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Birthday Party Gift Etiquette for Adults: Rules for Gifts

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.


Monday 14th of December 2009

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.


Friday 11th of December 2009

Large birthday parties for adult or weddings-wait. A solitary gift to someone, a child's birthday or a shower-open now! I love seeing baby gifts-even duplicates especially.

Interesting that this was posted, as I felt a bit offended by my MIL this weekend over a gift situation. The kids and I bought her a birthday gift. My son handed her the gift. She may or may not have thanked him (he doesn't remember) and left it on the kitchen counter. Not one mention after that. I was a little miffed that she didn't acknowledge it as a birthday gift at all. Knowing MIL, we will never know if she even opened the gift. Oh well.

Cindy Brick

Wednesday 9th of December 2009

There's the rub, isn't want her to open your present -- so you can see if she likes it or not -- but you don't care that much about her opening the other presents! Opening everything is the given procedure at any kind of shower, but otherwise, I don't think it's that critical. And not opening them means the recipient should be sending thank you notes. But I'm a bit older -- 51 -- and grew up in Michigan, where they had showers ad nauseum. Most of the time, I picked my favorite person to sit by, and just talked to them while the umpteenth sleeper set or pack of pickle forks was passed around to admire.

One Frugal Girl

Tuesday 8th of December 2009

Based on the comments it's easy to see why the room was divided. I was definitely torn on the situation. On one hand I like to see the recipient open the gifts I provide, on the other hand I can understand why people don't want to sit around for an hour and watch someone else open presents.

In this case the guest of honor chose to open all her gifts. A couple of guests came from quite far away and asked her to open them in front of them. She didn't feel right just opening one or two, so she chose to open them all.

It's me ...Mavis

Tuesday 8th of December 2009

I think it is rather strange to give someone a gift and them not open it... Part of giving someone something is so you get to enjoy (hopefully) them opening it. Whether you have 2 or 20 gifts to open... I think you should.