Parties & Entertaining

Birthday traditions

By Susan Crowley
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Birthday traditions are fun, and provide a sense of continuity for children.
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Fun Family Birthday Traditions

You have one every year, and after a while they start to add up. Birthdays, that is. Maybe your most consistent birthday tradition is that every year you come up with a party idea that's more zany and creative than the one you had the year before. Nothing wrong with that, but it can also be nice to have some birthday traditions that you can rely on to stay essentially the same from year to year, especially for children, who tend to find a sense of continuity comforting (who doesn't?).

Here are some tips on creating your own birthday traditions:

Photos provide a quick visual reference to confirm just how much your kids have grown. Photo traditions are quick and easy to start, and easy to customize using your own great ideas. It's fun to scan a new photo of the birthday boy or girl onto the birthday invitations each year. You can take a family photo on the same couch every year, or next to the kid's measuring marks on the wall. You can take a photo in which everyone holds up signs showing old they are, with the birthday boy or girl singled out by a special hat or outfit. No matter how exotic your parties get, you can almost always find some feature of continuity that can be photographed- cutting the cake, say, or opening presents. Put these photos in a special scrapbook or sprinkle them in with the everyday pictures in your album- some day your child will be delighted to have them. Who wouldn't want a memento of the year you got to eat your chocolate cake on the beach in Hawaii?

Your child's birthday is also the perfect time to break out the video camera whose battery lies slowly dying on a dusty shelf in the closet. You could videotape the cake ceremony, of course, but why not also take the opportunity to catch up on the year's events? Interview your child for ten minutes each year about the special things they remember, and include props like the award-winning science project, the sports trophies, and the charcoal self-portrait your child made in art class. You might be amazed at how much this birthday tradition helps you remember long after your child has left the house to start a life on his or her own.

Keep family members informed about your child's growth and development by starting a yearly birthday letter for each family member. You can help your child write it in the early years, and he or she can gradually take over the project. Busy aunts, uncles, and cousins who might barely have been able to remember your children's names before you started this birthday tradition will feel like they're informed about with what's going on in your lives, and your children will learn the importance of keeping in touch with family while polishing their writing skills. Attach a few photos, e-mail it to your "relatives" list, and you've just sent a birthday gift to the entire family.

Special family events can also make great birthday traditions. Maybe you always hike the same trail, timing yourselves to estimate whether you're in better or worse shape than you were in last year. Maybe you help your child sort through his or her old toys and clothes and decide where to donate the things he or she no longer needs. Maybe you have dinner at your favorite pizza place, or go sledding, or picnic at the beach. These family birthday traditions don't have to replace the big party with friends your child will probably want to host as he or she gets older, but they can make wonderful supplements. Many families end up having two birthday parties for older children- one for family, one for friends.

Elements of the birthday party can also become traditional. Let your child choose a cake, and he or she may eventually settle on one which becomes "my favorite cake," to be served at every subsequent birthday. If your child likes variety you can still find ways to impart continuity to the party table- the same nontoxic flowers decorating the frosting, the same special cake plate, the "birthday" tablecloth. Put some thought into your ideas and then get creative- these birthday traditions might just last a lifetime.

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