Take one look at the birthday card section of your local grocery store and it’ll soon become apparent that there are only a handful of ages considered to be truly significant in your life—you know, years when your birthday card has your actual age on it. 10, when you reach double digits; Sweet 16; legal adulthood at 18; and then, 21. After that, it seems to become about the decades, year 30, 40, 50, 60, and so on.
When I turned 18, I was in high school. Even though I was young, I was wise enough to realize that I still had no idea what was going on in the real world—or even what direction my own life would take over the next few tumultuous years. It wasn’t until I hit 21 that I was able to take a deep breath and think, “I’ve got this.” I wasn’t exactly settled, but I could start to see the path I was making for myself, and definitely felt more ready to take on what adulthood had to throw my way.
Help celebrate your friends and loved ones entering this transitional period in their life from childhood to real adulthood with fun non-alcoholic 21st birthday gifts that take the cake. Celebrate what’s ahead, what they’ve accomplished, and where they are now—and don’t be afraid to have a little alcohol-free fun with it!
Gift a Non-Alcoholic Experience for a 21st Birthday
I can’t tell you about all of the birthday presents I’ve gotten over the years because I honestly don’t remember most of them. What do I remember? The Hanson-themed figure skating party my parents threw me in middle school, the paint night surprise birthday my husband threw me a couple of years ago, and the birthday that my friends took me to see Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time. All of my most memorable birthdays involved experiences, not just gifts.
For your 21-year-old’s birthday, try gifting them with a totally new and out-of-the-box experience. Get tickets so they can finally see their favorite band live in concert, or opt for something daring, like a rock climbing trip. If you can swing it, maybe even consider going for a mini-vacation to a place they’ve never been before. They’ve made it this far into adulthood, and the gift of a brand new adventure is just a reminder of all the amazing stuff life still has in store for their future.
Relax with These 21st Birthday Gift Ideas
I moved to the city for college from a small farming town in Maine. I instantly loved the busy bustle of Boston, and that city vibe carried over into all parts of my life. When I was turning 21, I was in college, juggling two jobs, held office in two school organizations, and had a thriving social life. Most 21-year-old’s are similarly busy, whether they’re in school, building their careers, or starting a new family. That’s why the gift of relaxation is so priceless.
Most of us don’t take time for ourselves to chill out. A gift that helps a person pamper themselves shows them that you care about their mental and physical well-being. You can opt for a gift certificate for spa services—think facial, massage, mani/pedi—or a gift that relates to one of their favorite low-key hobbies, like a book and a cozy blanket for avid readers, or a wildlife guide and binoculars for a friend who loves the outdoors. Either way, a self-care relaxation gift that inspires a calm and serene mind will help them remember that being a grown-up doesn’t have to mean being busy all of the time.
Edible, Non-Alcoholic 21st Birthday Gift Ideas
Birthdays for me are always all about the cake…and ice cream…and any other food I can manage to get my hands on! I always make my own birthday cake because I love to bake and experiment with new flavors and recipes, and I usually get at least one or two culinary treasures as gifts. Sharing food with friends and loved ones is always a treat, and when you’re just starting out in life, it can be an all too rare experience (unless your family likes to eat instant ramen in a dorm room or frozen pizza in a starter apartment, that is).
If you’re able to see your 21-year-old in person on their birthday, take them out for a meal. This is a great opportunity to try something unique, whether it’s fondue, Brazilian barbecue, or Ethiopian—try to pick a cuisine that will make the dinner stand out in everyone’s mind for years to come. Or, you could stay in and throw them a whimsical English high tea party, a cheese and chocolate tasting party, or a ‘90s-themed coffee lovers gift swap.
If you’re not able to see the birthday boy or girl on their special day, send an edible gift. Try something that will pique their culinary curiosity. Atomically spicy hot sauce, chocolate-covered insects, wild game jerky, or a sampler of infused vinegars are all things that they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves, but should definitely try at least once in their lives.
21 Years, 21 Letters: A Sentimental Birthday Gift
Depending on which side of the hill you rest on, 21 can seem either really young or really old. But there’s no doubt that it’s a pivotal time in a person’s life—they’ve finally made it to adulthood, but there’s still so much ahead. Honor their journey with a special present that will connect them to the important people from their past, while giving them insight into the future.
Instead of getting a birthday card for their friends and family to sign, in advance of the birthday, reach out to 21 important people in the birthday girl or boy’s life and ask them to write a letter. Look to friends, family, teachers, mentors, coworkers—any important people who might be able to share a heartwarming memory or piece of advice. Then, package the letters up in a pretty wooden box or container, and wrap it as a gift. When the birthday person opens their present, they’ll be greeted with a gift money really can’t buy—21 heartfelt messages they can read again and again as the years go by.
Time speeds up the older you get; sometimes the best present you can give someone on an important birthday is a memory that will stick with them. There’s a time and a place for more material gifts, but for these benchmark ages you can’t beat a new experience or something sentimental that the recipient will be able to look back at again and again as the years go by.
21 isn’t super young, but it definitely isn’t old. It’s a special time of life that should be cherished and celebrated, and by cultivating a birthday experience that speaks to the person’s emotional and physical needs, you’re helping them kickstart the next chapter of their lives. Being an adult isn’t always easy, but when your friends and loved ones shower you with these unique non-alcoholic 21st birthday gifts, it’s easy to get excited about the great things you have yet to experience in the years to come.
For more ideas, check out our Happy Birthday Gift Guide or start an online gift exchange with your favorite young adults. You can also connect with Elfster on Facebook, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.