“It’s a big house this, and very peculiar. Always a bit more to discover, and no knowing what you’ll find round a corner. And Elves, sir! Elves here, and Elves there! Some like kings, terrible and splendid; and some as merry as children. And the music and the singing…” (Sam - The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 1)
Don’t expect to receive many presents. According to hobbit tradition, a byrding (for those who don’t know, this is the word for a hobbit on their birthday) only received gifts from close family members (the formal Shire rules were second-cousins or closer, living within 12 miles of the byrding.) And except in the case of adoption, parents did not give presents to their children on the child’s birthday. Close friends might give a small gift, but where not expected to.
When you do receive a gift, do it in private. This is so that the gift-givers can give a gift according to their own means and affection without the chance of being publicly judged or embarrassed. It was considered terribly rude for a hobbit to bring the byrding a present at the party, as this was seen as an attempt to pay for the party, or match the gifts given by the byrding themselves.
Prepare to give a lot of gifts instead. Instead of receiving presents, byrdings give them away. Tolkien said “it was a form of ‘thanksgiving’, and
taken as a recognition of services, benefits, and friendship shown, especially in the past year.” Heads of family or settled-down hobbits were expected to give a gift to everyone in their household, their employees, and their neighbors - at least. Younger hobbits were free to give gifts “according
to their means or affections.” It was definitely expected, however, for a byrding to give presents to his or her parents.
The presents would ideally be something you made. Tolkien says that the gifts byrdings gave out were “not very expensive as a rule” (a rule that Bilbo smashed to smithereens at his 111th party, but he was a strange hobbit already.) The presents to one’s parents were traditionally “things 'produced’ by the giver” - either found, grown, or made. Small children usually gave bunches of flowers. And this was often the model for gifts given to others as well. Among the less wealthy hobbits a sampling of the garden’s harvest or craftsmanship were considered the most “correct” gifts.
There better be a party! Traditionally held on the evening of the birthday, every guest invited to the party will absolutely be expecting to receive a present from the byrding. If a close friend or relative was invited to the party but could not attend due to distance, it was proper to send them a small gift with the invitation (traditionally something edible, as a sort of replacement for the meal served at the party.)
Bilbo’s Party was the equivalent to a hobbit Pinterest Party that none of us could ever hope to achieve in the real world. He invited just about everybody in the area. He gave ridiculously lavish gifts (including magical toys from Dale and many of his own possessions.) The main entertainment was a wizard fireworks show. The party lasted all day and included lunch, tea, and dinner. Plus the host ended the night with a mysterious speech and a very literal disappearance. So unless you have a dragon-horde-sized budget for your sweet sixteen, I’d recommend sticking to the more traditional hobbit customs.
SOURCES: Tolkien’s Letter #214, The Fellowship of the Ring (”A Long-Expected Party”)
Hobbits have been living and farming in the four Farthings of the Shire for many hundreds of years. Quite content to ignore and be ignored by the world of the Big Folk — Middle-Earth being, after all, full of strange creatures beyond count. Hobbits must seem of little importance, being neither renowned as great warriors, nor counted among the very wise.
In fact, it has been remarked by some that the Hobbits’ only real passion is for food.
A rather unfair observation, as we have also developed a keen interest in the brewing of ales, and the smoking of pipe-weed. But where our hearts truly lie is in peace and quiet, and good tilled earth. For all Hobbits share a love of things that grow.