I have always felt a little sorry for people with December birthdays. A day that should be special for the individual too often takes a back seat to the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
Consider my husband's tale of birthday woe as a December 26th birthday boy. He recounts a childhood of birthday presents wrapped in Christmas paper ("why let the extra rolls of Santa paper go to waste?") and birthday candles stuck in the extra pecan pie ("it's still dessert, enjoy!") As an adult, he experienced birthday parties that never happened because people were unavailable or just too out of gas for one more celebration.
For those of us who love someone with a December birthday, the pressure is on us to ensure the birthday boy or girl isn't lost in the holiday shuffle. When the December birthday is for a child, the stakes are higher, it seems. This Thanksgiving I listened to my brother fretting about timing issues in planning his 5-year old daughter's mid-December birthday. "I should have sent the party invitations out in November! December weekends book so fast and another family already booked their kid's party on the weekend I needed. The next weekend is almost Christmas, that won't work. What if no one is around for her party!?"
My husband assures me that at his age, it's OK -- I shouldn't stress about his birthday, he "understands everyone is busy with the holidays." It's tempting to take the easy out, but I just can't let him down. I want to make his birthday as special as he makes mine. At the same time, I needed strategies for dancing the holiday/birthday mambo with a minimum of stress. Here are three that worked for me:
ONE: Acknowledge their feelings.
A few years back, I took a day to create a humorous little cartoon book called "The Boy Whose Birthday Was NOT Christmas Day." I tried to capture every birthday sleight, snub, and holiday/birthday drama my husband had experienced. He got a good chuckle out of it and seemed to appreciate that yes, I understood the December birthday curse.
TWO: Seize the holiday opportunities, don't fight them.
For a few years I drove myself nuts trying to plan my husband's December 26th birthday party. I invariably faced a spotty guest list with people out of town or otherwise committed. Eventually it hit me that the people my husband most wanted to see on his birthday were all gathered the day before -- yes, on Christmas Day -- and maybe I should see this as a good thing, not a conflict. One year we surprised my husband with a birthday cake and presents after the Christmas meal. Our niece even brought him a miniature "birthday tree" as the new swap-out centerpiece. The idea made sense. Now every Christmas when the meal is done, we treat dessert time as the start of my husband's birthday party. Out come the birthday hats, horns, balloons, and presents wrapped in clearly marked birthday paper. Christmas music is turned off and our chorus of "Happy Birthday" voices fills the air. And no matter what Christmas candies and pies are on the table, my husband's favorite chocolate birthday cake takes center stage.
THREE: Create anticipation with a January payoff
Why do we all cram our December social calendar like crazy people when January is screaming for some fun? Face it, January is one of the least inspiring months of the year, marked by post-holiday hangovers, lousy weather, and back-to-work realities. That's why, for my husband's birthday, he gets one gift to enjoy now and also a card with a "guess where we're going in January" surprise announcement. It may be a concert he'd love to see, an overnight getaway to the coast, or simply a pre-planned date weekend, babysitting lined up in advance. In this way, I honor his December birthday, avoid scheduling challenges, and ensure we have "something to look forward to" when the holiday lights have come down.
There is one irony about this December birthday situation. If my husband wasn't born on December 26th, we might never have met. Twelve years ago, we were two strangers in separate cities, visiting the same online chat room one night. Since the room was full, I hung out in the "waiting room," reading folks' personal profiles to kill time. My future husband's profile included a reference to his December 26th birthday. I stared at the date and without much thought, sent the following message: "Wow, December 26th, huh? Your birthdays must have sucked growing up." OK, not exactly the stuff of great romance novels, but what a great pay-off. I remember this exchange every December with a smile.