Putting the Simple Back into Birthdays

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I have a large family by today's standards: five kids ranging from 11 to baby. Life is crazy and busy (and expensive - have you been to the grocery store lately?!?), but I wouldn't change a thing.

When our family was smaller – and when mommy blogs were shiny and new – I threw some crazy elaborate birthday parties for our kids. I made a piñata in the shape of a Lego brick. I rented a cotton candy machine. I spent hours coming up with a color scheme and invitations, while planning food and favors to perfectly match it all.

In doing those parties, I learned a few things. First, they were as much about me enjoying the party planning as they were about the kiddo's birthday. That isn't the worst thing, but not the best either.

Second, I would spend a fortune of both my time and my treasure on unnecessary details. Were the “Yoda Soda” cans or the labeled water bottles very memorable or important? Seven years later, I can say they weren't.

Finally, I learned the impracticality of having such huge parties for a family with so many birthdays. The amount of work made me start to dread something that should be special and memorable.

So we scrapped the over-the-top celebrations in lieu of simpler celebrations spent with family.

And my kids have never been more excited about their birthdays.

We "go big" in a few simple, sweet, and affordable ways. I decorate the kitchen the night before their big day. I change the chalkboard art to celebrate the birthday kid. Waking up and coming downstairs to a huge pile of pancakes topped with a birthday candle is a simple pleasure, but one my kids love.

Throughout the day, the candle will be reused over and over, in the second breakfast donut, the PBJ at lunch, and again at dinner time. We sing "Happy Birthday" at every chance we get.

Dinner time is its own special tradition, and it's one the kids love best of all. They wait all year for it: choosing every detail of the dinner menu. All year long they will comment on how they love a particular meal and want it for their birthday dinner (a high compliment to this mama chef!). They hem and haw, make decisions, and change their minds in the days before THE DAY.

When the birthday comes along, they choose the entree, vegetable, starch, usually a salad, and bread (no counting calories for this meal!). Anything they choose gets made---from barbecue chicken to waffles to filet mignon. And the dessert, too! We've served tiramisu and chocolate lava cake and cherry pie.

And the birthday kid gets to make place cards and choose everyone's seat for dinner, too. Who sits by grandma or papa or dad or little sisters? It's the birthday kid's choice and this little exercise of authority over all is heartily enjoyed by the birthday celebrant.

All of these things may sound so silly and simple, yet they have been embraced with joy and anticipation in my home. The birthday celebration is simple, but special. And it's one that neither breaks the bank nor the spirit of the mom, while focusing on the special, cherished birthday kid. And they love every minute.

This simple change has been one of my favorite family traditions to watch unfold. I can't wait to see how they plan their special meal and, most of all, I savor lavishing them with special attention to let them know how much they mean to me and to our family.

Isn't that what a birthday should be about?

What birthday traditions do you have in your family?