We celebrated Leif's second birthday last week with a lovely, intimate party. One set of friends and the neighbors came, as well as one of the kids' former caregivers from dagis. We ate dinner together, then Leif opened a couple presents and the kids played while the adults talked. We sang happy birthday in English and Swedish before eating Leif's tractor-shaped ice cream cake (made my our wonderful neighbor Agneta). The kids (four in total) had fun playing together and the adults enjoyed chatting.
This is more or less how all of our birthday celebrations for our kids have gone--a couple friends casually gathered at our house for food, cake, and fun. No theme, no rented location, no entire school relocated to our living room. Since we moved here, our neighbor has generously volunteered to make each birthday cake following their family tradition--an ice cream cake in the shape of the birthday boy's choosing. At least in these early years, I'm not one for big bashes that require weeks (or months) of planning, coordinating decorations with cakes with goodie bags, herding twenty-something kids from activity to table to activity. I delight simply in spending time with the people who make up my sons' community.
I know some families--moms especially--thrive on holding big parties where everything is coordinated, from cake to decor to goodie bags to activities. Some people love choosing a theme and inviting the whole class and receiving piles of birthday presents. Some folks thrive on coordinating the great event of a birthday party. To those families (and moms)--hooray! But that's just not how we enjoy celebrating birthdays in our home. I suspect as the kids get older and attend more parties, they might begin to make more elaborate requests, but we'll handle that if and when it comes up.
For now, we'll stick with our simple celebrations. My feeling is that when a birthday party becomes an event, the birthday becomes more about all that stuff - the gifts, the decorations, the fancy cake - and less about the people and relationships that surround the birthday boy or girl. We want to teach our children--and remind ourselves--that the joy in life is in relationships and community. (For a thoughtful post on this, please read this).
Now, all that said, I'll admit that we'd love to discover some *simple* traditions that we can weave into birthdays to make them even more special. I'm not quite sure what I even have in mind, though certainly nothing fancy or elaborate. We didn't have anything like that growing up (just the basic cake, ice cream, and presents while gathered with family).
Do you have any family traditions that have made birthdays extra special for you? What do you remember most about your childhood birthdays? I would LOVE to hear what you did growing up, or what you do with your family now, to make the birthday boy/girl feel extra special.
Photos by me and James.