My daughter’s sixth birthday is next week. She recently asked me why I forgot to make her a birthday party last year. My heart sank, as I didn’t think she actually remembered! Last year we had a birthday party for her friends in school, she had a special birthday dinner at home with cake and candles and she was showered with gifts from her grandparents, aunts and uncles, and of course her parents. There was really no need to make an additional party for friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the celebration of birthdays. I think it is a beautiful custom to reflect on the growth of the past year and celebrate life and one’s accomplishments. Everyone can use a reminder (at least once a year) how special they are. But my daughter certainly received extra attention and felt loved on her birthday last year, without having a big birthday party. Besides, another party would generate an exorbitant amount of gifts which she does not need. Thank God, my children really have an abundance of “stuff” and are not lacking. I set the precedence with my boys that at 8 years old (AKA the five-year countdown to their bar mitzvahs) there would be no more birthday parties. They completely understood the concept of celebrating in a low-key manner without all the bells and whistles of an official birthday bash and they began to acknowledge the ill effects of gift glut. In fact, my husband and I would let our children choose a few gifts and then we stored away the remainder or donated them.
Along with birthday parties comes the stress of arranging carpools in between all the other weekend activities that take place. There were times when I found myself having to carpool my children to multiple birthday parties on a given Sunday. And then, there is the ever difficult question of who is invited? Granted, there is the unwritten rule that if you invite some of the class you need to invite the whole class, but what about your child’s neighborhood friends or your best friend’s child that is the same age on the other side of town? The decisions become overwhelming and it’s easy to soon lose sight of what a birthday is all about.
My grandfather, of blessed memory, used to wish me a happy birthday every year and say, “So, what did you get me for your birthday?” I laughed as a child, but as an adult, I have learned to appreciate the depth of his sentiment. Our birthdays are much more than an occasion to receive gifts. It is a chance to remember the day that God gave us the opportunity to impact the world for the good and to reflect upon how well we are fulfilling our calling in life.
So how can we instill in a 6-year-old girl that a birthday is so much more than the big party? For one, I believe inviting a few favorite people to spend meaningful time will yield the same satisfaction as a crowded room of acquaintances. Secondly, there is no better way to celebrate a birthday than to commit to a special act of goodness. Setting the tone at a young age is a priceless lesson to our children about the importance of chesed at a time when such a trait has yet to develop. Teaching our children about chesed and meaningful time with close friends and family will impress upon our young children some very important and fundamental priorities in life. Happy birthday to my baby girl!
P’nina Seplowitz lives in Bergenfield with her husband and their three children. She is the Executive Director of American Friends of Yesh Atid, a non-profit organization that supports social programs in Israel. P’nina is also the VP of Marketing for an online magazine subscription company and has authored two books: Once Upon A Vegetable, a children’s book, and White Angel, her grandmother’s Holocaust memoir. Visit www.PninaSeplowitz.com for more information.
By P’nina Seplowitz