Today, the Times' Tina Kelley (where's the color war story, btw?) investigates a new phenomenon on the suburban New Jersey kids' birthday party circuit. Seems that some parents, whether through genuine altruism or in preparation for their kids to sit on the board of the Children's Aid Society in 20 years, have started asking people to donate to charities—of their kids' choice!—instead of giving them presents. Little Gavin Brown, for example, chose the Cranford Fire Department for the $240 he got for his fourth birthday. Aww! How cute! But some people aren't so enamored of the trend. People like Miss Manners.

"People seem to forget that you can't spend other people's money, even for a good cause," Ms. Martin said in a phone interview. "Do you really want the birthday child to grow up hating philanthropy because it's done him out of his birthday presents?"

While she sympathizes with parents' desire to avoid materialistic feeding frenzies, Ms. Martin advised: "They'd be much better off getting together with the other parents and agreeing on very small presents." Besides, she noted, children learn valuable lessons giving gifts they would rather keep for themselves — and saying thank you even for things they do not like.

Excellent points, all. We feel rather kindly toward Miss Manners, kind of how you would feel toward someone who had landed in your kitchen having been teleported from another century and came equipped with a tea set and a corset? Yeah, like that.

Cake, But No Presents, Please [NYT]