Does, “No Gifts, Please” Really Mean I Shouldn’t Bring a Present?

No gifts, please


By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

Happy Birthday!

If today isn’t your special day, it definitely falls somewhere between tomorrow and 364 days from now. So may I be the first to wish you a very Happy and Blessed Birthday!

As a child and teen, like a lot of us, I had parties to celebrate each birthday, but when adulthood came around, I stopped celebrating. We go all-out for our children (which is good), but if you think about it, there’s much more to celebrate about turning, let’s say, thirty-nine, than there is about turning nine.

Yet our parties seem to get pushed aside by the demands of adulthood. Money we would spend on our celebrations goes to things like: the mortgage, groceries, the electric bill, sports and music lessons for the kids, and other responsibilities of being grown up.

When my husband’s precious grandmother (who lived to be 104 years old) turned 98, he asked her to share some piece of special wisdom her advanced years had blessed her with. She reached out her too slender but still elegant hand, held his lovingly, and said, “Kent, sweetie, hold on to every day. Life goes by awfully fast.” Then she asked him with a voice mixed with sadness, fearing she knew the answer, and a small bit of hope that maybe she was wrong, “Am I really 98 today?”

“Yes, Grandma, you are,” Kent answered her raising her hand to kiss it.

They sat side-by-side on the porch swing holding hands and swinging slightly and silently for a long time after that. Already legally blind and partially deaf, she had lost her beloved husband of more than 65 years almost a decade prior. It wasn’t long after that day that she stopped speaking. She hadn’t lost the ability. She’d lost the will. We simply believe she didn’t have anything else she wanted to say.

So maybe we should celebrate while we can. Time is fleeting. Life can change in an instant, and in the midst of our busy days, we don’t get nearly enough time with the friends we treasure. To slow down for three or four hours once a year to remember where we’ve just come from and to welcome whatever is around the next bend seems like a gift we should give to ourselves.

Reflection and celebration can bring perspective in ways we can’t imagine.

“No gifts, please.”

When we understand what a gift we have in our friends and family, we often consider their presence at our celebration to be the only present we want. In that case, it has become common for adults to include these words on the bottom left of invitations:

“No gifts, please.”


“Only the presence of your company is requested.”

Once considered a manners no-no because it assumed the guest of honor was expecting you to bring a gift to his or her birthday party, it’s now perfectly fine to let your wishes be known. (Manners evolve to meet our current sensibilities.) Besides, while a gift isn’t “a must” for an adult birthday party (it is for children’s or teens’ parties), 99.9 percent of people usually bring a gift. So if no gifts are expected at your party, it’s pretty much necessary to say so.

And if you are the recipient of an invitation asking you not to bring a gift, it’s polite to honor the wishes of the host. Don’t bring a gift. In this case, doing so is impolite.

By not following the wishes of the host(ess), the gift (and the person who brought it) is conspicuous. Also, it gets others at the party thinking, “You know, maybe I should have brought a gift,” and feeling bad that they didn’t.

What About a Card?

A card is a written statement of your good wishes and congratulations. It doesn’t count as a gift, and it’s fine to bring. In fact, it’s a really nice thing to do. However, don’t slip a gift card in with the birthday card. Even if it’s a $5.00 Starbucks gift card, that’s a gift.

Speaking of cards, store-bought sentiments are better than none, but the person who wrote that card is usually a freelancer who writes dozens of cards a week. If you want to touch the heart of the person in the most memorable way, the best cards are blank ones that you fill yourself with words of friendship, appreciation, encouragement, love, or whatever is on your heart to share with the recipient.

What About a Gag Gift?

No, just….no.

Yes, to be polite, and in the spirit of the moment, recipients of gag gifts will laugh along with you during the party. But, later, they aren’t going to cherish your “50 and One Foot in the Grave” coffee mug. It’s misplaced humor and money wasted.

What Do I Do If Someone Brings a Gift to My Party Anyway?

Try to keep a low profile on the gift. Thank the person nicely as they hand it to you, and then place it in a room or somewhere so that other party goers are unlikely to see it. As you’re given the present, say something like: “Trish, thank you! But you’re all the gift I was hoping for. I’ll put this (name the location) and open it later. You understand, I don’t want others to feel bad that they didn’t bring something.”

If possible (it often isn’t), try to open any gift in front of the giver so you can thank the giver in person. However, if anyone might see you, and someone usually will, wait and open the gift after the party. Make sure to send a thank you card within a week. The sooner you do, the more sincere your sentiments. What we care about, we do without hesitation. (For my formula for writing thank you notes that touch the heart, click here.)

Maralee, I Really Want to Give a Gift. Isn’t There Anything I Can Do?

If the birthday person is a relative or your BFF, and if it’s your tradition to get each other gifts, you can still do so. Just give the present on a different day. Arrange to meet for coffee or a meal, your treat, and give it then. Or drop by with the gift a day or so before or after the party. If you’re not in the habit of exchanging gifts, wait a while (a week, a month) and give them the gift as one of the best kinds of presents of all: “I saw this and thought of you!”

PS: I love you all! Thank you for embracing this new blog. It’s only our fourth week, and do you know that last week’s blog post, “Ten to Know Before They Grow,” had 121 Facebook shares and was still gaining more the last time I looked. If you have children or grandchildren, you’ll find it gives insight and answers into how we can raise our children to be the adults we pray they become. You can read it here. Thank you for finding it worthy to share with your friends and family. There’s no higher compliment, and I’m honored, excited, happy and humbled!

You can sign up for the blog by entering your first name and email address in the box near the bottom of this or any page!


Maralee McKee's Signature



Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

What is the proper etiquette for sitting and standing? Discover the manners for when to stand and why.

When to Stand and Why

  By: Maralee McKee With the changing roles of women in the workplace, and workplace etiquette becoming m...

What is the modern etiquette for holding the door for others? Discover how these modern etiquette tips will help you appear classy and poised.

Opening and Holding the Door for Others – The Top 5 Manners

By: Maralee McKee There's more to opening and holding the door for others than turning the knob or holding i...


10 Outdated Etiquette Rules You No Longer Want to Use

  By: Maralee McKee Using outdated etiquette rules can make us seem stuffy and out-of-sync with the expec...

Buy Manners that Matter for Moms now!