Birthday Party Gift Etiquette for Adults: Rules for Gifts

Do you think the guest of honor should open presents at a party? At a recent 50th birthday party, a few people in the room felt the guest of honor should open gifts in front of everyone. The other half thought she should wait until she got home.

One guest brought flowers and chocolates; a few people brought bottles of wine, and others brought beautifully wrapped gifts that sat on a side table at the front of the room. 

But gift-giving isn’t mandatory at adult birthday parties, and it was clear some guests brought gifts while others did not. 

Opening Gifts in Front of Guests

Should you open presents at a birthday party? Is it a good idea to open birthday gifts in front of guests? What are the rules of etiquette in this situation? More specifically, what are the pros and cons of opening gifts in front of guests?


  • The guests at the party will see your reaction to their gift.
  •  You can thank the gift-givers immediately after opening your gifts.


  • Not all guests want to sit around watching you open presents. They’d probably prefer to mingle, chat and have a good time with other party-goers. 
  • Parties are usually short. If you only have a few hours to spend with people you love, do you want to spend it opening gifts?
  • Other guests may feel uncomfortable watching you opening presents. What if you buy an inexpensive but thoughtful gift and someone else buys a costly one?
  • You might need to feign excitement over gifts you don’t want or like.

When the guest of honor asked for my thoughts on opening gifts, I suggested opening them in private for those who asked rather than opening them in front of a room full of guests.

What do you think? When is it appropriate to open gifts, and when is it right to wait until you get home? Are there rules for this type of thing? Is age a factor? Is the event type a factor? For example, a baby or wedding shower versus a birthday?

Let me know what you think. There was a generational divide at this particular party, but I’m interested in hearing your ideas on this matter.

11 thoughts on “Birthday Party Gift Etiquette for Adults: Rules for Gifts”

  1. In general, open if requested by guests, or as you see fit. If opening later, make sure to thank people by card or in person.

    Another situation to note: Sometimes not everyone will bring a gift. This happened at my graduation party. Some people brought a card or gift and others didn't. In that situation, I opened later so that no one felt bad for not bringing a gift. Since I wasn't expecting any, they didn't need to feel bad, but this way, it's all good.


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