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Before I became the parent of two toddlers, I had no idea how birthday parties would come to occupy my weekends. We have at least one every weekend. And every few weeks I am off to buy presents for some of the wealthiest children in the country. Even though I generally purchase books, it seems like a huge waste. Another set of princess accessories -- God help me. And we're leading our children to believe that they should expect a boatload of presents (at least) once a year. Since the school rules require that everyone in the class be invited to all birthday parties, you get to 20 kids (and 20 presents) pretty fast. In the past few months, two brave mothers at our preschool have offered alternatives. One asked that we bring a gift to the food pantry instead of presents. Another suggested we consider a gift to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

Both seemed reasonable requests. It was a nice lesson for my daughter when she brought a box of Cheerios to her friend's birthday. It reminded me a little of grieving families asking for contributions to a particular charity instead of flowers. Who needs another vase of flowers? Who needs another set of matchbox cars?

But there are limits, I'd think, to this use of social occasions as a means to support and proselytize for our favorite causes. The New York Times today offers a description of the wedding of David Friedlander and Jacqueline Schmidt:

It would be easy to say that the couple, in their mid-30s, abhorred the idea of a traditional wedding, but Mr. Friedlander and Ms. Schmidt are not the sort of people who are in the business of abhorring things. They did not want their wedding “to be just about us,” the groom told me, but rather, about the world of creativity and social purpose that they inhabit.

Uh oh. Maybe you see where this is going. Of course, the couple asked their guests to recycle their cups "because we’re really in a serious situation with climate change.” But that was nothing.

When guests arrived on Saturday night two weeks ago, they were greeted with name tags that asked them to declare a commitment. Lest they not take the request seriously, the hosts had additional cards printed that asked them to “Name something you are really committed to.” The cards contained further imperatives: “Name one action you can take in the next 24 hours that is aligned with your commitment.”

That seems like a lot to ask of a wedding guest, though one can't imagine that such folks as the Friedlander-Schmidts have friends who wouldn't have expected this. Dinner parties with these folks must be unbearable. ("Pass the salad? First, name one thing you've done this week to save the an endangered species.") Now we've all attended some terrible weddings. Bad music, ugly bridesmaid dresses, tacky decorations, schmaltzy vows, but my guess is nothing can compare with this:

After the ceremony, in which chants were chanted and vows, written by the couple’s friends, were exchanged, guests sat down to a series of talks, with PowerPoint presentations, on subjects of interest to the couple — ecological efficiency, neuroscience, holistic healing.

All of the conspicuous consumption on Long Island couldn't have been worse than this display of self-righteousness. If you don't want to have a big wedding, fine, go to City Hall and then grab a sandwich. And give all the money you would have spent to some deserving cause. Instead, this pair decided to spend all that money lecturing their friends and anyone else who would listen about what is important to them. The reporter describes the scene as emblematic of a "certain New York lifestyle as it is practiced right now, one steeped in proselytizing, bohemian entrepreneurialism." Whatever it is, let's hope this is not the new culture of philanthropy.

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