Un-Birthday Presents

I've found the normal method of giving gifts on birthdays and holidays to be boring. Oddly enough, I just found out today that Humpty Dumpty thought the same thing.

I'm reading "Through the Looking-Glass" by Lewis Carroll with one of my students, Carrie. It's the sequel to "Alice in Wonderland". Today we read a section where Humpty Dumpty is explaining the concept of un-birthday presents to Alice.

I've thought the same thing for years. Everyone is both expecting and already getting gifts on their birthday and on holidays. What's better is to give them one at some other time, when it's more interesting to receive something you aren't expecting. Here's part of the conversation between Humpty Dumpty and Alice.

- - - - - - -

‘It’s a cravat, child, and a beautiful one, as you say. It’s a present from the White King and Queen. There now!’

‘Is it really?’ said Alice, quite pleased to find that she had chosen a good subject, after all.

‘They gave it me,’ Humpty Dumpty continued thoughtfully, as he crossed one knee over the other and clasped his hands round it, ‘they gave it me—for an un-birthday present.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Alice said with a puzzled air.

‘I’m not offended,’ said Humpty Dumpty.

‘I mean, what is an un-birthday present?’

‘A present given when it isn’t your birthday, of course.’

Alice considered a little. ‘I like birthday presents best,’ she said at last.

‘You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ cried Humpty Dumpty. ‘How many days are there in a year?’

‘Three hundred and sixty-five,’ said Alice.

‘And how many birthdays have you?’


‘And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five, what remains?’

‘Three hundred and sixty-four, of course.’

Humpty Dumpty looked doubtful. ‘I’d rather see that done on paper,’ he said.

Alice couldn’t help smiling as she took out her memorandum-book, and worked the sum for him:


Humpty Dumpty took the book, and looked at it carefully. ‘That seems to be done right—’ he began.

‘You’re holding it upside down!’ Alice interrupted.

‘To be sure I was!’ Humpty Dumpty said gaily, as she turned it round for him. ‘I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that seems to be done right—though I haven’t time to look it over thoroughly just now—and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents—’

‘Certainly,’ said Alice.

‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’

- - - - - - -

The other thing that I've found useful for gift giving is to give events. Give events that you will go to with the person. Then, the gift is spending time together rather than a trinket or toy. It's not always applicable, but it often can be.

Here's the best part about giving events as gifts, you choose something that you want to do anyway. That way, if they didn't like it, you still did.

I like sending books to people too, especially kids. I've done it for a few adults around the country, and one in Asia. Maybe they appreciate it, they are at least surprised. But kids, kids love to get packages in the mail. It's so interesting when you're a kid because you haven't had the experience of getting bills in the mail yet.

I just did it this last week for an eight-year-old girl in a creative writing group that I facilitate, Bella. I sent her "There's No Such Thing as a Dragon" by Jack Kent. It's the best children's book I've ever read. It's incredibly insightful about the processes of self-deception and social verification. I will know in a few days if she liked it. It's difficult to hit the right mark with books, they are a personal thing, and there are so many options, but I have high hopes.

So, the next time that you or someone you know doesn't have a birthday, Humpty Dumpty and I encourage you to remember un-birthday presents.


You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com


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