Arranging the pieces… Birthday week celebrations

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By Tabitha Bozeman

Today is my youngest daughter’s birthday. We brought her home from the hospital nine years ago, wrapped in a handmade Christmas stocking donated by a group of crafters in the Birmingham area for babies born near Christmas day. I’ve always told her she is my favorite Christmas gift. Each of my babies came home near a holiday: my son was born the day before the 4th of July; my oldest daughter was born a few days before my birthday and a couple of weeks before Halloween; my second daughter was born right before Thanksgiving; and the baby made an appearance right before Christmas. We love celebrating their birthdays, and the holidays they are paired with, and we make sure to create space for each child to know they are celebrated.

When I only had one baby, I started a “birthday week” tradition of one small treat or surprise a day for the week leading up to their birthdays. With four kids, that has gotten trickier, but we still do it and I think they sometimes look forward to their birthday week more than their actual birthday.

These treats are not extravagant — a Dollar Tree trinket, or a hand-folded origami bird, or a piece of candy, like a birthday week Advent Calendar that reminds them each day that they are loved and thought of, that we are glad they were born, and that they have a special place in our family that is celebrated. This desire to be seen and celebrated by those we love is a universal human need and fulfilling this for my own children is one of my favorite parts of parenting.

Recently, I was able to participate in a friend’s birthday celebration for her youngest. As the candle shone on her little face and we sang “Happy Birthday,” that sweet 3-year-old grinned the biggest grin, loving the spotlight. She knows she is loved and treasured and celebrated.

My husband and oldest daughter have a special day they celebrate during the holidays, too: “Gotcha Day.” This is the day when he officially adopted her — in our eyes, it was official a decade before that. Each year on or around their Gotcha Day, he takes her to do something special, just the two of them, celebrating the day of our family’s growth. I love that it falls during Christmastime when many of us celebrate the growth of another family in Bethlehem so long ago, and the inclusion of others into the family. The desire to be part of a family, and to be loved and celebrated by our family is a universal one.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to make sure my children understood the universality of celebrations. We spent the month of December reading about holidays in different countries and religions, making crafts for each one, learning the stories, and acknowledging the beautiful variety of celebrations of lights, miracles, the winter season, and special people. I was remembering these stories this week as I watched colleagues pitch in to buy gifts for strangers’ children, chatted with a bell-ringing volunteer and laughed at my husband’s creativity with our family’s Christmas Elves.

There are as many different celebrations in our communities right now as there are people and families, places of worship and work, each of them beautiful and special for the individuals and families observing them. In December alone, there are over 18 official days of celebration and at least eight different religious observances. In nearly all of these, the beauty and miracle of light plays a central role.

All over our city we have been anticipating the holiday celebrations for weeks. Downtown Gadsden is gorgeous with lights and trees, including the huge Christmas tree our mayor and city workers make possible each year. At work, many of us have helped put up festive decorations and maybe even participated in holiday parties. My colleagues and I have spent the last couple of weeks surprising each other with little gifts, small tokens of appreciation and joy in this season. We celebrate the holidays and remind one another that we are each celebrated and appreciated at work. Yesterday, a group of carolers from another building on campus came around and sang for us — it was a welcome reminder that we are in a season of celebration.

As we celebrate the holidays this weekend, whether you are celebrating with a large group or a very small one, take a moment to let the universality of celebration sink in. We all appreciate the beauty and miracle of light and the role it plays in the holiday stories and traditions observed this time of year. Each of us need to know we are celebrated, and that we have the space to celebrate. Light a candle, plug in some twinkle lights, enjoy the neighbors’ decorations, invite others in and breathe in the beauty of the celebrations all around us.

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