Beyond Birthday Gifts

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Find more about birthdays, parties, inexpensive ideas

Birthday time had rolled around again for my twins. After a celebration with a gaggle of friends (fun, food, gifts), and our own family celebration at home (fun, food, gifts), we were in the midst of celebration number three with extended family at my parents' (more of the same).

My mom was cleverly wheeling a wagon bearing new American Girl dolls Felicity and Kirsten — gifts from her and my sister — around the corner of the house to where we sat on the lawn, cake consumed, crumb-covered plates dotting the grass like lily pads. This was a much-anticipated and special gift, but I was already cringing in anticipation of the fallout. In a minute or two, the shrieks of joy would die away, and snuggling their new dolls, Caitlin and Ellie would look up, wearing identical "Is that it?" expressions.

Thanks to an unprecedented flash of forethought, I was ready for just this moment. And just as the bubble was indeed about to pop, I pulled out a homemade American Girl trivia game from underneath my lawn chair, and called everyone to join in.

My girls are nuts over these dolls, who join us at the dinner table, get dressed in homemade costumes for Halloween, and are often left "reading" books when the girls leave for school. Caitlin and Ellie also pore over the companion books, and have an astonishing grasp of the minutiae and lore of the lives of the characters within. So, that morning, when I was racking my brain to find a way to make the birthday about more than gifts and getting, it occurred to me to build on the gift itself.

At party time minus 30 minutes, I hurriedly sat down to make up questions, based on what I heard from the girls and the books we'd read together. I devised three categories: Names and Faces, Trivia, and Outfits and Accessories, and then five questions for each category. (Click here to download a PDF of this homemade American Girl Trivia Game.)

It turned out to be just enough to let the girls show off a bit without boring the rest of the crowd. We divided into teams, one led by Ellie and one by Caitlin, so that each team had a pro on their side. The girls ate it up like pink frosted cake, raising their hands, jumping out of their chairs, bursting with answers.

Later that day, when I heard them relaying the game as the highlight of their day to another aunt on the phone, I smiled. Not only did they love it, it added another dimension to the day that wasn't about consumption. What's more, it can be adapted to Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter, or World Cup soccer, should the girls switch obsessions.

How do you make birthdays about more than gifts and getting? Click the comments link below to find and share solutions.

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Beyond Birthday Gifts

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