarding birthday parties for children and adults…
How often does the child have a birthday? Perhaps you are confused by Miss Manners’s rule that limits major adult celebrations to only three in a lifetime. This is so as not to overtax one’s friends and appear childishly indulgent.
Miss Manners is more generous with actual children. She permits them a birthday party every year — at their parents’ discretion, and as long as there is no registry nonsense.
So then the question is, at what age is childhood finished? While she is inclined to leave this to the philosophers, her guess would be 18. Thus if a huge occasion is made of the 21st birthday, the next two could be scheduled at ages 50 and 100.
Continuing, Miss Manners answers a question as to whether a husband and wife can host a nice party for simple no reason at all other than an enjoyment of their friends.
Just for fun? You mean that it will not be a party in your own honor, and that you are not even expecting, much less demanding, presents?
That you have never heard of such a thing makes Miss Manners weep. Has society so thoroughly embraced the selfie event, complete with gift registry, that true social life has disappeared?
If so, thank you for reinventing it. Your guests will be puzzled at first, but may discover how pleasant it is to attend an event where the focus is on their enjoying themselves, rather than celebrating their hosts.
In the dim past, when socializing was done just for fun, the name of the event was an indication of the degree of formality. “Gala” is a term associated with fundraisers, so Miss Manners suggests your simply calling it a party.
You will still be besieged by guests asking, “What should I bring?” and “Where are you registered?” by others who have never heard of selfless hospitality. Miss Manners hopes that you will take the opportunity to explain it to them. It would be a nice custom to revive.
In this particular publication, Miss Manners handily explains that selfie birthday parties are not just about the expectation of material acquisitions but primarily about the focus of selfie parties being “all about you”.
The selfie party, for whatever excuse, has become commonplace. Adults throw themselves annual birthday parties; brides and expectant parents demand showers; and those who, like you, missed a possible milestone that could have been such an occasion ask for compensation.
At least you aren’t proposing this as an excuse to extract material tributes. And the desire to dress up for a festive time, in this era of relentless casualness, is understandable.
So give your formal party, buy yourself that dress and celebrate life. Just don’t advertise that it is all about you. Occasion parties have so crowded out purely-for-fun parties that your friends are bound to be delighted and grateful. And, that way, you will be celebrated for what you have done for others instead of what you have demanded for yourself.
And finally, Miss Manners explains in detail, yet again, why self hosting your own birthday party as an excuse to have a fun get together with friends doesn’t pass the etiquette muster.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Was it tacky of me to throw my own birthday party? I wanted to use my birthday as an excuse to have a fun party, so I invited friends, who all agreed in advance to share the cost of pizza, and I provided cake and cookies. (A plain cake – I did not write “Happy Birthday, Me!” on it, which I do think would have been tacky.) Some friends remarked that they thought it was strange for me to “celebrate myself” in this way – getting my own cake, etc. But these friends certainly weren’t about to throw a party for me – nor did I expect them to – and this seemed like the best way to throw the party that I wanted for myself. Is there established etiquette for throwing a party for oneself, and did I breach it?
GENTLE READER: Children give their own birthday parties, with the help of their parents, in the hope that it will teach them how to be gracious hosts. But many of them must have flunked, because the adult birthday party, in which the host’s interest is in honoring himself, often at the expense of the so-called guests, has become common.
Do not expect Miss Manners to reassure you that this is a charming thing to do. As you heard, your own friends were not charmed, although it was unkind of them to say so. It was, as you put it, “the party that I wanted for myself.” Where were your thoughts for your guests – other than that they should pay for the pizza? How can they help noticing that you are prodding them to honor you?
It is not that mean old Miss Manners expects you to spend your birthday sulking along. But there is a subtle – and nevertheless crucial – difference between wanting to celebrate with your friends, and instructing your friends to celebrate you. By all means, throw a party, if that is what you wish, but then behave like a host. That means planning it for the enjoyment of the guests, not just the fulfillment of your own preferences. It also means paying for the refreshments.
A particularly gracious touch would be refraining from calling it a birthday party, so that guests do not feel obliged to bring presents. But perhaps that is too much to expect, on top of your having to pay for the pizza.
Is anyone getting the theme throughout Miss Manners’ comments? If not, allow me to elucidate you. The mature, gracious adult does not engage in hospitality that brings honor upon themselves but instead focuses their hospitality on serving others. There is no way to host your own birthday party without drawing attention to the fact that the day of your birth needs to be celebrated with all the attention directed upon you.
Several readers commented that hosting her own birthday party does serve her guests according to the Ehell criteria because she provides all the entertainment and refreshments. I’ve read some pretty creative claims over the years that guests really are being served by a faux pas. Money dancing, for instance. “I’m serving my guests who want to have a dance with me/want to give me money but can’t figure out how to do it. What I get out of it is the satisfaction of giving my guests the chance to dance with me and not be awkward in handing me money.” And on and on. If we were truly then serving our guests in this manner, brides would carry their iPhones with a credit card swipe device to facilitate their guests’ ease in gift giving.
If one believes that providing the refreshments defines what being a gracious host or hostess is, you need to renew an acquaintance with what hospitality really entails. Being an excellent hostess is a selfless job where the needs of the guests are paramount. You cannot function as a host looking to serve the needs of your guests when the guest of honor is you, when the raison d’etre of the event is about you, when the entire reason why people were invited is to focus on you. You could host the birthday party of the decade paying for extravagant food and hiring a killer band for guests to dance and you will still have failed as a host because the sole reason you planned and executed the party was to celebrate you. I’m continually amazed at people who declare that their birthday is so important to them that they must host a party, spend considerable time and money executing this party yet have no concept that maybe a friend’s birthday is as equally important to that person and perhaps their resources would be better used in hosting birthday parties for friends.
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So, I’m a violator of this sacred cow. Just two weeks ago. We held a cookout with two pairs of friends for my birthday. Of course, we covered the tickets to the camping park where we held the cookout. We introduced strangers who had lots in common and made valuable social and professional friendships.
I’m a bit more forgiving. I have no family: no parents, siblings, children, close cousins. If my husband doesn’t arrange something to be with people I care about on a day that would otherwise be a trigger for source and depression, then no one is going to do it for me. The day marks a time of year where my husband and I faced a huge tragedy and loss. I wrangled with the social etiquette of doing this. Then I realized something: the kind of friends I have don’t care. They’re happy to have burnt cheeseburgers and talk movies and sci-fi all afternoon over some cold beer and wine.
I understand where the prohibition is coming from, and I respect it. People trolling for gifts and attention is crass. But sometimes (not always) people are really trolling to feel loved and valued, connected and a little less isolated in a western culture that has become all about the self. So I think some flexibility is in order. Was it selfish? You bet. It was a selfish, self-centered mental-health agenda to remind myself I have people who care about me on a day that otherwise could send me into a very dark place. I suspect that may be true for other people out there. If we’re lucky enough to have a handful of friends who can get on board with that for a good time, we owe it to ourselves to remind ourselves we are so blessed.
I have to agree with you. I’ve had several friends throw birthday get togethers for themselves, and I don’t mind at all. Nobody expects gifts, and it’s fun to see everyone and hang out.
Same. And maybe it’s the community I hang with (though I’d bet it goes farther than that), but I’ve never been to an adult birthday party where gifts were expected. What was expected that friends hang out and have a good time together, whether that’s “come hang out with me at a pub” or “come to my place for snacks, drinks, and a movie.” And no one I know has been offended by a potluck gathering either.
I’ll bet that this cultural change is happening, at least in part, due to widening income inequality. With far fewer people comfortably in the middle class, the vast majority of people can’t afford to host and pay for nice parties anymore. So if we want to see our friends in person, we each pay our own way, or we do potluck. If we don’t, then we never see our friends.
Personally, I give greater weight to “my friend wants to spend time with me” than “they’re asking me to chip in for pizza.” In a time when social opportunities are rare, and stress, overwork, isolation, and really good reasons to be pretty darn depressed are on the rise, it can be an important part of self-care. Few to none of us in my community can afford to spend a few hundred dollars to host a party; and we’d rather have opportunities to spend time with our friends than be fussed that they asked us to bring a dish or a bottle for the potluck.
If I’m throwing a party (which I can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on either), it’s because I want to reconnect with and remind myself that there are people that care about me; and if they care about me I would hope they place higher value on reconnecting than on my paying for their dinner. This is true whether it’s a “birthday party” or some other kind of party. Some may call this selfish; I just call it emotional self-care.
If you want to throw a birthday party for yourself because you want to have your friends and family share the day with you, I suggest not only providing all the refreshments but also noting on the invite “Gifts will be provided” and giving your friends and family something to thank them for being a part of your life.
See how much this will cut down on the selfie parties if it was required to be done this way. 🙂
I do have to note that when I read “But these friends certainly weren’t about to throw a party for me” I started thinking, “and why wouldn’t they?” Maybe some thought should go into the reasons.
“Hobbit style” birthdays where the guests get the gifts… and there’s a ton of food.
I did that for my birthday one year, as an extension/expansion of the usual let’s get together and play card/board games. Seemed to go over fairly well, but we’re a fairly casual group etiquette-wise.
I did that for my 33rd birthday (that being when hobbits are supposed to come of age). I reserved a room at a Chinese restaurant, paid for everyone’s food, and got a birthday cake (with, yes, “happy birthday Vicki” on it) and a small present for each guest.
That was using my birthday as an excuse for a party. If anyone thought it was weird, they didn’t tell me (though of course someone who thought that might have just said sorry, they couldn’t come).
In no way do I want to indicate that I disagree with Admin. I agree wholeheartedly!! That said, your comment about “gifts will be provided” reminded me of The Hobbit. I always liked how Tolkien described birthday parties in The Shire.
Disagree wholeheartedly if you think the reason others don’t throw her a party is because of some flaw in her personality. I know many fine people that no one has ever thrown a party for, yet, just like many on here, I seem to get invited to the same person’s birthday over and over and over and I find said person the most shallow and obnoxious of people.
Why wouldn’t they? because they’re as broke as I am. Because they work 80-hour weeks and don’t have the additional mental bandwidth to keep track of 20 other people’s calendars in addition to their own. Because they have health issues, work issues, family issues. I do wonder why you feel the need to be so judgmental, though.
I can’t thank you enough for this! I have a friend who throws herself a birthday party every year and has for at least as long as I have known her, which is close to 25 years. For the past several years, she has held the party at a club where her “guests” are expected to pay a cover charge and buy their own drinks. I have gone a few times because I like my friend and I like the club, but it has always bugged me a little bit that she throws the party for herself and yet I’ve never seen her throw one for me or any of our other friends. I’m not much of a party planner so I have never thrown parties for her or our other friends either, but I certainly don’t “host” parties for myself!
I get not throwing your own birthday party… I agree that it’s over the top into adulthood.
But throw me into ehell if you want… going out to dinner on ones birthday and asking if your friends want to join you seems pretty reasonable. This is what we do in our friend group and it’s the same for everybody. Where do you want to go for your birthday? Are we doing anything for your birthday? I’m going here for dinner, want to join us? etc. No gifts are expected, nobody pays for the birthday person. We go out to dinner at other times, too… but adding in birthdays is another excuse to find a baby sitter and have an adult dinner. Sometimes it’s prompted by the birthday person and other times it’s one of the friends who brings it up first. It works for us as a group and if an outsider finds it rude, well, I guess that’s why we aren’t friends.
I agree. My friends and I outgrew “parties” in our twenties and instead usually just reach out and ask what the birthday girl/boy wants to do and almost always that is going to a restaurant. We stopped giving gifts years ago, usually we will cover the birthday persons part of the meal and that’s that. I have never really seen getting together for a meal at a restaurant as “throwing a party” but I guess we’re all violation. ¯\_(?)_/¯
I actually think this is the worst kind of birthday “party” that people host for themselves. Although it annoys me when adults make a huge deal about their birthdays, I actually am okay with it if they host a party and provide all the food and drinks (very rarely does this happen). I’ll even bring them a present, if I can afford one. Asking people to pay for dinner and drinks out, which often comes with the terrible bill-splitting game in which some people always end up paying more than their fair shares or more than what they planned to spend, and then the inevitable pressure to pay for the birthday person or at least buy them drinks, is not hosting anything. It’s just outright asking people to spend money for your birthday.
But isn’t that similar to just going out to dinner with friends?? In my group of friends we will go out to dinner from time to time… easily splitting the bill by telling the waiter who goes with who so we pay for what we order. The only difference when it is someone’s birthday is they might get pick of the place and usually we say “happy birthday” at some point. Or sneakily tell the waiter so they bring out the free dessert and candle…. It’s definitely not a huge deal, just another time to get together with friends.
We are grown adults and can afford our own meals. We just want the company of our friends on a special day. If our friends do not want to spend the money to go out to dinner, they are not pressured to attend, and either way only spend money on themselves.
As Miss Manners states repeatedly, it’s childish self indulgence to want to have the attention focused on you on your birth date.
Ok, but life is only what you make it. I like to make a big deal out of my spouse’s birthday. I like to make it special. What else is there in life? If all holidays and your birthday are all “just another day” because this is what mature adults do than count me as childishly indulgent. If it is a general – we are all going out to dinner to celebrate so and so’s birthday – so what? If my friends want to go out and have dinner and a couple of drinks on their birthday – I’m right there with them. I’ll make a deal of it – sing happy birthday and make it more special than another day out. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this. My friends and I always just pay for ourselves. We never split the meal. I agree that one shouldn’t throw themselves a party and ask for presents – but going out to dinner??? Come on.
So is it self indulgent to have attention focused on you for any accomplishment then? I don’t see going out to dinner, having my friends say “happy birthday!” and then moving on to typical friend conversation as having the attention focused on me, me, me. It’s like a celebratory dinner for a new job or other accomplishment… congratulations! You survived another year, cheers!
The focus of the evening is not the birthday- it may be the onus for getting together, but there aren’t party hats and a birthday person holding court. It’s friends getting together for yet another reason. And I will continue to childishly indulge my friends on their birthdays too.
Making sure one celebrates with friends on that specific day, the birthday, betrays the real reason why people defend the practice. If you were really meeting routinely with friends to celebrate those milestones of life, you are already enjoying a strong level of social interaction year round. In this context, if you feel deprived to not have your birthday recognized and acknowledged by your friends on your birthday, you’ve got a problem which an annual “party” can only superficially address because every year that gnawing need comes back.
Does your cell phone contact list/calendar contain the names and birth dates of all your friends so you can take the initiative to wish them well BEFORE they have to arrange for their friends to say it? Why not?
Also… If one of my friends says, “Hey, lets go out to dinner for your birthday!” Am I childish for agreeing to go? Is it only selfish if I bring it up first?
Etiquette is defined as: is a code of behaviour that delineates expectations for social behaviour according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group. If the contemporary conventional norm within a group is that friends invite friends over for dinner on their birthday how is that an etiquette breach? In the comments are several stories of groups where their ‘norm’ is to invite their friends to celebrate their birthdays with them.
Additionally, I think some of the disagreement here comes down to a difference of opinion on what the purpose of an adult birthday party is. A party meant as a coronation of a birthday girl/boy is pretty selfish, but that is not how I, at least, view an adult birthday party. Instead, I see them as a celebration of the past year the person has lived; a thing to celebrate with your friends/family, not a time to make your friends/family celebrate you.
In EHell World, any potential action one can take should be prefaced with the question, “Who is being served by this?” If the answer is “Me”, probably the action being considered is an etiquette faux pas. If the action leads you to focus on yourself instead of others, it’s likely a faux pas. Self hosted birthday parties, no matter how you slice it, focus the guests’ attention on the birthday guest of honor who also happens to be the host. Guests celebrate that person, honor the day of birth, reflect back on that person’s past year or life and well wishes are given (and maybe tangible gifts as well).
Contrast this to taking the focus away from yourself and how to please yourself and focus outward with the question, “How can I serve others?” If you can’t get off your lazy butt to send a birthday card to someone , which is the bare minimum for recognizing someone else’s birthday imo , you have no business exerting time, energy, and money celebrating yourself with a self hosted party.
Actually, yes, My phone does alert me when my friends birthdays come around and usually there is a card in a mail or a get together in the works.
My social circle is not huge, 4-5 good friends and spouses… so we do get together very regularly for dinners, cookouts etc. When someone’s birthday occurs, we make sure to get together around that time. Not always on the actual birthday, since weekends are easier to get together… But we see each other, we wish each other happy birthday… we enjoy good company.
It is not a once a year “LOOK AT ME” party, it’s dinner with friends on or around my birthday or on or around their birthday in addition to the other times we get together.
Yes, but Miss Manners also repeatedly states that among intimates, mutually agreed-upon preferences supersede etiquette rules. (This is the basis for statements like “a household can establish whatever manners it wants within its own domain”, GtDT p. 83, for instance.)
So if @shel’s close-knit friend group, or any other group of intimates, has voluntarily and to their own mutual satisfaction established a group custom of celebratory birthday dinners, I don’t think Miss Manners would find that objectionable.
What would be objectionable would be trying to extend that practice to one’s wider social circle, because those people haven’t agreed to this informal suspension of etiquette rules.
I completely agree with you. Every year I usually text my friends about if they want to go for brunch or dinner around my birthday and no one is expected to pay for me and there is no cake, sometimes my friends have surprised and paid for my meal but nothing is expected or set in stone. With two kids going out for brunch is as wild as it gets. Everyone has a good time and we all do similar things for everyone else’s birthday. No one gets gifts, or if they do it is not expected, sometimes a cute card and no one feels left out. Of all the things that are considered tacky I find this to be the silliest thing to call people out for. I feel there is a world of different between an adult throwing themselves a huge birthday bash and texting friends to celebrate a birthday casually at a restaurant. What about big adult birthday milestones is that off limits too? We had a 90th birthday party for my husband’s oma, is this going to put us in e-hell too?
I had a group of friends that went out to lunch together once a week. When it got to someone’s birthday week, the birthday person would pick the place. Sometimes people would bring gifts or someone might pick up birthday person’s lunch (it wasn’t expected). That’s what I always think of when it comes to adult celebrations of birthdays, and I don’t really understand why that was rude.
I’m finding it hard to understand why asking someone, “Hey, I want to go out to Chain Restaurant because it’s my birthday Friday, do you want to go too?” is rude. I’m not expecting a gift or my dinner bought. I’m also not expecting to pay for my friend’s dinner. They are free to decline the invitation if they don’t want to go.
Because you’re outright asking people to spend money to go out and celebrate you. If it’s that important to you to have dinner with friends on your birthday, and nobody seems to be about to arrange it for you, then save up and treat them or host something at home where none of your “guests” are expected to provide their own hospitality.
Ok, so not too long ago, I heard about a winery tour and asked two friends if they’d like to go, and we could have lunch in that area and make a day of it. They both agreed. We went, I paid my own way and own lunch, they paid theirs. Anytime in this friend group invites someone to do an activity – movie, dinner at cool new restaurant, whatever – it is assumed we are all paying our own way. So is that rude? The literal only difference between when we do this on a regular basis and on someone’s birthday is the date.
I think there’s a difference between a birthday party and getting together with friends to do something around the occasion of a birthday. A birthday party is where the focus is all on celebrating one person. A dinner or get together just isn’t the same thing – so no e-hell assignment required for that in my book! If I host a party and tell everyone “this is about me” – that does seem a little odd. If I want to gather with friends as a time to enjoy each other’s company, then that isn’t at all the same thing!
So what? Isn’t that what friends are supposed to do? Celebrate each other? I know that’s what me and my friends do. We love to celebrate each other. I think this is a know your audience thing.
How is this different from “I would like to see you, let’s get dinner.” In that case you are asking someone to spent money to see you, although for no special occasion.
I am regularly invited to go out to a restaurant or club, for special occasions or just for a social gathering. If I can / want to afford it, I will. If I can’t afford it, I’ll pass or go and order what I can afford. If it’s someone’s birthday, maybe I’ll buy them a drink, maybe I won’t.
Seriously, folks, a birthday is a nice excuse to get together. Maybe don’t invite judgy people who will look down on you for inviting them out and not paying or getting them gifts. True friends will enjoy the occasion for what it is, which again, is an excuse to see people you like.
ETA if the only time I am “allowed” to initiate an invitation is when I can afford to pay for the other person, I guess all I’ll be doing for the foreseeable future is sitting home alone !!! Nope, friends make plans with each other, keeping in mind what we know about their lifestyles.
That’s what I was getting at, eddie. How we have done birthdays in the past (TBH, that friend group has all at this point moved away, birthdays are now a text or card and the like, nothing in person anymore) seems no different than, “We should all catch up and have coffee/dinner” except for the date.
It just seems odd I can invite friends out to meet for dinner (in which we all pay for our own and that is assumed) or a movie or coffee or whatever 364 days of the year but not on my birthday.
Note: This won’t have much impact on me at this point in my life, as “celebrating” my birthday has become my DH taking me out to dinner with the kids and I may get a cake. I don’t even do presents anymore.
My hubs and I usually make food and invite folks to the house for dinner, cake, and games. No presents required (but sometimes friends bring them) and we have fun. Being able to say it’s for a birthday makes it more likely that our retail friends can get off work.
If that makes me rude, I guess I’m rude. *shrugs*
ITA. I’m at an age where my friend group now has good stable jobs and we’re able to all get together and have dinner and celebrate the birthday person’s day. Gifts aren’t required or expected, and it’s just nice to get together and see everyone. I had a birthday party for my fiance’s 45th birthday a few months ago, and everyone was surprised and delighted that I covered the event, and they just had to come and enjoy their time with the birthday boy (or man). It was a really nice party, and I’m still hearing raves. I wouldn’t do this for myself, but it was a lot of fun to do it for him.
My sister-in-law throws her own party every year at mid-price restaurant. It is expected that one of the guests will by her dinner and that most will bring gifts. It should be noted that she has been doing this for at least the past 20 years. She turned 60 in April. I have declined every year since the first.
How does she tell people she expects them to pay for her?
Well this is making me a little depressed. I am turning 30 soon and would really like a birthday party. But I an single and a lot of my friends and family will be out of town. If I don’t plan my own birthday party, no one else will. But it’s rude to plan my own birthday party. I could plan a party and just not mention my birthday at all with no cake, no “Happy Birthday.” But that feels sad.
I just really don’t want to spend another birthday eating a cupcake by myself.
One of the best 30th birthday parties I ever attended was hosted by my friend J.
J threw a big bash at Chuck E Cheese celebrating turning 30.
The invitation said it was a “Hobbit” birthday party so all gifts would be provided by the host.
She bought pizza, a couple ice cream cakes, and thousands of tokens so all of her guests could play games and have fun.
She provided silly but thoughtful gifts, things like a princess tiara, a bat man cape, wonder woman socks, etc… for each of her guests.
It was a wonderful celebration of growing up but never growing old and a ton of fun.
She went out of her way to ensure we all had a fabulous time without any cost or need to shop for gifts for her. Because what she really wanted for her birthday was a day of immature and silly fun.
I find that far more reasonable than the people who “host” birthday parties by saying “Hey, everyone come join me at chain restaurant. It’s my birthday!”
Expecting everyone to pay for their own meal, chip in for the birthday person, and bring a present isn’t a party. That’s not “hosting”. That’s demanding your friends spend a bunch of money while you put forth minimum effort in order to be celebrated on “your special day”.
(To be clear, by “you” I don’t mean you, @Gingerbird. I mean the generic “you” of people who throw the “come meet me at this restaurant for my birthday” celebrations.)
Lerah99 – Sorry, I didn’t read your comment before I made my comment above. As noted, I really like the descriptions of Hobbit birthday parties.
I think that what Administrator is saying is that you don’t have to spend your birthday alone eating a cupcake. Simply invite your friends or relatives over for a cookout or whatever type of party you want. Just don’t call it a birthday party. You can have whatever refreshments you like, including a nice bakery cake. You get the best benefit of a birthday party, enjoying the company of the people you are closest to, and you won’t be alone on your birthday. I guess I just don’t see anything sad about that, although in my circle adult birthday parties are rare. I’ve been invited to one.
Have a party!!! Don’t mention it your birthday though but if it just happens to come out at some point during the party, that’s fine!
I threw my own 30th. I called it Black Friday, as it was on a Friday. It was a costume party, the theme being the roaring twenties and sedate thirties. I provided dinner and drinks and I think a friend brought the cake.
“If we were truly then serving our guests in this manner, brides would carry their iPhones with a credit card swipe device to facilitate their guests’ ease in gift giving.”
Didn’t that actually come up last week?
Yep….this blog post has been in draft for a while and unfortunately tackyness in the greed department has caught up.
When my birthday rolls around, my idea of a birthday party is to email a few friends, saying, “Hey, it’s my birthday! I’ve got cupcakes and other snacks! Come over to my house and let’s hang out and talk and listen to music!” In my friend group, we are all so busy that sometimes our birthdays are the only times we have together for a good portion of the year. I will continue doing it this way, and I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that.
Yeah, that’s kind of what we did this year. My husband sent the invites on my account.
There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s great! I’d go!!
You could host the birthday party of the decade paying for extravagant food and hiring a killer band for guests to dance and you will still have failed as a host because the sole reason you planned and executed the party was to celebrate you.
I may have my name on the wall of shame in E-hell. When I turned 50, hubs threw me a surprise party, provided all of the food and beverages, and hired our friends band to play. It was a great time, everyone had fun, but it was MOST uncomfortable for me as I hate being the center of attention. Other friends have hosted similar parties for loved ones passing a milestone birthday, but never expected gifts or charged entrance fee, etc..
Why would you be on the wall of shame in Ehell (not that Ehell has wall named that)? Your husband planned and hosted it, you were the guest of honor and it appears your guests had a grand time. Sounds fine to me!
I’m sincerely baffled by the idea that anybody would think they need to buy a present for an adult who is having a birthday. Perhaps that is just how my friend/family group is, but the complete lack of expectation of a present renders people throwing their own ‘birthday’ party unoffensive to me. Especially because a ‘birthday’ party as an adult is, in my circles anyway, just a party. There is no guest of honour, maybe there’s a cake or dessert, but every other type of party also has cake or dessert. As nearly every single person in my friend group has hosted a party along these lines, I think it is safe to assume they are not offended by them. If nobody is offended, and everybody is enjoying each other’s company and fellowship I do not think this sort of event represents an etiquette breach.
I’m still reeling from the fact that some people created a hate blog against (for?) you because you disapprove/spoke out against selfie birthday parties! Wow, just wow. Some folks need a hobby.
I worked with a woman who was all about her birthday. She told us that she liked to celebrate her birthday, is was so important to her, etc. She even coordinated a birthday lunch each year and invited coworkers to attend. I always declined so I don’t know if someone paid for her or if everyone pitched in. I always told her happy birthday, though. She moved about 2 years ago for her husband’s job and was talking about having kids. I wondered if she planned herself a shower or anything since birthdays were a big deal for her.
Ahhh but Michelle, a dedicated hate blog just means Admin’s made it! She’s in the big leagues now – Top of the world, Ma! 😉
It sucks that people have to be like that but I reckon Admin is more than equipped to handle a few ‘Waaaa waaaa butbutbut myyyyy Birthday Party’ haters. In a weird way, it’s almost a compliment.
The “I must have a birthday party” haters are the least of my concerns. I laugh and envision them throwing a Veruca Salt style tantrum. The more they scream and have a fit simply validates the point these people have an obsessive need for childish self indulgences. In 22 years of publishing this web site, there have been some very interesting interactions with crazy loons which has necessitated legal action. Friends tell me I should write a book, my long time attorney says, “Not a book, a blog series”.
Really? So it could crash and burn too? Please stop talking about all the “legal action” you have taken. When called out on it, you failed to answer. Just admit that those who disagree with your own opinion are not welcome and move on.
If you are going to abuse the comments section of this blog, it might be a good idea to not post from your employer’s IP address at the US Department of Agriculture in Fort Collins, CO. Yes, I know who you are….isn’t it about time to give up your 11+ year obsession? Obviously my lawyer didn’t spank you hard enough.
I don’t get the entire idea of a “hate blog”. Don’t like something, don’t read it. It’s really easy not to go to a website and spend time reading something you don’t like. I do it all the time! And then to go the extra mile of setting up a site, posting content, and managing it? Who are these people? Don’t they have anything better to do?
It’s their right to do that. I chuckle in amusement at those as well because invariably they link to a blog post I’ve published which 1) helps with the site ranking, and 2) anyone reading the actual blog post can form their own opinions.
Thank you for this post! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
The timing of this could not be more perfect. We just received the invite to my SIL’s 50th Birthday party in August, complete with pictures of her through the years and an invitation to share a picture of her/you with her. My SIL is a classic narcissist so this is not unexpected. And it will be quite the “look at me” party. My first thought was this site and wondered what the consensus would be.
I thought I would be getting out of going. Not only is it a 5 hour drive away but it was originally the day after moving my daughter into college hours in the opposite direction. But she is doing a trek and moving in early so we could go. It is my husband’s sister so if he wants to go, we will go. But not looking forward to the “look at me” fest this is slated to be.
Forgive the impertinence, but maybe a drinking game? (You could do it with coffee or punch, it needn’t be wine or alcohol). Every time the honoree has a major “look at me” moment, you could discreetly/ silently toast. At least you’d have a hopefully yummy aftertaste and could amuse yourself a little with the irony (but without hurt feelings or drama).
That is a fantastic idea. It would have to be non-alcoholic though (even though I do plan on drinking some wine). If I did it with alcohol, I would be on the floor in less than an hour knowing her.
My other SIL (actually technically ex-SIL since she is divorced from my BIL) is still my close friend and sounding board because she gets this crazy family. The only upside of going is the ability to share with her all the laughable “look at me” moments.
It is absolutely the norm in my social group that we go out to eat at a restaurant of the birthday person’s choice for their birthday. Really, though, we use it as an excuse to socialize. We all (including the b-day person) buy our own meals, and presents are rarely, if ever, given. We just use it an opportunity to get together and enjoy one another.
The idea of an adult expecting other people to give them gifts and make a big fuss on their birthday is rude, however. My MIL is like this, to an extent. She’s never thrown a birthday party for herself that I’m aware of, but OMG – if you don’t celebrate her birthday on the actual date and in a manner which she finds fitting, she will use it as an excuse to punish you later on. One year, her birthday fell on a Saturday. Since her birthday is in late November, those weekends tend to be very full and we had other plans on the actual day-of. We did take her out to dinner on Friday night, and we did go over to her home on Sunday to give her a gift and to share in cake and ice cream. She WOULDN’T EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE US. Her behavior was so childish that I use it as an example of how civilized adults DO NOT act to this day.
I used to throw a party for myself when I was younger, but always called it “Greta Garbo’s Birthday Party” because we shared the same birthdate. I got a party and nobody was the wiser.
I wonder if the whole “selfie” movement doesn’t speak to a larger issue with our culture? In a general sense, we seem to have lost the idea that socializing doesn’t actually require an occasion and it can be “just because”. It was once somewhat the norm for people to host and then to take their turn as a guest at a subsequent event. Theoretically, you could host 30 people for dinner and enjoy the prospect of a number of invitations in return. I think that it’s still supposed to work that way, but we do kind of collectively seem to have gone off of the rails. Nobody wants to be lonely on their birthday. Really, nobody wants to be lonely during most holidays and in general. But if the “fix” is to host your own event for days that honor you, the cycle of “host-guest-host-guest-host” may never get properly going again. That would be a shame.
I think you’re onto something there, Stacey. Reciprocal hosting isn’t as commonplace as it was, at least where I currently live. I used to love hosting parties of all kinds but after awhile, I got fatigued at being one of the few in my social groups who would. Years ago, I gently polled some friends & the answers were pretty random & varied; some felt their apts were too small or not as nice as they’d like (city living!), others were daunted at the prospect or didn’t even think about it because they didn’t grow up in a ‘hosting’ family (whereas I think my Mum threw a party for something every month), still others just didn’t feel they had the time or skills to orchestrate it properly (I honestly don’t know a lot confidant cooks) & one particular friend simply didn’t want to host as a single person (the majority of her friends were/are couples). Sure, I’d socialized at all of these people’s homes at one point or another but not for anything that could be considered a party.
I get all those reasons but for me, before I stopped enjoying it altogether & became begrudging about the lack of reciprocation, I took a loooooong break, which I’m still on, so now I don’t really host either. I’m not sure what it is – Most of my peer/work circles congregate at bars & restaurants now. The whole ‘Boss Coming For Dinner’ trope has all but gone the way of the Dodo, for example. Could be there’s more 2-income households which leaves less time to plan self-produced social events or that restaurant options are easier, less expensive & more plentiful than they once were…but you’re right that home-hosting is becoming a bit of a lost art.
I think the end of your comment hits the nail on the head. The custom of hosting in ones home is becoming a relic of the suburban nuclear family. There isn’t a homemaker in many modern relationships, so no one is able to spend hours preparing a meal for a large group. Also families aren’t relocating to the burbs, so the space to host in ones home is limited. People don’t have the ability to seat more than one or two extra people at their table (if any at all as people downsize into less wasteful living spaces).
The caveat to host the party one can afford also doesn’t even make sense anymore. Hosting a dinner party in ones home is easily a tenth of the price of hosting your friends to a sit down restaurant meal. If we follow all of the etiquette rules without factoring in the reality of people’s living situations, then at some point we will abandon socializing all together.
Yep. My boyfriend and I will host once in a while, but we have a decent-size dining room (and a really nice, expandable fourth-hand table), I have a flexible work-from-home job, and he only works a 40-hour week (many of our peers deal with overtime, unpredictability, and multiple jobs). And, in addition to our luck, we enjoy hosting; we’re not the type to be put out that we give more invites than we get. If someone sees hosting as a chore, and their friends are unable to “take their turn” as it were, that’s a recipe for a problem.
I take breaks too and I don’t bean count. Just host if I want to/ can and refrain otherwise. (But I do try to at least call or stay in touch between times.)
I’ll admit, part of the reason I took a very extended hosting break was because I DID find myself bean-counting & I didn’t like feeling that way. My group(s) socialize outside the home most of the time & instead of being cranky about what other people weren’t doing, I figured if you can’t beat ’em – join ’em. The reason I mentioned that hanging out in restaurants or bars might be considered generally less expensive (per individual) is because people usually pay for just themselves, which often does make it cheaper than shopping for a large-ish party.
One of the joys of my religion is that every Friday night is a holiday and a chance to host others. We don’t even always host others of our religion (as long as they are willing to sit through some short prayers). We bring out the good dishes, eat in the dining room, and generally have a fun dinner with another family. There are no gifts and the hosted family doesn’t even necessarily bring anything.
I hope my children see the regular hosting and assume that it’s normal for adults to do this. Perhaps if enough of us host regularly, we can change the trend.
I know there’s a certain amount of expectation & entitlement sometimes but I do believe the main drive behind a lot of self-thrown birthday parties is wanting to feel loved & that folks are happy you exist. And that’s understandable. We can all use a rousing rendition of ‘For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow’ now & again. Being allotted ‘3 birthday celebrations’ per lifetime seems a bit arbitrary & strict, IMHO. But, like most things, it’s all about your attitude & the execution.
When my best gal-pals & I were broke college students, our deal was that the Birthday Girl treated the rest of the group because it was the rare occasion where you usually had a little extra dough from your family (cash being the gift of choice in my culture for the young ‘uns over 16 & under 21) Since the B’day Girl was paying, she picked the activities & the rest of us happily went along for the ride. It was a really fun tradition. Nowadays my close friends & I take a very casual approach. When two or more of us gets together & someone’s birthday is looming or has passed, the rest of us will pick up the check as a gesture of recognition but it’s never suggested by the B’day Girl. Maybe we’ll individually give a card and/or gift but nobody’s keeping tabs & it’s not expected.
For the Big Zero birthdays, I tend to do something like a trip to mark it. For one of my Zeros, I saved all year & did some Bucket List traveling; lunch at Le Jules Verne in Paris, a visit to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, a West End musical in London (my thanks to the cheap-o airlines!) It was AHHH-Mazing & I’m so much happier I spent the money on those experiences rather than a huge, one-night-only party. (Using the Big Zero as an excuse to get time off work is great too – People tend to be quite generous about taking vacation time when it’s a Zero). I love my friends but you don’t even get to have much quality time with them at big parties. Like wedding receptions, they can be a blur you barely remember. For the ‘Fives’ (25, 35, etc), a quality piece of art or jewelry is normally my choice & I always have them wrap it up with a card saying, ‘To MzLiz, From MzLiz – Happy Birthday! You look younger every year, babe.’ No gift receipt needed.
I personally don’t wish to throw a birthday party for myself because, well, parties are HARD WORK. Why do that to myself? I like my birthday & I consider it the one day a year that’s ‘My Day’, so if I wanna wake up, eat pizza at 10am, drink a beer & sit on the couch scratching my bum while watching a ’30 Rock’ marathon in my PJs, that’s what I’m unapologetically gonna do. I don’t get many free days so I’m going to take full advantage. And if anyone does anything for me, off their own steam without being prompted, that’s just icing & I’m super grateful. The best part is, I’m never disappointed.
We can all be insecure & often things like birthdays will bring that to the surface (which is what a lot of Selfie Parties are really about) but if Selfies actually thought about it, they might ask themselves why they’re putting so much effort into corralling people to celebrate with them instead of being properly ‘selfish’ & spending their day doing whatever the hell they want. You’re a cool person – Try hanging out with YOU & spoiling YOURSELF. After all, you’re honestly the only one who can live up to your expectations! 😉
I’m with you about the “me day” treat! I try to take my actual birthday off work (or a weekday near it) and sleep in, get a massage, eat at a favorite restaurant, read a book, take a bath, etc. But I’m an introvert with extremely limited free time, so the idea of having time to myself with no schedule to follow and no goals to achieve fills me with joy. I wish I could do it more than once a year!
My husband, however, is an extrovert. So for him, I do throw a party. They are work, but worth it.
I host 2-3 parties per year and have never gotten an invitation in return. Not sure why except I seem to have landed in a group of people that don’t like to throw parties.
If someone wants to invite me to their birthday I will happily show up with a token box of chocolates or artisanally woven scarf or whatever.
I live in a small in town in Wisconsin – near a popular downtown bar, where it is somewhat common for people to “host” their own birthday parties — usually just inviting people (bar regulars) by word-of-mouth — I’ve stumbled into a few a these, where I happen to come into the bar and see more people than usual, with plastic pitchers of beer going around… it’s always — “oh, it’s Leonard’s birthday – so he bought a keg – get some before it’s all gone!” And occasionally someone will have gotten a cake or some snacks… but only those who volunteer to bring something do so – no expectations other than from beer from “Leonard” – 🙂
This is obviously a cultural thing, as in my country (the Czech Republic) the tradition is completely different.
What I am used to here as perfectly normal is: the birthday person is always the one to host his/her own birthday party. The hosting involves paying for, and often personally preparing, all the food and drinks you offer to your guests. We usually do that at home, sometimes at a restaurant, but it is always the birthday person who covers the costs. The guests would bring a gift (typically a bunch of flowers and/or a bottle of booze; of course it can be anything else they think the host might like but it can be a token thing and almost never disproportionate (i.e. if they went to eat in a restaurant they would probably spend more than the cost of the gift). Money as a gift would be a big no-no between friends (although you might receive some cash from your grandparents if you are a minor, which would be viewed as perfectly OK). So there is definitely no gift-grabbing as you invest a good deal of money and a lot of time into the preparations.
I must admit that the idea that in other countries is tacky to throw your own birthday party was a surprise for me (a little bit less so when I read about the different custom that the guests are expected to pay for the host, but still).
I do not understand (but will definitely respect it when abroad) why it is so bad to want to be the main person of the day once in a year – in my eyes, the host absolutely deserves it as he/she invests a lot of work into cooking and serving his/her guests, and it is not like the whole evening is about you – the guests usually wish you a happy birthday, give you their presents and that’s it, no birthday boy/girl expects to be a centre of attention for the rest of the party.
Similar in Germany. Some friends of ours usually host at home, others, mostly those who live further away, choose a restaurant, either way, it‘s the birthday boy/girl who picks up the tab it does the work. Presents usually appear in the paperback book/DVD variety, a couple of years back, my friends got together and got me a spot in a cupcake class, two of them also joined the class and it was great fun.
Perhaps it’s a Europe vs. USA thing?
I’m from Belgium, and “adult birthday celebrations” are quite common, although they are very seldom gift-grabbing events. My cousin, for instance, invites the whole family over every year for a meal when it’s his birthday. Sometimes it’s home-cooked, sometimes they order it in, but it’s always a very nice, cosy get-together. Presents are not expected, let alone asked… which perhaps explains why everybody is happy to bring a bottle of wine or a little something anyway.
Same for me (neighbouring country, and I used to live in Czech Republic for years). The very idea of throwing a party for someone else, birthday or not, is foreign to me (unless we are talking about small children, or spouses – if it’s my father’s birthday or nameday, my mom will do the party, but so she will for her own). And for my study research, I read tons of 19th century etiquette manuals – they didn’t do it either. On the other hand, birthdays were not really celebrated back then, or just within the family. Namedays were the bog occasion.
It is also done quite often that someone who has a bairthday or nameday will bring some treats to work to share among the colleagues (it’s more usual for namedays, I think).
I usually have a couple of cousins or friends around for tea and cakes on my birthday (or thereabouts – on occasion even two months after the fact). I make all the cakes. There is no birthday cake. I don’t feel like a guest of honour at all. It’s hard work.
In the UK it is also perfectly normal for adults to have birthday parties if they wish. These are not “All About Me” occasions for the person whose birthday it is, because that person is the host of a party and carries out the duties of host rather than the role of Guest of Honor.
The idea that I, as an independent adult, might seriously expect someone else to throw a party in my honour, to pay for everything and organise everything, is utterly ridiculous to me. It seems like the height of entitlement to think that I, Birthday Girl, could command my friends’ or family’s time and money in such a way. Whereas if I choose to spend my own time and money organising a party, that seems like the adult way to behave.
I understand that in the refined stratosphere inhabited by Misses Jeanne and Manners, this is simply not done. In the rest of the world—including, as far as I can tell, non-stratospheric America—it’s normal. This is Miss Jeanne’s blog, and American, so Miss Jeanne is entitled to assert her own standards here. But it’s outrageous and, well, rude, to insist that these standards apply everywhere.
You shouldn’t be expecting anyone to host a birthday party for you because 1) you are an adult and should have outgrown the need to be the partygirl center of attention, and 2) no one owes you a birthday party.
Speaking of “refined stratosphere”, adults feeling deprived due to a lack of a birthday party is very much a first-world problem. Most of the world, particularly Asian countries, do not celebrate birthdays at all, instead preferring to give gifts to children on the New Year. There is a large segment of the world that doesn’t know what a birthday cake is and if they do, cannot afford it.
When I was in med school, one of my roommates was a couple of years older than the rest of us, and turning 30 and a little uneasy about it. We threw her a surprise party (four of us paid for it and hosted it and another friend brought an amazing cake from a fancy bakery) a couple of weeks before her actual birthday because we wanted it to be a real surprise and we were in clinical rotations at the time. Her actual birthday was not the best date to throw a big party. Twas a success!
On her actual birthday, she felt bad not being near her family so she made a lovely dinner for the four of us as a thank you (like, several courses because she is a great cook). I honestly think that was the best kind of party. I wish people would do things like that if they want company on their birthday. I attend the birthday parties at restaurants where I’m expected to pay part of the honoree’s meal, but it does annoy me a bit. Presents are not a regular thing, thankfully, unless they are small and fun (like my friend had recently adopted a dog and I got the dog a gift).
I threw my own 50th. I had the food catered, and everyone left with something. I had stipulated all you had to do was RSVP (and I had issues with that but guessed and lucked out). The caterer was supposed to provide wait staff (it was stipulated and I had offered generous pay for this person) and didn’t so I served my guests. In this I got together with friends, we had a good time (which was my gift from everyone) and everyone left with something (there were supposed to be a few games and doorprizes which didn’t happen because I had to be the server-so I just handed out the gifts, there was enough for everyone to get something). The prime rib was excellent…
I had rented a space, almost a year beforehand (this was not much more than a donation to help the owner of the space pay their slow season bills to keep the place up). It was run through here some years back and our Miss Jeanne had agreed this wasn’t the usual etiquette faux pas as it was my gift to my friends… somebody will probably throw me a small one when I hit 90, if I hit 90, as that’s something that happens around here. So in the meantime…
I wonder if this is a cultural difference about throwing parties. The admin writes:
But to me, if you’re hosting a party then of course you aren’t the guest of honour, guests and hosts are fundamentally incompatible roles.
And if you’re hosting a party, you spend your time focusing on your guests while their job is to have a good time. The idea of a party where it’s the job of the guests to focus on the host seems weird. A guest’s job is to help to ensure the party goes with a bang, including by being friendly to other guests (or, in extremis, avoiding making a scene), to tell their host it was a wonderful party and they had a great time, and to take any party disasters, such as a furniture collapse, in their stride. Guests must also listen attentively to any speeches and participate in any toasts, or rituals to the greatest extent allowed by both the host’s and the guest’s moral system and religion.
Guests going for a gold star may help the hosts out by keeping an eye for any other guest looking alone or miserably stuck in a conversation and then running rescue operations.
There are some more specific guestly obligations depending on the type of a party, e.g. a housewarming requires the guest to say admiring things about the house, at a wedding to tell the bride that she’s beautiful, etc. But spending the party focusing on one person, be that the host or the guest of honour sounds to me like being a bad guest.
And if I throw a party, the raison d’etre is to spend time with the people I invited and hopefully bring them some happiness.
Are American customs quite different?
In my group of friends, we go out to dinner a lot. We always pay for ourselves, and it’s always laid back. Invite anyone who might want to come, and if they can’t make it, we’ll see them next time. We do this before large meetings when people are in from out of town, we do this for new jobs, we do this because someone is feeling a bit down. It’s not really a “party” because nobody is “hosting”, but it provides us a chance to see each other in a social setting.
This year the week after my birthday happened to be one of those weekends where we had people in from out of town. I didn’t know this at the time, but it also happened to be the birthday weekend of another leader in the organization. My roommate and I organized a dinner at a local chain restaurant (because nobody else had stepped up to plan it yet) and then invited people back to our apartment afterwards for games.
I considered this my birthday celebration. I got to be with my friends, be social, and enjoy myself. I didn’t ask for gifts, I didn’t ask people to spend money on me outside of what we would have been doing anyway for the gathering. The other leader in the organization said that he enjoyed it because he felt like it was a birthday celebration for him too. Not planned as one, nobody spent money on him, and he wasn’t even there for the dinner part.
I don’t throw birthday parties to get things for me. I don’t do it with the expectation that people spend money past gas money to get to my place. If you can make it for dinner, great. If you can’t (as several people couldn’t this year and in past years) then feel free to show up at my place afterwards for games. I use my birthday as a convenient “excuse” to see friends that it would be hard to otherwise make time to see. If this throws me into e-hell, so be it. I’d rather be seen as uncouth in this regard than miss the few chances my friends can make time to see me without making them throw me a whole party.
Lots of food for thought…
I am in agreement with a lot of what Miss Manners objects to. I don’t think that birthday parties are opportunities for people to direct how other people spend their money (as in choosing a restaurant where other people are expected to pay, but have no choice in the matter). I also think it is weird when people expect birthday presents as an adult (although not something I’ve run into, really). However, where I part ways is the idea that one can’t throw a party on the occasion of one’s birthday. I disagree that it is a ploy to “confer honor on yourself.” Today, with so few people entertaining at all, a birthday provides the occasion (and sometimes the alibi!) to simply throw a party. At the last one I attended, were it not for the invitation and the fact that two people (out of a dozen) brought a small gift, you wouldn’t know it was a birthday party at all!
The other thing I’m not clear on is when it IS proper to have a birthday party as an adult (according to this advice). When a spouse throws it for you? Wouldn’t that contradict the spirit of the (related, I think) edict against throwing a close relative a shower? I guess it doesn’t make sense to me that to throw a party for your self is to command “honor” but it is entirely ok for your spouse to do it for you. (And truly, when a spouse throws you a party, don’t a lot of people end up doing half the work for it anyway?)
My take is that most people enjoy being invited to a birthday party – the ones where food and drink are provided, and the most they might have to do is sing happy birthday.
So, you only host one party a year which happens to fall conveniently on your birthday? What about the other 51 weekends in the year? No one hosting a July 4th (assuming you are in the US) party?
Wow, seriously? That doesn’t even begin to relate to what Anon said. Yes, a lot of people wait for occasions to throw parties. My family throws a4th of july, halloween, and christmas party every year. To that, I suppose you’d chastise us for not throwing Just Because parties the other 49 weekends?
No, because you have this very specific hang-up about birthdays, which you’ve been told time and time again is an American-only faux pas. You refuse to acknowledge that other countries do things differently, that not all friend groups have an issue with paying for their own dinner, that not everyone CARES about Proper Perfect Etiquette as the most important thing in the universe. And in response, all you can do is quote Miss Manners.
If you don’t care about “perfect, proper etiquette”, then why meander through the comments on an etiquette blog? And why attack the blog’s author? It’s fine to disagree, even spiritedly. But you might at least attack the ideas and not the person. Having a different opinion isn’t a “hang-up”, it’s a different opinion. Also, “you’ve been told time and time again…” isn’t a compelling rationale for your perspective. It’s paternalistic, patronizing and leaves one wincing with some vicarious chagrin to read it. I don’t mean to deconstruct your reasoning in an overly personal manner, but I confess that I object to the way in which your remarks were written.
While Celesetia’s comment was fairly…combative, shall we say, it could be argued that Admin’s original post was also somewhat combative. That’s entirely her right – it’s her blog after all, but she did refer to anybody who disagreed with her view on this point as childish and self indulgent, as well as imply they were ungracious and immature.
In my family it is tradition for whoever is celebrating a birthday to choose a restaurant and take the entire family out to dinner, paying the entire tab. We all enjoy this time together, and look forward to these outings. Admin’s post called my entire family childish and ungracious due to the fact that we have a different culture than her.
Read for comprehension. It’s Miss Manners who refers to people who host their own birthday parties as engaging in “childish self indulgence”. I happen to agree with her.
The interesting thing is that there is no “perfect proper etiquette” when it comes to this birthday party hosting question. EHell Dame and Miss Manners are of a certain opinion, but lots of other etiquette writers differ in their perspective. Also, culture is changing, people’s economic situations are changing, and let’s not forget the multicultural perspective (different cultures, different rules, and we’re only getting more diverse). I think this blog makes a strong case against throwing your own party (and especially against the everybody-pays-their-own-way variety), but that doesn’t discount strong arguments on the other side too.
Celesetia, Admin did acknowledge that Anon may not be in the States & to be fair, this is a U.S-based site so naturally it’s going to focus largely on U.S. etiquette & etiquette fails. If an American was on a similar blog of UK or Japanese origin & posted “Well, that’s not how we do things in the States”, I really doubt they get a response even half as polite. The Americans that comment on EH are actually very open to hearing about how other countries have different social norms & it’s understood that rules here don’t apply everywhere else but it’s simply a fact that a blog about cultural manners is going to heavily skew towards the culture it’s based in.
I am most certainly American! Customs differ widely in a large and diverse country such as ours.
No, we entertain quite a bit, but less since I had a baby. My own birthday is at an inconvenient time of year so it’s not great for parties. If you mean the one I attended, then yes I think it was the one party they threw all year. But I’m not sure why that should bother me.
To clarify: husbands and family can host brithday parties honoring their loved ones but not other celebratory events (showers etc.)? Friends are required to host showers for their married/pregnant friends and birthday parties for their single friends? Who hosts housewarming parties or are those just no no’s all together. Or when your friend group has a diverse cultural background who does any of the above? I think the norms you establish within your social/familial groups should supercede Ms. Manners since her view point is very ethnocentric to British/US customs.
I feel that etiquette isn’t only about how to preemptively maneuver social situations but to also explain where you might be going wrong if you find that your social efforts are mostly unsuccessful (if that makes sense?) Etiquette can save you from (further) hurt feelings.
My SIL (bless her cotton socks) used to expect an awful lot on her special occasions. She’d set-up her own birthday parties, invite everyone she’d ever met (Literally everyone on her Facebook. Quantity>quality, in her mind) & assumed her ‘guests’ would be thrilled to pay their own way AND hers AND bring gifts. She wanted to be showered with presents & attention from the masses. When that inevitably didn’t happen to the extent she felt she deserved, she’d be upset. Then she wondered why attendance dwindled year after year, until the party where only ONE friend & immediate family turned up. Complete disaster & horribly embarrassing. Oh, the tears! But people don’t like being props for your ego & that’s what she’d reduced her friends to by not attempting to at least follow SOME hosting etiquette. If she’d looked up a site like this, she’d understand the problem wasn’t that she had crappy friends, the problem was that her execution was rude & self-absorbed. And that entitled attitude is far from unique to her, unfortunately. Nobody wants to party with Ms/Mr Gimmie Gimmie, hence Admin’s harsh stance on the matter. Admin is trying to help.
Basically, my takeaway is; obviously, you CAN throw your own shower/birthday/party-in-your-honour where you demand your mates to pick up the tab & give you gifts. However, don’t be surprised if they decline to take part. And if you *are* surprised, etiquette is there to clue you in why people didn’t show so you can learn & avoid being hurt next time. If you throw your own shindig; it behooves you to circumvent that mild faux pas (in the US, anyway) by making it all about your guests & their enjoyment – providing everything & expecting nothing, like some posters have described parties they’ve thrown for themselves. Then you won’t have a miserable time thinking nobody likes you while crying on your brother’s wife’s shoulder, getting mascara all over her vintage white Madonna ‘Blonde Ambition’ tour t-shirt… (That was a loooong night – I did get the stains out of my shirt though. Eventually).
I’m a violator too, and don’t feel the least bit bad about it. My neighbors and I have regular happy hours, at least one a week, and before my 60th birthday last year I suggested a party to celebrate my and one other person’s birthday. We expanded our regular HH drinks and minimal to no snacks, to burgers and brats, invited some extra people (all of whom had been to our happy hours before but weren’t regulars) and had a blast. One person did buy a cake-that was totally her choice-and no presents were given or expected…just friends celebrating a milestone together.
I understand that some people get carried away, but Ms Manners needs to take the stick out of her butt. It IS possible to get together with others for a birthday celebration, even if that means people bring a snack or side dish, without it being a gift grab or all about the birthday celebrant. No one was forced to come, after all. It’s just an excuse to get together and have fun.
You actually have weekly social interactions with neighbors and friends so using a birthday as an excuse to get together with people really isn’t applicable. I guess it never occurred to you to suggest a party for anyone else’s birthday? No one among your neighbors but you had a milestone worthy of celebrating until you turned 60?
All of my friends for years are guilty of this. I’m the only one who doesn’t hold birthday parties for myself. Of course, everyone is expected to pay for their own food and drinks. My favorite are those friends who plan bday events that are quite costly. Like we’re made of money! I refuse to pay for any of the birthday person’s festivities if they’re also the host. It was their idea, why should I have to pay for it? Usually someone else will step up to pay for birthday person’s share. Good for them if that’s what they want to do.
I’m surprised nobody has mentioned those who throw their own birthday parties making it a potluck. I’ve gone to several of those, mostly out of not wanting to look bad. One friend who threw her own birthday potluck for her 50th even said in the invite exactly what we were to bring.
Well, call me crass, then. I’m not much of a birthday person myself. My tradition is to do a day trip with my best friend whose birthday is in the same month. My family also takes me out to dinner. (That’s our family tradition – birthday celebrant picks the restaurant or the menu for a home-cooked meal, within reason.) However, we typically throw my husband a birthday party as he is much more extroverted than me and truly loves a party. Here’s what I do: No guest pays for anything. Whether we cook at home or go out, we cover the whole bill. We’re the host, that’s what the host does. We also let it be known that gifts are not expected, and in fact our friends rarely bring any. The ones that do usually bring his favorite liquor.
If my friends think it is crass, they are welcome to decline the invitation. No hurt feelings; it’s just a party. I’ve attended many friend’s self-thrown (or spouse-thrown) birthday and never thought anything of it, but I do like it better when it is truly hosted and not something where I’m expected to pay for myself (and sometimes a portion of the birthday celebrant). That crosses a line for me, but not enough that I turn down an opportunity for a dinner out with friends.
This all reminded me of my in-laws. A few years into our marriage, I was arranging my hubby’s b-day dinner and my MIL calls me and tells me that well, my husband’s and my birthdays are just such a busy time of year (four adult birthdays in 10 days: her, her husband’s, mine, my husbands), and we’re adults, they shouldn’t be recognized.
Of course, every year, smack dab between Thanksgiving and Christmas her adult daughter’s husband throws a formal birthday dinner, with presents and a a period where we all watch her open presents. MIL shows up with bells on and I don’t believe has ever raised an objection (because if she had, he wouldn’t be doing it).
I’ve stopped asking them to recognize their son as an equal at birthdays. Come to think of it, when it comes to them, I’ve just … stopped.
I’m sorry. I don’t understand people who play favorites with their children or their close family members.. Good for you for not contributing to a one-way “gimme” dynamic. Most of us can tell when things are very lopsided or wholly one-sided. You doubtless have better things to do with your time, money and energy.
Maybe it’s not the actual fact of throwing a party for yourself, it’s the way it is done and the attitude behind it. When I first started reading EHell years ago I truly felt that throwing your own birthday party was greedy and heinous. Reading comments from other people over time, particularly non-US people, has helped me change my mind-set. Take your friends out to dinner, meet at a bar for drinks, throw yourself a party hobbit-wise, it’s all good as long as it isn’t a “celebrate me and bring me presents” type of attitude, and as long as you are a good host/good friend to your guests. (I would love to hold a hobbit-style birthday party for myself one of these days!)
We throw a certain type of game party a few times a year for about 30 or so people. I had mentioned the tentative date of the next one to someone who is one of the regular guests but not a close friend. She got bent out of shape because it happened to be the day she planned on celebrating her birthday. Expecting that I would know months in advance when someone is planning on celebrating their birthday.
Since the date is tentative we are going to change it. Not for her sake, but so mutual friends wont have a conflict.
My favorite part of this entire thread is how the admin called the comments thread in the first paragraph.
I look badly at the friends who never try to celebrate their friends. It’s like people complaining that taking selfies is narcissistic. If you cared about your loved ones enough to take their picture some times they wouldn’t need to take so many of themselves.
Love your friends. It will solve a lot of problems.
Yes. That. Amen.
Perhaps another difference, this time rather personal than cultural.
I do not like the idea of someone (a friend) throwing ME a birthday party, because I would not be able to influence it, and selfish as it may seem, I do not like losing control in this matter.
With my group of friends, we “do” themed birthday parties – e.g. “the Thirties”, “Jewish party”, “tropical party”. The food (bought and prepared by the host) is typical for the occasion (kosher for the Jewish party), and it is assumed that everyone will come in an appropriate costume (which is however never expected to be expensive – bought or rented – or perfect, what matters is creativity, and the costumes are usually improvised from the material we have at home). Sometimes there are themed games, sometimes not, but every time there is a humorous and/or unexpected twist (e.g. the Tropical party, where the required costume was swimwear, was thrown by a friend whose birthday is in January, and the guests actually took the trouble to change in their car and to ring her bell in flip-flops and swimming trunks in the freezing weather).
I consider such parties as a way of channelling my creativity, and would loathe someone doing this FOR me, when the inventing and preparing the “scene” is a great part of my pleasure. I would definitely not like being deprived of this opportunity. Also there are years when I feel like celebrating and doing all this, and there are years when I don`t, and I would rather preserve the right to decide which is which.
This is a thing of my group of friends, not a general thing here, and definitely a matter of “know-your-audience”, but everyone so far has seemed perfectly happy with it, and I am saying it just to offer yet another setting which can be – and is – perfectly functional.
I just hosted a dinner party at my house for my husband’s family to get together. His Dad had recently had heart surgery and I wanted the family to be able to celebrate his health. I know none of them will have a dinner party at their houses. I do it because I love them. My husband and I are the “cooks” in the family so we eat here. I could get mad about nobody else doing it but that would just affect my health. I guess I’m trying to say, I’m just happy that I have friends and family that want to come eat my food and spend time together. That is more important than being correct to me.
I don’t agree it’s wrong to celebrate your birthday and do something like ask for your friends to join you at Restaurant X. Is it better if someone else makes the reservation? What if the birthday person asks a friend to throw the party instead? Restaurant birthday parties are the norm in my area. No gifts required, and no rigamarole of asking someone else to take on the logistics of making the reservation.
A “selfie” birthday party does sound fun. Come take selfies of you with the birthday person and post them on the social media of your choice. I have enough stuff I have no room for, I’d rather have my Facebook wall full of selfies.
My friend and I threw ourselves an Alice in Wonderland themed party for our birthdays which are two days apart and I’m not the slightest bit sorry. There was cosplay, tea , and dainty tea party foods and a grand time was had by all. If you want a party, throw a party. I don’t want to live in a world so rigidly restricted by ettiquette that it murders my inner child.
Inviting your friend group to dinner is also fine. We’re all adults, if you don’t want to attend, don’t. The only time either of these things are a problem is if there is pressure for gifts or your presence.
I can’t believe anyone cares enough about adult birthday parties to write a multi-paragraph screed about it. That smacks of wanting to dictate people’s behavior, not teach them etiquette. I don’t give a fig whether people throw themselves birthday parties. If I think a given party is just a gift-grab, I won’t attend.
As I said in my comment, one other person in the group of regulars was also having a birthday. It’s not like I was sitting on a throne, receiving my due in gifts, gifts, gifts. We also celebrate every year the oldest member of the group’s birthday, as it his her house that is party central. We threw a fairly big bash last year for her 85th. While we do get together regularly, it’s not usually for birthdays. But no one in the group would consider making it a little more special for someone’s birthday, or retirement, etc. to be an etiquette faux pas. Nor are we looking for reasons to look down on others. It’s much more about celebrating life’s milestones with good friends. I really don’t see how that should consign anyone to E-Hell. Perhaps you could reconsider your own antipathy to birthdays instead of making unkind assumptions about people who aren’t as rigid as you and Miss Manners.
I think that most of our disagreement is caused by our cultural differences, and that what goes by the same name of a “birthday party” is by no means the same in all the corners of the world.
I perfectly understand that it is tacky if the host requires that his/her guests spend money on him/her. But before reading eHell, the whole concept of inviting people somewhere and assuming they will cover my tab was completely unknown to me. It appears that the birthdays come in “packages” which differ culturally – in the USA, the honoree does not have to do anything but is treated (and it is therefore perfectly understandable why you are not supposed to organize this for yourself), in my part of Europe, all the work and money to prepare the celebration is invested by the host, and therefore it is much more understandable why you can do this without appearing tacky or greedy, because strictly from the financial point of view, you usually spend more than you “get back”. Also, in this concept, although gifts are not required or asked for, it would definitely appear strange if you as a guest come to someone`s birthday party empty-handed, not because the price of the gift (it can perfectly be a token one) but it would appear that you came only for the free food and booze and you did not care enough to think what the birthday person (who provides all this) might like.
Basically, it boils down to the old good “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”, I would definitely follow the US rules while in the US, but I wanted to offer a different angle of perspective. I assume not everyone living in the US was born and bred there, and this is an “offence” an European might easily commit because he is not familiar enough with the US norms, yet it would not necessarily have to be “ill-mannered”, (because I do not see how using the “European concept” – I provide the venue, cook, pay for all the food/booze, serve my guests and do not require any pricey gifts or a special attention throughout the party – could mean I am taking advantage of my guests).
I think cultural norms is really an important point. Even within the same country different social groups have diffeent norms.
Honest question- What is the difference between hosting your own milestone birthday in which you provide food and drink, and a wedding? Both have you as the host, and both are held to celebrate your own life event.
That is a good question. I would argue that the trend of self hosting one’s own wedding has produced a greedy culture in which brides and grooms have an entitled expectation of being owed wedding gifts. This “culture” of wedded entitlement has become so ingrained that it’s become an oddity to find a bride who does not embrace it. Self hosted birthday parties are no different in that there is an expectation of receiving gifts on one’s birthday (a tradition started in early childhood).
I had time to think this dilemma during my weekend cleaning, and I started wondering that if there is more to the cultural difference than just what’s acceptable and what’s not.
When I hear the discussion about honoring or celebrating the birthday _person_, it feels bit alien to me. And I would guess that would make the difference, wether you are celebrating the person or the occasion. When I get an invite to a birthday party, I don’t think I’m going to celebrate the person, but more of the occasion. And when people around here invite friends to birthday party, they are not exactly thinking “come celebrate ME” but more of “come celebrate the journey that got me this far”. And important part of that journey were the friends. So you celebrate with them, not you the birthday-person, but the journey you had together that far.
😀 In my friend circle the difference between general get-together and birthday party is that get-togethers are mainly potluck, birthday parties are provided by the birthday person.
In the work culture, when somebody has birthday, the birthday-person himself brings stuff to the colleagues, not other way around. I think it’s just very opposite way of looking the matter of aging.
I solved the birthday party problem by deciding to simply say, when asked about my birthday, “I celebrated my last birthday party when I was turned 30. That is the age I liked so I am sticking with it. I am having no more birthdays.” If Jack Benny could stay 39, I can stay 30 forever.
I have had people over and served cake around mine or my husband’s birthday’s, but I didn’t actually mention it was anyone’s birthday until dessert time. That way, no one had the ‘Do we bring gifts?’ question or anything like that. I asked people over for dinner. When it was time for dessert, we sang happy birthday, roasted the birthday boy/girl a bit, and called it good. I think we’ve done this maybe twice in 22 years of marriage. I think it’s fine to acknowledge an adult’s birthday, but not in a “Hey, everyone come adore me” fashion.
I’m from a different culture. I love etiquette, and I find a lot of it is simply common sense and universal. This is one of the things in which we differ. I feel like my culture is not as strict and a bit more carefree. A party doesn’t need an excuse or a reason other than “I love spending time with my friends, our lives keep us busy so we don’t see each other often, there’s an special event, let’s get together and celebrate!”. In my culture families live together until marriage, so space is an issue: you don’t want to kick your family off their home to throw a party! So parties are usually at a bar or club. I have this rule: I’ll invite 2 rounds and some appetizers, since I’ve invited you to join me. I’ve gone to parties where nothing was paid, I was OK with it, I’m there for the company.
Anyway, just a funny insight into a different culture.
My roommate and I have similar birthdays and threw a party last year. We managed to have a good barbeque, a fire pit, and hosted music and a dance. No gifts were expected… I think the invitation said we like hugs. Some of our friends showed off talents like fire juggling or balloon animals… But it was not asked. We provided entertainment and food…. It was really fun and I think our guests were pleased considering they’ve asked if were doing it again.
But we were hosting for sure. It was lots of expenses and responsibility.
I threw a party for myself when I turned forty. I had almost died from a very serious illness a few years prior, and have had other health issues, so I considered being still alive at forty a cause for major celebration. The party was at our house, and we provided all food and beverages. People asked me what they should bring, and I told them, “Nothing. Your presence is my present!” People showed up, ate, drank, and made merry, which was what I really wanted for my birthday- a bunch of people who we don’t see often enough to get together and have fun.
My husband did actually get me a birthday cake, so I had nothing to do with that part.