It's one of the most commonly used phrases in the English language, sung around the world on a daily basis, but what do birthdays really mean to us?
People celebrate lots of events every year. We may celebrate religious holidays, or we may celebrate anniversaries that mark the big events in our nation's history, like the Fourth of July, or in human history, but what significance do our own birthdays have? Most of us do not change the world. Most of us do not lead noteworthy lives. We live our lives in quiet anonymity, and the world would keep on turning even if we'd never been born.
Yet for our family and friends, for our own smaller, private worlds of kinship and friendship, our presence can be felt and our absence missed. Thus we celebrate the anniversaries of our own and of our loved ones' births with very personal celebrations. We may just spend time together on those special days, or sometimes renew our bonds with a larger circle of relations and acquentions. Either way, though, we like to just have a good time on birthdays, and why not? The world finds the time to mark all manner of occasions, both big and small, both global and national, so why not mark our personal milestones as well?
Birthdays are celebrated as joyous occasions, from quietly given gifts, to intimate family dinners, to aggressive surprise parties, to raucous all night parties in glitzy nightclubs. For children, especially, birthdays can be special occasions, and days for everyone to say "We love you and we're glad that you were born and we want to celebrate your special day! " It's fun to make a big deal out of a child's birthday.
Make it festive! Make it colorful! Make it bright! Three hundred and sixty-four days of the year we can teach our kids to be well-mannered, to get along with others, to share, and we teach them to accept being treated just like everyone else by the world at large, with no special privileges. On that three hundred and sixty-fifth day, however, break all the rules. Sure, children must still be polite and cooperative on that day, too, but let them know that they really are special, and that birthdays are special holidays just for them alone, celebrations of their births, and heads alone!
If you're putting together a birthday party in your home, decorate the place to the nines, with intertwined rolls of crepe paper hanging from the rafters, and with three-foot high letters spelling out "Happy Birthday!" stretched across the room. Decorate the party table with colorful paper plate and cups and napkins, just for the sheer cheerfulness of the things.
Consider building an entire party around one special theme, like your child's favorite story character, or dinosaurs, or pirates, or princesses, or dragons, or any one of a thousand things. Sure, some of these may be party clichés, but kids still love them! The use of a theme can extend to the party invitations and table settings, as well as the room decorations. You can even develop party games using the same theme, and you can show a relevant movie during the party. Of course, do not forget the traditional party hats, noisemakers and party favors. You might even want to try a costume party. For example, have all of the invited kids come dressed as pirates, or as Harry Potter characters!
For most of these themes and party elements it's easy enough to buy ready-made party supplies, but you could make things even more special by creating everything yourself, instead. A home-baked, home-decorated birthday cake really says "I love you and I made this cake just for you!" Decorations and party favors made by your own kids in advance can also lend a more personal touch to the party and create additional birthday memories that your children will always cherish.
Whatever you do to celebrate your child's birthday, do not forget to photograph or film the great event, and to put aside a pristine sample of each party invitation, hat, napkin, etc., to save in a treasure box of childhood memories. Years later when your children have grown up and are planning birthday parties for their own children, echoes of "Happy Birthday to You" will still be ringing in their ears.