I have always loved birthdays.
The parties, the balloons, the cake, the presents, the attention.
Birthday's have always been a big deal in my family and celebrating them is a lot of fun.
Yet it wasn't until my oldest son celebrated his first birthday that it dawned on me that a birthday celebrates a BIRTH.
I think up until then all I'd really thought about was that my birthday was the day that I was born but I'd never thought about what that really entailed-- that on that day my mother travailed and shed her blood to bring me into mortality.
That is a gift I will never be able to repay.
On each of my children's birthdays I can't help but reflect on what I went through to give them life and the immense about of joy that accompanied their arrival. Their birthdays have become very special days for me and I see the purpose of celebrating a birthday so much differently than I did before. It has made me yearn for some birthday traditions that focus a bit more on the special and spiritual significance of the day rather than just the cake, presents and balloons.
My daughter just turned three a few days ago and I thought I'd share something that we did this year that was really special, and which I hope will become a new tradition in our family.
For the last few months I have been researching the Montessori Method of education and during my reading I came across what Montessori schools traditionally do to celebrate the birthday's of their students. First a circle (or an ellipse) is drawn on the ground with chalk or tape, and a candle is placed in the center of the circle to represent the sun. The birthday child is handed a globe (or a ball that looked like the earth) and asked to stand at the head of the circle. It is explained to the children that that the earth orbits around the sun and that one time around the sun makes up a year. Then the birthday child walks slowly around the circle, holding the globe, as many years old that they are. While they walk a parent or loved one tells the child's life story (sometimes showing pictures) and focuses on the milestones and achievements the child has made during each year of their life. When they stop on the year they are old they then get to blow out the candle in the middle. For older children, a sibling or a friend can sometimes be the child's "moon" and orbit around them as they walk. (If you would like to see videos of some of these celebrations follow this link).
When I read about this idea I knew that I wanted to try it with my children, it is such a unique and fun way to honor their little lives!
So when she woke up on her birthday I told her that I had a special surprise for her and that morning. Before our family scripture study I outlined an ellipse (a sad looking one) on the floor with tape. We gathered around the circle as a family and lit the candle. It really brought a beautiful peaceful feel into the room and as I held my precious little girl in my lap I told her the story of the day she was born. Her face just lit up and snuggled deep into my shoulder. Then I handed her the globe and she walked, a little hesitantly, around the ellipse.
As she walked her dad and brother told things they remembered about her when she was a baby-- how she always laughed, how she put her toes on her highchair, how she was afraid of the chickens-- and when she had walked around three times she stopped and we each told her something that we loved about her. She was glowing and when I went to go take the tape off the floor she wouldn't let me. "This is my special surprise mom," she told me-- and anyone else who came to the house that day.
I loved this tradition and I am hoping that it is one my family won't mind keeping. Those few minutes with my little girl were the highlight of her birthday. I have no doubt that she knew that she was loved and treasured.
I thought of a few more traditions that could be done to focus on the spiritual aspects of a birthday and truly honor the life of a child. Some of these I did this year and others I'd like to try over the next few years:
- Print off pictures of them from the past year and put them in a special scrapbook or photo album. Take a moment to sit down with your child and talk about how proud you are of who they are becoming. If you do this for several years you can go back and look at pictures from past years and reflect on special events and fun stories.
- Pray with them. Find a quiet moment where just you and our child can pray together. Express gratitude to God for their life, their unique gifts and for the privilege of being their parent. Ask for special blessings that you would like for your child to receive or develop over the next year. If it feels right invite the child to say their own prayer after you are done.
- Tell them a magical story of their birth. All children love to hear about when they were born. How much you tell and what language you use will depend upon your child's age and how much they are ready for, but try to convey how much they were wanted and loved. My husband's family has the tradition of telling a person's birth story on their birthday before they eat dinner and it has become one of my favorite traditions. Sometimes, since everyone has heard the birth stories so often, they make the person who knows it the least (like a young child or a guest) tell it-- and there have been some really fun, embellished stories over the years! If your child's birth experience was hard or traumatic don't shy away from the truth, but try not to make the child feel like they are to blame or that their birth was not as good as another child's. Try to focus on the miracles that happened and joy that you felt when they were born. Every child deserves to feel that their birth was magical.
- Create a special mother-child or father-child tradition where they get special one-on-one time with a parent. For example, my little girl wanted her toe nails painted with glitter on her birthday and it was really fun to have that time together just her and I. Afterward I thought how fun it would be if we went and got our toes painted together every year on her birthday. I don't know that we will, but I loved the idea of having something that was just for the two of us.
- Give your mother a gift on your birthday to acknowledge her sacrifice in giving you life. This is one that I just recently heard about and I LOVE it. I think it is one though that might be more meaningful if instituted by the child (or the father) rather than the mom... hint, hint hint.
So I am curious... what special birthday traditions does your family have that help remind you of the beauty and joy of each person's life?
If you feel the need to leave a very long comment I have included a linky at the bottom so you can share your own posts about birthday traditions (which I would LOVE to read) or you can still link to your own Five Thing for Friday post!