I love celebrating birthdays. Do you? I’m a fan of birthday cakes, old-fashioned games, fun finger food, fancy desserts and parties. They are such fun.
But there is another way to celebrate birthdays too, one that I have found to be deeply soul-satisfying and important for ‘recognising’ the gifts and quirks of each individual child in my family or group. A birthday ritual has two purposes. It seeks to reflect on the journey of the past year, give thanks for each day of learning, and is an opportunity to look into the crystal ball of the future. Secondly, the ritual is a threshold of transition, a bridge over which the birthday child can cross on this significant day.
As adults, we know that each day is a gift we cannot take for granted. We learn, through the tragic and unfortunate events of our lives and those of our family and friends, that life is a rollercoaster with no guarantees. A birthday ritual then becomes celebration of the joys, luck and fortune of having made it safely through another year. The ritual can also serve as an offering to the three Goddesses of the Fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos who ‘preside over the birth and life of all humans.’ (Apple Dictionary, 2.1.3)
My experience has been that most children look forward to their birthday celebration ritual more than any other birthday event they are to be given. Over the years, many parents have told me they are gobsmacked by their child’s devotion to, and anticipation of, their upcoming birthday ritual. Parties, family dinners, boat trips and days out to theme parks have been dismissed in favour of their school or playgroup based celebration. I don’t have to question why anymore. I know that a birthday ritual is probably the only celebration that deeply touches the child’s soul as they are revered, understood and celebrated by their peers and close family members. As an adult, I can only imagine what it must be like to have those close to you truly ‘getting’ you, not with gifts or parties but with heartfelt offerings, the sharing of mutual stories from a perspective other than your own and learning how you positively impact others. Normally, this kind of thing is saved for funerals. Imagine hearing all these good things, year in, year out, DURING your life. To know how you inspire, educate, support and nourish your friends and family just by being you.
I realised the importance of the birthday ritual to both the child AND THEIR PARENTS a few years ago. As part of my employment, I was engaged to support a playgroup staff. One of our first tasks was to find a solution to adequately recognise every child with a birthday ritual. The challenge was how we could individually honour each one of over 100 children enrolled in the groups when the two-hour playgroup sessions were already stacked full with bread-making, craft, singing, circle and story. Our “enlightened” solution was to offer a “Birthday Week” once a term and celebrate the birthdays from that term en masse. Yes. Not so enlightened actually.
Adults were upset, even furious. Parents were saddened that their precious child was not being recognised as the unique individual that they were on their own important day. I also suspect that more than a few parents were upset by default, that without a birthday celebration ritual, their life-consuming and dedicated role as ‘mother’ or ‘father’ was no longer recognised. For me, the furor was a timely and fortuitous wake-up call that brought one of the best lessons I have ever received in my life. I’m truly thankful for it on many levels.
My motivation for birthday rituals now more than ever before is to recognise and celebrate the ‘other’, be it child or adult, in a way that they want to be recognised.
My most recent birthday celebration was created with the idea that the 20-odd children in my group (all under five) were all like little flowers, blooming and growing with each passing day but also full of the seasonal transitions. Starting as a seed planted deep in the earth, being watered and fed and nourished during their time in utero and transitioning a breakthrough from one world to another. Then, being awoken by the glorious sun each day and encouraged to search for the path to their destiny, a colourful blooming ray of light for the world.
I made a rainbow-coloured flower with seven petals. Each petal was stitched around a wire frame. The petals were designed to enfold the child’s birthday gift (either a tiny treasure box, a little handmade doll or a silver coloured candle snuffer, depending on their age) until the child was asked to open the flower as part of the ritual. This sat on the ‘birthday table’, alongside a wind-up music box that played Happy Birthday, a covered box of matches and a wooden angel candleholder. The birthday throne was simply a kitchen chair covered with a three-metre piece of silk dyed in rainbow colours. It was placed over the chair, tied at the base with a golden rope and a silk flower pillow was placed on the seat to cushion the little one.
Would you like to see the celebration ritual in full? Here it is.
A Birthday Blooming
“Someone’s having a birthday today. I wonder whose birthday it is today?”
This song is sung whilst I bring out the birthday throne and birthday table. The parents and children sit in a ring, respectfully and quietly waiting.
When all is ready, I walk to the birthday child and lovingly pick them up, carrying them over to the chair whilst singing,
“Little flower, come with me. You grow as tall as the highest tree.
Golden dewdrop shining bright, Helps us to see your inner light
La la la la, la la la, la la (X 4)”
As the child sits on the throne, I lovingly place their Birthday Medallion necklace around their neck. This is a length of shiny ribbon strung with wooden beads. I stitched and sewed a personalised felt medallion with a picture of their own Moondew Playgroup symbol.
“Our little (Moondew) friend, sits on the rainbow throne
For today is the one day, they can call their very own.
Today, our little friend (Ned) is having their birthday. I wonder if you can help me count and see how old our little friend is. Shall we clap? (Adults and children clap out number). Oh, wonderful. Let us light the birthday candle.
I’m so happy it is Ned’s birthday today. Let me tell you a little bit about Ned….
(Personalised) story, prepared for, and about, the child)
Shall we sing a special song for our friend, Ned? You’ll need to be so quiet and still so you can hear the birthday song magic. Are you ready to listen? We’ll listen once then we can join in, singing in our most beautiful soft fairy voices. Here we go….
“Happy Birthday to You” Song, accompanied by music box.
Now, it is almost time to snuff out the candle. But first, perhaps our little friend Ned might like to open the flower and see what has bloomed inside?
(Child opens flower to find gift. If it is a snuffer birthday, the child will find a small gift tag with a picture of a snuffer. I then hand them a gift-wrapped snuffer separately. “Oh, this must be yours,” I say, as I pass the gift to them).
Child with snuffer puts out the candle, otherwise, the birthday child can gently blow out the candle.
Thank you all for coming to share our celebration with our friend. Ned has brought some morning tea to share with us. Let’s wash our hands and meet at the table.”
The birthday celebration concludes with a transition game that leads to the washing of hands.
My birthday celebrations last anywhere from 10 minutes to 35 minutes, depending on the theme and the age of the children involved (including spectators). The birthday celebrations for my school age children always included opportunities for the friends to speak up and share their love, to gift an imaginary ‘wish’ upon their friend, to give and/or receive a gift and acknowledge something of the birthday child that they admire.
Do you have your own special Birthday Ritual? What do you do to celebrate these magnificent children on their individual journey?
Amber Greene is a Writer and Parenting Educator whose motto in life is to “Fire up your Creative Spark!” She helps women and children around the globe to unveil their creative powers, increase fun in life and revel in new learning. Visit her at www.mamamoontime.com for a daily dose of creative inspiration and free art and crafty activities for both mama and child.