At the height of the 2013 holiday season, I was hugely pregnant with my daughter. Along with the other unsolicited comments full-term moms get ("Don't you go into labor on this elevator, now."), I got tons of future birthday advice. At seemingly every turn, I was approached and reproached by children in adult disguises, their past hurts and disappointments springing up at the sight of all-belly me.
"My birthday is around the holidays, too, and as a kid I hated how overlooked it felt," one supermarket cashier lamented. Another random person—this time in a shopping center parking garage—asked me to "please, please, please" be sure to celebrate my baby's birthday separately from the holidays. And one acquaintance said she didn't enjoy her holiday birthday because, as a child, she didn't get as many gifts with Christmas around the corner.
So by the time I ran into my neighbor Christina, I expected to hear the same stories of deprivation after she told me that she, too, was a holiday baby. But instead, she called the season the "best time for a birthday." Christina considered it a windfall that she got to fete her special day during the season of celebration, when people were so full of joy. I had to hold myself back from giving Christina a hug (or, more accurately in my bump-tastic condition, a side-hug).
My daughter ended up arriving in mid-January—far enough from December to feel solidly separate from the holiday season. Fast forward a speedy year, and there we were, on the precipice of establishing a family tradition in her honor. Here was my opportunity to inaugurate a childhood of birthday celebrations in a way that would prevent the disappointed inner kid from rearing its pouty head decades later, whenever the subject of birthdays come up.
So how did I handle things? Well, on her first birthday party invite, I kindly requested, "No presents, please -- just your presence." Is that boo'ing I hear? Please don't mistake me for a Birthday Grinch. At your kid's next party, you won't catch a flicker of my scowl illuminated in the soft glow of the birthday candles. I am an exuberant believer that the day you were born on is an awesome time. I just have a different notion of how to celebrate it.
Growing up, birthdays were an experience. The gathering of friends and family, the food (including the snacks with which my mom adorned the table), the cake, the decorations (however basic), the music and dancing, the well wishes. This all combined to create a magical reality that I adored. For one day, I felt like the most special person in the world. And this was all done without the expectations of birthday gifts. Not for one moment did I ever feel like I was missing out on any birthday tradition.
When I asked my aunt how birthdays were celebrated in the old country, it sounded reminiscent of the way my mom raised me. "You wear a new dress, nice hairstyle, and the adults kiss you, make you smile, laugh, celebrate," she explained. "They remind you that it's a privilege to have a birthday, and encourage you to give thanks to God in prayer." Gifts weren't exchanged. People didn't have money for them.
When I moved out of my family home, I happily made my own rules—ones that were vastly different from my parents'. But one thing I didn't change from my childhood is how I celebrated my birthday. It all boiled down to is this: I'm just not into the idea of birthday gifts. And neither is my husband. And you know what? Despite the pleadings from all those holiday babies, I would still have requested no birthday gifts, even if my child was born in December.
Of course, the no-gifts request for my daughter's first birthday was met with a few Whys and several I'm going to get her something anyway. It wasn't an easy request for some folks to accept, but I was happy to relax the rule just for them.
Going forward, though, I don't care what others think of my decision; I'm sticking to my guns with the no-gift policy. It's a way of recapturing the special magic I experienced at my birthdays as a child, when no gifts were involved. After all, the best things in life are free.
Debbie Rigaud is an author of Young Adult fiction. She and her husband welcomed a baby girl in early 2014, and life as they knew it has (thankfully) never been the same. Follow her on Twitter @debbierigaud
Image: First birthday cake via Shutterstock