We Do Birthdays Right

Memory Monday

I know people are supposed to reach an age where they don’t want to reveal their age and they dread birthdays and stuff, but I’m not there yet. I think this might have something to do with the fact that my parents always did such a great job with birthdays when I was growing up.

When we moved to New England from Honduras and I started attending a Christian school there, I remember being somewhat startled and troubled by the facts that in my class, one boy’s parents were divorced, one girl was the daughter of a Christian and a non-Christian (and as I recall that was a source of tension), and certain other kids I knew, both at school and in my home neighbourhood, didn’t really ever get a big deal made out of their birthdays. All three of those things elicited my pity, which maybe is sort of condescending, but give an eight-year-old a break. I just wanted other kids to have parents who loved each other, and who gave them birthdays to remember.

I think the only really big birthday parties my parents ever threw for me were my 3rd and my 13th, and most of the other ones were either just family affairs or maybe included one or two close friends at the most. But there were certain birthday traditions to be upheld, and to which I looked forward every year–even those years when I was around my parents as an adult. This might be because when TheBro and I were growing up, our parents received the same treatment on their birthdays that they gave us on ours, so even as adults, given the proper vicinity, some of these traditions continue.

First, there was breakfast in bed. I always tried to stay asleep until my parents and TheBro came in with my special breakfast  tray, but I was a notoriously light sleeper and early riser, and it was so hard just to lie in bed and pretend to sleep without doing anything, that I  usually ended up reading a book while listening to the kitchen-y noises of breakfast preparation and getting excited to have plätter (Swedish pancakes) or blueberry pancakes with bacon or whatever I had chosen for breakfast that year. Everybody else brought their breakfast in, too, and would perch on the edges of the bed, or on the desk or wherever, and we’d eat together. My mother would usually find a bud vase or a little tiny jar for flowers from the yard, and grace the corner of the tray with that. I loved that touch.

Supper and its accompanying dessert were also always choices for the birthday girl or boy–and everything was fair game. As an adult, I often choose lobster or clams. When TheBro and I were in elementary school, Mom would also make us these impressive cakes featuring a theme or a character we were into at the time. I think she stopped with the theme cakes for each of us when we turned twelve or something, and after that, we could choose a dessert, but no more Raggedy Anns or Darth Vaders.

Guess which one is the cake.

Guess which one is the cake.

There were also always presents, which were exciting and mysterious, but now that I come to think about it, although I remember always wanting there to be presents, and also being grateful for the things I got, they were never the focal point, really. The main point of the day was to celebrate an occasion–and a person.

It wasn’t just standard birthdays that got celebrated, either. For example, I don’t know what the reason was, but I distinctly remember someone visiting us in Honduras, and our having an “unbirthday party” with them. I suspect what happened was that our visitor had brought a gift for TheBro and me (I remember the gift) and maybe my parents didn’t want us associating visitors with gifts, so, drawing on my cursory knowledge of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from the recording of the Disney movie, my mother threw together a small party for us and our guest(s), wrapping up the gifts and even, I think, having a small cake. I went on to throw unbirthday parties and birthday parties for my friends in college . . . because everybody needs to have their birthday celebrated.

How did you celebrate your birthday as a kid? Or how do you wish you did?

29 thoughts on “We Do Birthdays Right

  1. Thanks for the great story & pics, Jenn. The underlying parent/child/family LOVE theme is so great, never too late to start new traditions :-), resurrect favorites. Jesus’ 1st (at least day of birth) breakfast was ‘pretty close’ to in bed, same ‘room’? Breakfast in bed growing up (& whenever I visit now) has always been Mother’s Day, but no one else… Of course that might have something to do with my parents’ first child (me) being born on Dec. 25th…. However, as I was born at 10:41pm, we didn’t have a chance to have a ‘first breakfast’ in bed. Most every year since, have tried to (did, parents try to again ;-)) stay up til 10:41pm to celebrate the cake and candles and ‘not Christmas paper’ wrapped presents. These gifts were never ‘merged as ‘Christmas * birthday’ presents to my parents’ & siblings’ credit. Mom felt so badly about me ‘hardly ever’ having ‘birthday parties’ (with friends) that ‘time of year’, she’d send me ‘half birthday cards’ June 25th (with ice cream cone $ 😉 One guy I dated sent me a ‘half birthday card’ June 25th…the card torn literally in half… sense a pun in that somewhere…? Thanks again for a great story, and continuing early ‘happiest birthday’ blessings to you!

  2. I celebrated by telling everyone for months that there were only __amout of days until my birthday and disappointment when the hype I built up in my mind wasn’t reached. Now I spend the day having others annoy me by telling me happy birthday when the see the balloons over my head and talking to all my siblings about my birthday.

  3. Love your birthday traditions! Reminds of when I would make a theme cake every year for my three children when they were growing up. For my boys not so difficult…my eldest was obsessed with dinosaurs and my youngest requested the same cake every year from the time he was 4 years old when I first made him a ‘chocolate dirt cake’. But my daughter, well, it became more elaborate each year, ranging from butterflies and ladybirds to Japanese animee characters! And I am no cake decorator but I did my very best! I like to think that my kids feel the same way about the happy birthdays I tried to give them as you do about your parents! Love this post Jenn 🙂

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