Lasting Birthday Traditions

Post originally published 06/14/2016 by Tara Work. Republished 05/22/2024.

This past week we celebrated our daughter’s third birthday. Of course this birthday snuck up on me like a sly little minx. It sounds cliché but when we all say ” they grow up so fast” it doesn’t hold anymore true than when your baby’s birthday rolls around. This year had a whole different energy and excitement surrounding it because this birthday my 3 year old was anticipating it. She was excited for the celebration, for the party, for seeing all her friends and family on her special day. It dawned on me during the weeks leading up to her birthday, that starting now, how we proceeded with her  celebration would set the precedence for all of her (and her siblings) future birthday expectations.

For me I set a goal in mind for how my daughter perceived her birthday. I didn’t want it to be memorable because of the elaborateness of it, but because of the sentiment and specialness. I truly believe that spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on a lavish party and presents is just not necessary to create a meaningful memory.

When I took a moment to step back and asked my daughter what she really wanted it came down to:  1) a rainbow cake, 2) to play outside with water balloons, 3) to have her favorite people there (mom, dad, grandmas, and her best friend Ali). To her that would equate to the best birthday ever. I could easily make that happen. But in addition to that I had an opportunity to create a birthday tradition that was unique to our little family. I wanted it to be something our children would look forward to, something that would be dear to them even when they’re all grown up living at college, and something they would hopefully want to pass on to their children. For example, growing up my mom would always let us kids pick our favorite dinner to have on the night of our birthday. To this day my mom will still cook us our coveted birthday dinner. For my 3 year old who currently is on a hunger strike that tradition will have to wait to be carried on. At her age it is all about the magic and surprise of her birthday.

So, on the night before her birthday, after she went to sleep, I set to work with decorating the dining room with birthday decorations. Minnie Mouse (her current favorite) table cloth, pink and blue streamers, birthday balloons, party hats. In the morning when she woke up I carried her down stairs and had her close her eyes explaining that there was a special surprise for the “Birthday Girl”. We had covered the entryway to the dining room with streamers so she had to walk through them to get to the other side. Pure glee came across her face as she entered the transformed dining room. “Birthday hats!” she exclaimed. She felt special, she felt the magic of the day, and that is what it is all about. We had a small picnic in the backyard with just her aunts, uncles, grandmas, and her best friend. As I was handing out birthday cake to everyone, my baby girl called “Mommy, Mommy”, “yes love” I replied..” this is the best birthday cake EVER” she yelled with an ice cream cake grin. She was blissfully happy, as was I, to know that I succeeded in creating a special day for her. I plan to carry on the surprise decoration tradition for future birthdays and maybe tie in a few more surprises.

Below are a few tradition suggestions to share with your families!

  1. Balloons! –  balloons taped to the outside of their bedroom door so that they fall when the open the door! Or, balloons in their bed (crib) right before they wake up.
  2. Eat anything they want for dinner! Ice cream for dinner? Sure, it’s your special day 🙂
  3. Interview questions – ask them a few questions each year (favorite toy, what do they want to be when they grow up? etc.) so that when they’re older they can reflect back on their answers
  4. Special trip to somewhere that speaks to their interests. No big party just a family trip together. Do you have a child who loves boats? Do a special trip on the Gateway Clipper. Have a child who loves art, visit the Children’s Museum! Sports fan, maybe a family night at the Pirate Game or a Washington Wild Things game.