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It's a birthday, not an investment opportunity: Lucy Mangan on why celebrations have become so expensive

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"I’m currently staring at four invitations, boggling at each of them in turn. When I get to the last one, I go back to the beginning and start boggling anew.

The first is for a baby shower that, for the first time in my experience, came with a gift list. From a high-end shop. And the cheapest thing on there is £39.95. And the child will grow out of it, if my understanding of children is correct, within 10 minutes.

The second invite is for a birthday weekend away, which will cost me and my husband – were we to go, which we’re not, for reasons that will become clear by the end of this sentence – the better part of a grand for accommodation, food, travel, 48 hours of childcare and the tickets ALREADY BOOKED for entertainment once we (don’t) get there. Not to mention two days of our precious time.

The third is a wedding invitation that presents much the same problem as the birthday weekend, with the added fillip that we have already eaten well into our savings and annual leave allowances to attend the engagement, hen and two stag dos (the groom’s brother missed the first one) that preceded it.



And the fourth? Well, I’ve actually burned that one to ashes because it was a) for a fancy dress party – NO; and b) for a 35th birthday. NO. Thirty-five is not a thing. After you’re 18, only a birthday that ends in a ‘0’ is a thing (unless you’re a 35-year-old female Trump devotee and want to mark what he believes to be a woman’s “check-out time” with a Last F**kable Day cake and cyanide pill or something, in which case, have it).

Online, I’m increasingly bombarded with more frothing madness, with people celebrating everything from promotions to completed fun runs to – once – a successful operation on a cat.

I don’t know when the definition of “life event” became so wide or the celebration of them so complicated. Are we not just allowed to hang out and have fun any more? Does there really have to be a reason? And does it really have to be so very expensive?

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High-stakes gatherings (all too often) are selfish. Best case scenario – I sometimes feel – is that someone is feeling bad about not having seen their friends enough and has decided that the best way to fix it is to gather them all together at once, not realising that when this becomes a common habit everyone ends up brassic. Worst case, someone has decided on an experience they want to have (a stay in this hotel, or that spa, or to have a wedding that will win at Instagram) and then invited enough people to make it economically viable. The guest-and-accompanying-gift-list becomes not about friendship but business.

And sometimes, I suspect, it’s due to fear. Overblown parties can be a way of asking people to prove their friendship by a tangible outlay of their resources. Of course, if you need this from people, they aren’t really your friends. Equally, if you need a big ring, an eight-stage hen and stag do and a £50,000 party on the day to distract you from the fact that you’re teaming up with X for life – well, X maaay not be the one for you. If you cannot face your 35th without fancy dress and a cast of thousands – maybe you simply cannot face turning 35 and would be better off at home addressing your issues over tea and cake with a brace of besties.

Until then, I shall RSVP in flames.

Images: iStock

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