My daughter was born early. When I first found out I was pregnant, I calculated a December 30th due date. But when they looked at her blueberry-sized form during my first appointment the midwife moved my due date to January 11th.
So, we were surprised when my water broke at 3 a..m on Christmas Eve morning. We drove down the freeway, deserted in the middle of the night, and watched the twinkling holiday lights flash by. As we listened to Christmas music we settled on a middle name: Noel.
She was born moments before the Christmas sun broke the horizon. Not only was she nearly three weeks early, she’s a Christmas baby; a day that was already heavy with meaning for our family, became even more so.
Sometimes, when people find out her birthday, they respond by commenting on how special it is. But, more often than not, the response is the opposite. People have straight up cringed. They’ll ask how we’re going to celebrate in the years to come, and how we plan on circumventing the challenge of sharing her day with a major holiday.
Afterall, you can’t go out for the dinner of your choice in Christmas, because everything is closed. You can’t have a party. You can’t even expect people to be in town. What you can expect is a lot of tired people who don’t have the funds or energy left for another gift.
And, I understood that mentality for a good while. My dad’s birthday is December 26th, and I often felt sorry for him, because even as a kid, it felt kind of anticlimactic after a month of cheery chaos.
My daughter has another birthday fast-approaching, and as it comes closer, I’ve been grappling more than usual with that tension. How do we make sure she feels how loved she is, when everyone is probably going to be distracted?
The conclusion that I keep coming to is that the problem with a holiday birthday is not strategic, it’s foundational. It’s not sharing the day with the hoopla of another celebration, it’s the way we approach the people in our lives.
Why The Worry Undercuts the Value
We celebrate birthdays because we want to acknowledge that we love/appreciate/respect others, right? And the common assumption is that if others are distracted by what they’ve got going on, it’ll be harder to impress that upon the birthday girl/boy.
The underlying idea is that my daughter will have a less-than-awesome birthday because she won’t get to celebrate where, or as much, or as exclusively as others.
However, that thinking is troublesome because it communicates the idea that even if the love is there, if it’s not delivered in the right timeframe or method, it’s not as legitimate. People are far more than how they make our lives easier or more pleasant, though.
I want her to be able to see people and events beyond how they make her life easier or more fun. I want her birthday to arrive, and for her to be able to recognize all of the people who love her, in the distinct way that they love her, and I want her to see it graciously, with a thankful heart.
Now, I’m not crazy. I know she’s a kid. I know there will be years when she’ll lament the fact that she’s not the only one opening presents on her birthday. I know it will not always be easy to be happy that her friends are connecting with their families, instead of connecting with her. But the point is that I hope, in all those moments, to redirect her gaze to the right things.
Already, our Christmases center around practicing gratitude and appreciation both in the crafts we do with her and the conversations we have with her. We make cookies, but we also make gratitude trees. We watch Christmas movies, but we also make trips to the food bank.
It’s not the small details or the scheduling, it’s all the people that make the special days in our lives, well, special. It’s the fact that we get to spend our lives with them no matter where or how specifically we celebrate.
It’s a lesson that I’ll work on learning right along with her. It’s the type of mentality that will shape how she sees all the circumstances of her life. I think — and science backs up the idea — that being content with her circumstances will mean she’ll be healthier as a whole.
The Washington Post quotes Jeffrey Froh, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University, “We know that grateful kids are happier [and] more satisfied with their lives. They report better relationships with friends and family, higher GPAs, less materialism, less envy and less depression, along with a desire to connect to their community and to want to give back.”
She’ll spend birthdays opening presents shoulder-to-shoulder with her cousins. She’ll spend them eating diners made by the people who love her most. She’ll spend the month before enjoying food and decor and music that only comes once a year.
Plus, there’s something special about the fact that her birthday traditions will be mingled with our holiday traditions. Doing something like creating a year in review photo book will fall over the years of her life perfectly. The freshness and anticipation of the new year will be personal to her in a distinct way as she finishes another year of her life.
So don’t feel sorry for my Christmas girl, she’s got everything she needs for a lifetime of birthdays that are merry and bright.