How to Have a Super Awesome December Kid Birthday

Julie Pippert
December 17, 2010

Lego Birthday Cake

"What were you thinking, having two kids at the same time right before Christmas!" an acquaintance laughingly said to me as I zipped around last week from work to school to present shopping to birthday cake ordering to party supply shopping and so on.

"I was thinking, what a magical month for a birthday," I said with a smile, although inside I still feel a small sting when asked this. I know that's me, though, largely because my husband and I tried for so many years to have a baby, to the point that when it finally came true, our biggest hope, and we had our first daughter, we were just thrilled to have her, without thought for timing. Same story for daughter number 2, who came three years, less three days, later.

But it is a magical month for a birthday -- or it can be. Birthdays are special and should include magic; they are the day that you entered this world and I believe in calling that a big blessing. My children enriched my life in major ways and I love celebrating big Their Day. Most other days are special and shared in a together way, but birthdays are the All About You, You Are Special day, and should be treated that way.

Regardless of what you do or don't celebrate this time of year, December can be a crazy busy month, and it's easy to let things slide or make less of them than you might other times of the year. It's also easy to combine holidays and birthdays for one "mega" event. But I grew up with a sister who has a December birthday (in fact, she and my oldest share a birthday!) and that gave me a lifetime of watching what does and doesn't work for December birthdays for young children.

  • The half-birthday solution: We tried the half birthday solution for a while, but June is just as challenging a month to coordinate for birthdays as December, in many ways. School has let out or is wrapping up, and people tend to scatter to the four winds. Plus, come December, you end up doing a birthday celebration anyway because kids don't get it-why am I not getting a birthday party for my birthday?--and little kids rarely can remember six months back.
  • The combo-party solution: I've seen plenty of birthday celebrations shoe-horned into family get-togethers for the holidays, and it's rarely a pretty sight: sort of Ugly Stepsister trying to cram Cinderella's glass slipper on her foot. It's hard to wrangle everyone around a cake and switch from holiday cheer to birthday celebration. Plus, everyone's in holiday attire in the photos. It feels like the "oh yeah" birthday party, the "not-very-important perfunctory cake moment." Then everyone gets back to the real event. People tend to take what they get and act graceful in the situation, or they learn to not expect much or value their birthday. I've heard plenty of December birthday friends complain, sometimes bitterly, though, and it made me realize these are two separate things and need to be celebrated apart.
  • The low-key birthday-put it off solution: Sometimes, understandably, families want to play off the birthday during the busy time, do something low-key, maybe just cake and gifts with immediate family and promise a bigger celebration later. Again, though, it makes the birthday the lesser occasion, and I've heard from enough people that they get tired of being swamped and trumped.

All of the above are good solutions, reasonable things to do, things to try, and maybe they work for some or work some of the time. But that's the thing: I think it needs to be the exception rather than the rule. I know how complicated it can be, trying to manage birthdays in the midst of holidays and end of year activities. I have two! Plus more in my broader family!

But as I've aged, and time and life have stolen people and moments from me, I've come to cherish and treasure birthdays more and more. I love celebrating the moment we came to be a part of this world -- what a wonderful way to let someone know you treasure them, just as they are, just for being. So I like to do it big.

Big doesn't have to cost a lot. Big really just means time and attention, dedicated and focused time and attention. On birthdays in my house, the birthday child gets a Have It Your Way day, like a magic wand (which we have used, literally!). Birthday child gets to choose meals, go first, have the "say," and have magical moments. I've left notes and cards for the birthday child to find that say one wonderful thing I love about them in each note. I've left a little gift on the mat by her chair for her to discover at breakfast. I've taken her out solo for special time, and let her choose a gift in her budget. I've thrown elaborate parties - such as this year's back-to-back/side-by-side parties at Bath Junkie and Painted Potter - but those aren't always in budget. Little things are, though, and I think the note hunt through the house with compliments means the most.

So in the end, the best way to balance birthdays and holidays are to stop, step back, take a break and make one day all about the special birthday child.

More small tips:

  • I get most of my shopping done before Thanksgiving so I enter December finished on one front.
  • I plan the party and send out Save the Date notices well in advance, usually by mid-November.
  • Set up a birthday journal with a "special note" written by a beloved lovey, seated at the table with a birthday candle.
  • Choose an un-holiday theme.
  • Have the family make a Happy Birthday banner and hang it in the family room or best spot, or make a letter-sized sign for each room.
  • Buy things on sale during the year and save them. Summer clearance can net good games for parties, cheaply.
  • Take advantage of sales in December; it's a good shopping time!
  • Save the holiday decorating until after the birthday, if it's early in the month, or find a neutral location for the celebration, if you can.
  • I find birthday-themed economical and fun things for the birthday child.  A few things that make any birthday great are
    • Birthday t-shirts (even homemade or especially homemade! Nothing as fun as decorating a t-shirt!) -- my kids adore being recognized wherever they go as the special birthday child. I'm surprised how many people notice, but they do, and they kindly wish my children a happy day, which makes them feel like super stars.
    Birthday girl t-shirt
    • Autograph books, t-shirts, or pillowcases -- such a fun keepsake for the kids. Getting the special birthday messages from friends and being able to keep it is a wonderful thing; I catch my girls checking it out year round. It really does keep them feeling warm, fuzzy and important.
      autograph birthday pillowcase

Note: The t-shirt is from Gymboree and the autograph pillowcase is from Lillian Vernon. However, they did not provide these products for review or gratis. These are products I found on my own and purchased for my children. The kids loved them, and they added a nice birthday experience. The friends and other moms were also impressed.

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    My daughter's bday is a few days before Christmas, so we've decided to move giving presents to Epiphany, Jan 6 (never celebrated it before having her, but works well) and have the focus on Christmas be family time and only have stockings with small gifts. This way, she can have a little separation between loads of gifts and hopefully won't feel like Christmas outshines her birthday. Also, we don't get a tree until after her birthday. Some of these traditions might change as she gets older, but hopefully she'll always feel like her birthday is a special time.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    Two of my son's birthdays fall the week before Christmas. (On the 17th and 15th.) When they were smaller we packed both birthdays on the 16th. Now that they are older, I flat out refuse to do both. They are two boys, born on two different days of two different years. My mother-in-law says I'm stupid for not, I tell her she's stupid for thinking something like that is acceptable. I've also lucked out that neither of my boys care for or even want a birthday party. It's all about the cake and presents for them. So on their birthdays their brother and I will go out and buy a cake mix and make a cake for his brother. Then that day all the usual ways to pick first are set aside. (What number? Rock, Paper Scissors, Even/Odd.) And whoever's birthday it is gets to pick first rather it's who's first on the game or who gets into the tub first. We also let a few things slide that day, if it's not important its not brought up. So the only thing that child really has to worry about is bath, teeth and homework. I also start my shopping back in Aug. There are several tax free holidays for the back to school shopping for some of the things that I'll buy for a birthday.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 3

    It is indeed having a December birthday! I was supposed to have been born on Christmas; luckily I was four days late... Your tips are all good ones.

    over a year ago

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