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Birthday Traditions: What's In A Birthday?

Birthday Traditions: What's In A Birthday?


At Aspace, we have been delighted to partner with Danyah Miller and Wizard Presents Theatre Company to share with you bedtime stories from Danyah and Guests. We have snuggled down with the family every Tuesday and Thursday evening and listened to magical tales told by Danyah including Higgle Piggle TreeThe King and The Bee and The First Tooth Fairy.

We recently had a very special bedtime story with international storyteller Jan Blake, who shared the rhythmic, magical story of Anasi, The Birthday Party and The Magical Drum. This enchanting bedtime story tells the tale of planning a birthday celebration and it got us thinking about what’s in a birthday? Danyah has kindly shared her experience of birthdays growing-up and how she has celebrated her children’s birthdays over the years.

Birthdays are a time to let our children know that theyre cherished and loved, a day of celebration announcing ‘you are precious and we’re glad you are here’.

When I signed up for a three hour ‘Birthday Workshop’ with two incredible women, Christine Fynes-Clinton and Ann Druitt, little did I realise what a huge impact it would have on my family and on our wider community of friends and colleagues over the years to follow. At the time my daughter was 3 years old and my step-son was 13 years old.

Reflecting back on my own childhood birthdays, although all the  traditional ‘ingredients’ for a birthday seemed to have been included: cards, gifts, cake, candles, a party with friends, there was something missing, although I didn’t realise it at the time, and it never felt like a particularly important day for me.

It was during the workshop I realised that what was missing was a feeling of being celebrated from the moment of waking…. of this being a day designed specifically for me.

As is often the case, when something is missing from our own lives we try to ensure that our children don’t experience this same ‘lack’. And so it was for me, I came away from the workshop bubbling with so many ideas about how to create joyful family birthdays filled with wonder, love and beauty.

I’m certain that there isn’t a right or wrong way to celebrate a birthday, some people relish their day whilst others try to avoid it or feel that it’s nothing special, some want to be the centre of attention whilst others shy away from this spotlight. I also recognise that each family has its own traditions, some developed over generations. In my quest, I wasn’t looking for ‘the perfect birthday’, but instead was yearning for traditions and rituals that suited my family perfectly, simple, nourishing, inspirational and adaptable to suit each of us individually.

So, when Sofie’s fourth birthday drew nearer I delightfully prepared for it with eager excitement.

Sofie has always found it difficult to get to sleep and this intensifies as her birthday approaches, when she was younger it was almost unbearable for her to wait.

I believe that ‘waiting’ is very important. In our current culture we dont wait for very much – we enjoy strawberries in winter, give our children presents throughout the year, buy things online, with ‘one-click’, to be delivered the next morning. But there are times in our lives when we have no other choice other than to wait, we have such a situation now with ‘lockdown’. If we’ve learned how to wait and anticipate in a happy way it makes it easier for us throughout our lives. Waiting offers us a tool for life.

In order to help Sofie enjoy each day leading up to her birthday, to slow down her desire for the day to arrive, I created a ‘booklet’ simply made from pieces of A4 plain paper, rounded at the edges, with a coloured card on the front and back and held together with a coloured ribbon. For her 5th birthday there were 5 A4 sheets so that in the 5 days leading up to her birthday she could draw a picture of her day, stick photos or memorabilia in and she dictated to me the story of that specific day, enjoying each of the days rather than wanting to skip ahead to the birth-day. For her 6th birthday I created a booklet with 6 pages, 7th birthday had 7 pages and so on. As she learnt to write she filled each page, adding her own creativity to the booklet. All of these booklets are safely packed away in a pretty case and each year, on the eve of her birthday, we get them out for her to look through (you could keep them all until your child is 18 years old and give them all to them on that day). This has acted as a steady compass for her, helping her to navigate the impatience and stay present to each new day and each new adventure.

I took so much inspiration from Christine and Ann’s workshop including creating a story, which we later adapted for stage, based on some of our newly created family traditions. ‘Kika’s Birthday’ tells the tale of a little French mouse who enjoyed a birthday surprise created for her by her cousins.

Some of the birthday traditions I have introduced to our family include:

A Birthday Path
On the morning of the child’s (or adult’s) birthday I lay out a path of flowers – or other such beauty: cherries, chocolates, shells, pine cones, little gem stones, depending on the season and what is special to that particular person – leading from their bedroom door down the stairs to the breakfast table.

Outside the bedroom door I leave a small wicker basket. I ring a little bell to signify it’s time for the child to come out of their bedroom. They can pick up their basket to collect the treasures, whilst the family sing happy birthday (we have our own birthday song), until they arrive at the breakfast table.

Birthday Breakfast Table
The birthday breakfast table is laid out with candles, flowers, shells, balloons, a bowl, goblet and cutlery all of which are only seen at the birthday table, with other treasures which we’ve collected through the years. We make the birthday child’s favourite breakfast. Sofie loves fruit so she has a scooped-out orange filled with summer fruits, followed by croissant and homemade chocolate hazelnut spread. Luke loved a cooked breakfast of bacon, eggs, beans, tomatoes and toast!

Around the birthday table are cards and presents from family and friends and we have the birthday cake on the table too…

Birthday Crown and Cloak
There’s a special chair at the top of the table for the birthday child, ‘a throne’, covered in a silk cloth and on the seat a home made crown, perhaps made with a garlands of flowers or cut from gold card and decorated with sequins. The cloak we use is a silk cloth which we tie loosely round the birthday child’s neck. I have four different colours for the different seasons – blue for winter; green for spring; yellow for summer; red for autumn birthdays.

As I said, when I first began to introduce these birthday rituals, my stepson, who was living with us, was already 13 years old. Christine warned me to be sensitive to how I introduce these new traditions into his life and to know that he might reject it all…. so I was cautious when Luke’s birthday came along, after Sofie had hers. I decided not to lay a birthday path but to ensure that the birthday table looked beautiful and filled with his favourite foods. I put a crown and cloak near his chair. I was nervous, but when he came downstairs and sat at the table he immediately took up the crown and cloak and wore them both. Later he told me that he was disappointed not to have a birthday path. The following year I was delighted to create one!

What I’ve learned over the years is that ‘less is more’. I’ve also learned that it’s the time we spend thinking about the birthday child that brings them that sense of love and belonging. A few simple additions to the morning ritual can make a huge difference but the most important thing is that it doesn’t cause stress or pressure as this can have a much bigger negative effect than doing nothing – birthdays should never be a competition.

It’s possible to create something extraordinary, in a simple and inexpensive way, if we pour our love and attention into it.

I highly recommend this wonderful book, The Birthday Book – celebrations for everyone, written by Ann Druitt and Christine Fynes-Clinton which is filled with so many ideas, suggestions and recommendations for celebrating every kind of birthday for young and old alike.

Please do share your birthday rituals and traditions with us – we would love to hear about them! 

Wizard Presents Theatre Company:
Passionate about telling stories for the whole family to enjoy, Wizard Presents creates inspiring and compelling family shows and musicals for all ages. You can find out what’s on, by heading to their website www.wizardpresents.co.uk