Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Posted by Nupur
April is my birthday month, and around this time of the year, I always think back to the birthdays I celebrated as I was growing up. My busy and harried parents always made time to throw a birthday party for me (and for my sister on her birthday). Year after year, they planned, baked, mixed royal icing, blew balloons until they were blue in the face, armed themselves with a ladder, sticky tape and crepe paper streamers, decorated the living room and put together a homemade party with the works- guests, games, decorations and a decorated cake!
One of the most vivid childhood memories I have: my parents would put together a themed cake (exactly the way Dharm recently shared the birthday creations he makes for his kids). My favorite one was a swimming pool one year (I was an avid swimmer at the time), complete with wafer-cookie springboards, green jelly as the water and little figures (crafted from sugar) bobbing in the pool. A couple dozen kids from the neighborhood would be invited for a party. We would play time-tested games like "Passing the Parcel", "Pin the tail on the donkey" and "Musical Chairs" but my mother had her other favorites too. One of them was the "Memory Game". She would place 20 common household objects on a tray- like a bowl, a banana, a matchbook, a pair of earrings, a newspaper, etc. The tray was brought out, everybody got to look at it for exactly one minute and memorize the contents; then the tray was covered with a dishtowel. The person who could remember the most number of objects correctly was the winner of some tiny but lovingly wrapped prize. Another game that I remember was the "Treasure Hunt". My mother made dozens of exquisite little paper butterflies and hid them over the yard. Teams of 2-3 were given a little map and then went on a butterfly hunt. Now that I think about it, my parents tolerated trampled flowerbeds, a ruined garden and muddy footprints *all* over the house to let us play this game.
The cake and the birthday song are pretty universal elements of a birthday celebrations, but every culture does have its own special traditions. Not all Indian families celebrate a birthday with cake and candles. A sweet something is certainly a must at every celebration in India- some of my friends had a traditional Hindu celebration called the "aarti" with a little lamp lit in their honor, with their parents holding the lamp in front of them, followed by a sweet treat popped into their mouth. In India, it is considered rude to open gifts in the presence of the giver, so birthdays consisted of a long and agonizing wait; the presents could only be opened when the last guest had left! Another Indian tradition: when cash is given as a gift, you are not supposed to give a round figure like 10 or 100 (rupees or dollars or whatever). You always give amounts like 11, 51, 101, symbolizing that it is a gift that is not complete and that it "keeps on giving", so to speak.
Celebrating the birthdays of children results in fun and happiness all around, and memories to last a lifetime. But as people get older, they occasionally say things like, "I'm too old to celebrate my birthday". I disagree! After all, the life of a grown-up is often not an enviable one- it is too full of cares and worries and boring stuff like bills and tax returns. Children get plenty of attention and adoration, but adults are usually the ones looking after the needs and wants of others, not the ones being taken care of. A birthday is the perfect time to shower some special attention on a person, fuss over them a little bit and tell them the simple thing that we all need to hear from time to time: "You are special. The things you do are not being taken for granted. Your birthday is an important day for us to celebrate". Now that I am all grown-up (or so they tell me), I enjoy learning of new birthday traditions and trying to include them into my own little family. Here is one that I particularly like- letting the birthday girl or boy (no matter whether age they are) choose the menu for the day. If they want to eat pizza for breakfast and doughnuts for dinner, so be it. It is their day! This tradition sounds especially fun for birthdays that fall on an otherwise humdrum weekday.
For my sixteenth birthday, my aunt gave me a tiny book as one of the birthday gifts that she always showered me with. It was full of little quotes, and she had highlighted one that read, "Ever since you were born, my days have been happier". To me, this is the essence of celebrating a birthday. To both give and receive such a sentiment is indeed a joyous thing!
Do you have any special birthday traditions in your family? Please share them with us!
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This Post was written by Nupur from One Hot Stove