As with many things, today’s baby shower is a much more extravagant affair, with letterpress invitations, coordinating themes, and robust online registries for everything that a new parent could desire and (possibly) need.

These types of events are fueled by a booming baby and child industry, which is predicted to hit 66.8 billion in sales in 2017, according to Statista. This industry has an eager audience of anxious parents who are willing to purchase the latest and greatest high-tech bathtub toy if it means that they will feel safer and more accepted in society.

Before the 1950s, birth celebrations ranged from ceremonies by the Egyptians and Greeks, to austere baptisms in the Middle Ages, and humble postpartum tea parties during the Renaissance. The modern day shower started to form after WWll, as ration-weary Americans found a whole new joy in the excess of postwar consumerism culture. However, the 1950’s family only had a few options for variations of diapers and toys – nothing like the vast landscape that shoppers wade through today.

At these early baby showers, family and friends would give just a few gifts of food, linens, and clothing – often handmade, or even heirloom pieces handed down through the family tree. Quality was valued over quantity.

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Above: 1950’s bib | April Cornell “Brenda” Dress & “Meadow” Jacket

In contrast, today’s new parent may find that in 10, 20, and 50 years they will have few to no meaningful mementos of childhood to hand down. The contemporary shower gift is often disposable or upgradable (seemingly by design). Diaper Genies will be handed off to the neighbor once potty training ends, the baby monitor gets replaced by the latest and greatest model when baby #2 comes along, and the stack of diapers…yeah, nobody’s holding onto those (even if they were cloth). Traditional gifts, like silver cups and rattles may be rooting us to the past, and while extremely thoughtful and enduring, precious metal may not be the most practical or financially realistic gift.

Below, we explore four themes to help you thoughtfully commemorate childhood at the next baby shower you host or attend. We hope that these ideas inspire you to boldly venture off-script from traditional registries and find that heirloom-worthy item that will be treasured for its story as well as its significance.

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A watch to celebrate retirement; handed down from grandfather to grandson.

 

Milestones

Once you crest the ridge of adulthood and can suddenly see life clearly in both directions, you may notice that most of your “firsts” are behind you. First tooth, check. Bike just has two wheels, check. School, check. The novelty and excitement of those firsts so perfectly represent childhood, and they are a joy for everyone lucky enough to bear witness.

Milestones gifts are great because they will always evoke nostalgia for those firsts. Here are some suggestions:

1 | A crown for all of those first birthdays
2 | A piggy bank to grow with them & their investments
3 | A pouch for all toothfairy transactions
4 | A quilt for their first big kid bed
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Heirloom gifts for kids
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heriloom gifts for kids
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April Cornell “Queenie Dress”

Special occasions

Celebratory traditions give families a reliable way to reconnect; and help us all slow down to honor some of the things that truly mean the most. Children help motivate families to keep some of their traditions alive, even after the effort begins to feel unnecessary. Kids’ parties put additional strain on our already busy lives, but there’s no question that it’s all worth it when the pandemonium ensues after the Piñata explodes.

These gifts will help a kid celebrate with something special:

1 | A party dress for twirling
2 | A stocking for family mornings by the fire
3 | A family photo session + a nice frame
4 | A pair of timeless bracelets for mother & daughter
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April Cornell heirloom, rattle and spoons
Silver utensils and rattle from the early 19th century

Capturing childhood

Like we’ve been told, the years slip through our fingers “like sands through an hourglass.” Before we know it, toddling two-year-olds are back-talking teens. Parents grasp at the byproducts or their kid’s childhood, hoarding these artifacts and displaying them on fridges, or even, in some unusual cases, squirreling away baby teeth once the Tooth Fairy transaction is complete (ahem, someone in this office).

Even though childhood can never truly be contained, it’s possible to give a gift that will help encapsulate some of its most special memorabilia.

1 | A teeny-weeny little Bikini
2 | A box for all of their childhood treasures
3 | Acessesories for imagination and make-believe
4 | A book to document the “darndest things” that kids say

 

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A set of silver bracelets that have passed from mother to daughter

 

Three ways to add tradition to your heirloom gift

1 | Incorporate a handmade component

Instead of a wrapping your gift in paper and a bow, find a handmade box from a local artisan. The box can be used to organize the changing table, and then grow with the child as she finds her own keepsakes to collect.

2 | Turn your gift into an annual event for the two of you

If you gifted a special piece of clothing, turn it into a tradition by planning an outing and shopping trip together for the next piece. The experiences will build great memories and the collection will become a cherished wardrobe that they can pass on.

3 | Give it a personal touch

Consider writing a handwritten note that documents the care and thought that you put into the gift. Explain why you picked that item, and also record a bit of history from the family tree. Or, if you have an heirloom that you’re passing on, try assembling historic photographs or documents about the piece into a frame and create a mini museum that your family can continue to build on.

 

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Baby plate as family heirloom from the early 19th century
Porcelain Baby Plate From the 1920’s
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April Cornell has sponsored this piece because they are committed to creating lasting pieces that thoughtfully commemorate childhood.

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