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.