When we found out that our baby was due on December 25th, we thought it was exciting and sweet, not to mention easy to remember. Several years later, it’s less magical and more troubling. Come to find, we knew nothing about how to handle holiday birthdays.
Our daughter’s birthday is just a few days after Christmas; I was happy to enjoy the holiday in the comfort of my home and not in labor. We were discharged from the hospital and back home by New Year’s Eve. We avoided two holidays, but now the anniversary of her birth is in this weird limbo between its own special event and an amalgamation with a variety of Christian and secular traditions observed by our family and friends.
It worked out really well for her first birthday. We drove to Ohio to spend a week with the grandparents and to visit with other family and friends, skip-hopping across the state in a whirlwind tour. We were able to attend my family’s annual December 23rd hour devours gathering (which was started 20 years earlier for my cousin’s sons born on December 23rd and December 24th) where we lit a candle on a big cake and sang happy birthday to the soon-to-be toddler. She was none the wiser and pleased as punch to be cuddled and cooed by extended family. (My adult second cousins were thrilled to no longer be the center of attention for their ill-timed birthdays.) Once we returned to Memphis, we had a few friends over for another birthday cake blowout, and it didn’t matter that it wasn’t on our daughter’s actual birthday. It was an intimate gathering of three babies and their parents, mostly focused on we first time parents celebrating making it through infancy (both ours and our daughter’s).
Skip ahead a few years, and now we’re doing a dance of trying to time a birthday party to avoid guests’ potential holiday travel. We are overwhelmed by the gifts. I, personally, am currently going through the panic stage of planning. We are unsure of how to make her birthday feel special amidst the twinkle lights and jingle bells.
I’ve asked some friends with either their own birthday or their child’s birthday close to Christmas or a holiday how they handle it. Or how they would NOT recommend handling it. Here is a summarized list of ideas, and we would all be interested in hearing yours, too:
- If it’s a Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/other holiday where gifts are given, consider using a clever methodology for the holiday gifts (3 gift approach; 5 gift approach) and then separate gifts for the birthday.
- Wrap the birthday presents in non-holiday gift wrap.
- Do you not place the birthday presents under the Christmas tree or give them during a holiday activity.
- Steer clear of a “Happy Everything” gift.
- Try to avoid a combination holiday/birthday party (unless the child is really young/unaware).
- Consider celebrating in a room/location that is not decorated for the holiday, or embellish the space with birthday decorations to make the purpose obvious.
- If the birthday falls on a date or time period when guests wouldn’t be available for a party, celebrate on the actual birthday with your immediate family/household, and then schedule the friends/extended family party for an earlier/later date.
- I keep seeing half birthdays being celebrated. This could be a way of handling a holiday birthday by giving the child a little boost six months after their birthday. (In my kid’s case, that would be right around the fourth of July, which would also be tough for coordinating a party – woe is me.)
- For classroom parties, check into the school’s policy and see if you can bring treats before or after break if your child’s birthday falls over Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter/Spring, or summer break.
- Try to keep it simple. This will 1) set the precedent for what your child can expect for their birthday, and 2) will help your mental state.
I realize that these ideas aren’t a one-size-fits-all approach to how to handle holiday birthdays. The approach will likely change over the years as the child matures, and preferences and/or circumstances change. Humans will be humans, too, and our children will feel their feelings regardless of our concessions and adaptations. As the grown-ups, it’s our job to expect some backlash and disappointment that their birthday isn’t typical.
While the timing of my daughter’s birthday is not problematic right now since she is still so young, there will come a time when we’ll have to more carefully consider how to celebrate it and when. I hope we succeed in doing it in a way that brings her joy and us peace!