Meaningful Tradition Ideas--The Birthday Letter
This past week, Clara turned eighteen! I remember how when our children were small we would find ways to celebrate birthdays all day long! From meals to activities to reading favorite books to watching home movies to baking, we had endless options to choose from— that allowed us to fill the entire day with magic and joy. As the children have grown, we have kept some of the earlier traditions, while dropping others that no longer work for us. It is no longer realistic to celebrate all day. But we do try to incorporate simple, focused ways of making the birthday person feel extra special! A few traditions we have kept? We still have the birthday person choose the meals for the day. We still gather around a table filled with photos of the birthday person. We still take out scrapbooks at the beginning of the day so we can look and remember at leisure. And we still write a letter each year in the child’s birthday journal where I have written down favorite quotes and details over the years. John and I take turns so the children can hear both of our voices. One year, John will write. The next year, it is my turn. It is my hope that my children will return to their books someday—and find pieces of themselves tucked into these pages. I hope they will feel our love for them pour out from our writing. I trust that (one day) when we are gone, our children will be able to hear our voices speaking (still) as we honor, celebrate, and truly take note of who they were becoming through the years.
What to Write
Writing can feel daunting. I get that. One of my major intentions when I begin a birthday letter is to provide a detailed of WHO my child is at that particular age. That would not just include what they DO but who they ARE. Keep it simple. Try (as best as you can) to write the way that you speak— as that will allow your child to hear your voice years later— when they read them on their own. Be warm. Just write from the heart. That will be more than enough.
Questions to Consider
Here are some questions or ideas that may help you get started! I tend to write a list of the topics I want to cover before I begin writing as I find it allows for the flow of the letter to feel a bit more natural. Remember that your focus is on the past year and the present moment!
Consider an endearing, celebratory first paragraph. “Happy Birthday! We are so excited to celebrate you. You have grown so much this year!”
How would you talk about the year overall? Any theme?
What are some activities your child is enjoying? Sports? Reading? Painting? List them out on a piece of paper so you can briefly describe what these interests look like for your child and what they add to their life.
What is your child’s current personality like?
What does a typical day look like? What are the components?
What are some of your child’s favorite books, tv shows, movies, songs, etc…
What are some of the things about your child that have stood out to you? List them and write why they stand out to you. What you love about them.
Any favorite stories from the year? Try to see if any particular situations stand out. Tell stories to illustrate important character traits or insights about your child.
What are some parts of the past year that have been challenging to your child? What did they gain? Show empathy around hardship.
Describe the important relationships that your child has with others. This could be with a pet, a sibling, grandparent, or friend. What are the friends’ names? What do they like to do together?
Are there particular quirky things about your child that delight you?? Better include those too!
Where to Write
Give some thought as to how you want to keep the letters compiled over the years. Do you want to write on stationery and store the letters in a special box? I decided early on to buy a journal for each child to write the letters in. This technique has really worked well for us but be creative! Do what works best for you.
A Quick Reminder
The point of these letters is not that you write a perfect body of work. You aren’t in English class, trying to get an “A” on an essay. The intention is to describe one year in your child’s life. To really express what that year looked and felt like. But even more, it is to show that you see and appreciate your child as they are. That is what they will feel. And that is what they will treasure.
To Read or Not to Read?
Each year, we give the birthday person the choice of whether we read the letter out loud (often while eating the dessert) or whether they would rather read the letter later on. So important. Our children have always elected to have them read out loud and thus—the birthday letter has been one of the most meaningful traditions we have ever created. The reading of the birthday letters is a highly anticipated event!
After I lost my dad, I longed to hear his voice. To see his face. I still miss how he looked at me—with total warmth and love in his eyes. He would always greet me with a “Hey Beautiful!” when we got together. I cherish the remembering. I must say that the tangible evidence of his writings allow for me to feel a piece of him is still here. His few letters to me (and one poem!) are cherished remnants of our relationship that I can just sink into and feel. It is a way that I can hear his voice again and feel his love. Even though he is no longer here.
These letters may become key in the way your children remember you, as well as remembering themselves.