‘Your presence is a present’: How to navigate invitations that say ‘no gifts’
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TORONTO – You’ve received an invitation to a milestone birthday, wedding or baby shower and after glossing over some details you spot the saying: “your presence is a present.”
The line has been making it into invitations for years, but can still be confusing for guests. Is the message just a platitude or do hosts still quietly expect gifts? And if you show up empty-handed, will you find a pile of presents?
The answer, event planners say, depends on the party’s host or honouree and the messaging they provide.
Katelyn Hipson, owner of Elegant Productions, says a steady number of couples at weddings she throws across the Maritimes request their guests don’t bring gifts, but noted, “It’s one of those traditions that’s hard to get away from.”
“Even if the couple has said, ‘No, we don’t want this,’ you do still feel inclined and you do have to assume that if you’re, as a guest, listening to the request of the couple … other people are not going to listen to that request,” she said.
“There will be gifts and there will be cards handed over at any wedding or any celebration.”
Some couples don’t want wedding gifts because, unlike in some previous generations, they already live together and have the household necessities traditionally given to the newly married. Others don’t want travelling guests to spend even more and some simply don’t want to put further financial strain on anyone, regardless of how far they may be coming from.
In the case of milestone birthdays, some feel gifts are unnecessary or wasteful and with baby showers, many have heaps of clothing, toys and other necessities from loved ones or hand-me-downs from previous children.
While some guests feel obliged to give a gift, even when they’ve been told not to, others get confused because some party throwers’ no-gift requests are sometimes accompanied by notes offering charity, honeymoon or first home funds guests can contribute to if they desire.
“If they’re giving an option, then probably the best bet is to give money towards whatever cause they’re looking to fill there,” said Lauren McCormick, co-founder of Ottawa Elopements.
“But if they don’t give an option, then I would say there’s definitely a no gift policy in place and they probably really mean it.”
Hipson agreed, saying if she was told no gifts, but then a registry or fund was listed, “I would err on the side that they actually do want a gift.”
She warns party throwers such messaging is “confusing” and recommends they think more closely about what expectations they have and how they may be interpreted by guests before sending invites.
Sometimes marrying couples are trying to convey that they have enough linens, kitchen gadgets and other home essentials, but wouldn’t mind cash or a donation to a charity, she added.
In that case, Hipson suggests people write in their invite that they have chosen not to set up a registry, but a monetary contribution towards a honeymoon, savings goal or a beloved cause would be greatly appreciated.
“Be clear, be concise, be direct because your guests don’t want this wishy washy like no gifts, but here’s a link to our honeymoon fund or things like that,” she said.
When people have said no gifts, but she feels compelled to still give something, Hipson writes a card and wraps a personal or sentimental item like a bottle of wine she enjoys or a handcrafted token that would be meaningful.
When McCormick married in a destination wedding, she requested no gifts “simply because everyone is spending so much time and money on getting to where our wedding was” and transporting presents home would have been difficult.
McCormick told people if they insisted on doing something, a thoughtful card or note would be “perfect.” Most listened and skipped the gifts, though a few gave her money as well.
When in doubt about gifting, she and Hipson agree that you can always reach out to the celebrant or one of their family members, close friends or wedding party to learn about their true intentions.
Just be sure to ask in advance of the event, so you can get your gift together in time and not hassle the honourees or their loved ones when their party-planning is in full swing, McCormick said.
But what do you do if you arrive at a party and find everyone else has brought something and you haven’t but now feel compelled?
McCormick suggests telling the honouree you plan to take them out for dinner or to enjoy some kind of experience at a later date.
“That’s often more thoughtful,” she said. “You’re gifting your time and an experience where you’re creating memories.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2023.