Birthday traditions have become one of my most beloved facets of family life.
I think my love for traditions stems from childhood. Growing up, we didn’t have much. Money was tight and my momma worked multiple jobs to support our little family. BUT I don’t remember it that way. I remember laughter, games, and crazy fun.
I remember my mom making pancakes while breakdancing on the kitchen floor in her nightgown.
I remember elaborate scavenger hunts for Christmas gifts.
And I remember waking up every single birthday morning to a choir of family members singing happy birthday with some sort of breakfast food and a motley candle sticking out.
My mom made life amazing through traditions, games, and all kinds of crazy fun antics. She believed money couldn’t buy memories and she was right.
I thought about this so much as I became a mom. I wanted to teach my kids the beautiful truth my mom taught me: it’s not money or things that buy memories, but your perspective. As a mom, I’ve seen this principle hold true over and over again. The most special and memorable things have almost always been more about family fun than about how much money we had to do something.
For example, instead of going to a movie on a Friday night (and spending $100 for the family), we stay in and have a crazy family fun night that costs less than $10. We save a lot of money, but that’s only a small benefit. We also bond as a family and create memories that cannot rival the big screen.
Birthday traditions have also become a huge part of how we create memories.
Our family’s epic birthday traditions
When I became a mom, I put a lot of intentional thought into how I wanted to create traditions in my home. Of course, birthdays were a central focus in my plans. I knew I had to keep both my budget and our busy schedule in mind before committing. I also wanted as many children as God would give me, so I knew I couldn’t take each child to Paris for their birthday each year.
In an effort to stay simple and budget minded, I created a rotation basis.
Birthday party years
We have birthday parties at set ages (this has kept me from needing to plan more than one party in a given year). I chose a first birthday party with family, and then friend parties at ages 5 years, 10 years, 16 years, and 18 years.
When it comes to parties, we go all out. I have the child pick a theme because it’s super fun to plan everything around that. I find that themes make even the simple things amazing. We’ve done Minion parties, horse parties, art parties and so many things in between!
Playdate birthday years
Just because we only have a handful of party years doesn’t mean we are light on the birthday traditions. Not at all! Another part of the plan is playdate years. The name pretty much tells all. On these birthday years, the birthday child gets to pick a friend or two and invite them over for a special playdate. The birthday child picks the menu and the play activity, but it’s all done at home.
We do this on the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th birthdays.
This year, Luke had 3 of his buddies over after church. They played LEGOs and Wii all afternoon. Oh, and of course there was pumpkin chocolate chip cake, Luke’s favorite!
Activity birthday years
On these birthday years, the birthday child picks a special activity for the whole family, plus one friend. I find that as kids get older, it’s much more fun to go somewhere like an escape room, bowling, an amusement park, etc. It’s also a great way to build family unity!
We do this on the 11th, 12th, 14th, and 15th birthdays.
This year, my 14-year-old daughter planned at trip downtown with her friend and their dogs. They also went on a trail ride later that day. (Both girls have horses already.) I loved her plan because it was simple, didn’t cost a dime, and yet she was super excited to celebrate her birthday this way!
Every year tradition
No matter what birthday it is, every single year the birthday child gets to pick the menu for the whole day. This is a tradition my kids adore. In fact, some of them start planning months in advance. I typically allow them to choose one of their meals at a restaurant that day, but not always. There have been years where the budget doesn’t allow for that.
Nathan loves the birthday meal tradition the most, planning out his menus months in advance. This year he picked Cheesecake Factory for dinner. (I must admit I like his choices!)
13th birthday experience
Last, but absolutely the most memorable, is the 13th birthday. Since the teen years bring with them such mixed emotions, I decided to thwart that by starting them the right way. We kick off the teens with a weekend getaway with just mom! The birthday child gets to pick the location and the activities. (I do give them a budget to work with- it’s generous, but not infinite.)
During the weekend, we spend a lot of time talking about God’s purpose and direction for their life. We have deeper talks about the opposite sex, texting, social media, and other pertinent topics. So far, we’ve done this twice and I’ve got to tell you it’s been the most amazing blessing for both me and the birthday child. Even if your budget is small, I highly recommend finding a way to work this one in!
My oldest daughter, Leah, chose a weekend in the mountains. We went hiking, toured the Biltmore Estate, and dined at the historic Grove Inn. The whole trip embodied her personality as we strolled through used book stores in between our nature hikes.
Rachel also chose a trip that embodied her personality. We went to New York City to see a Broadway musical. We spent the entire day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and of course got a few dozen selfies with the Statue of Liberty.
More Epic Birthday Tradition Ideas
Annual birthday letters
Write a letter each year to your child. Save it in an envelope with the date and age. Give it to them when they are 18. (Don’t get caught up with starting at age 1. Just start anytime!)
Do a birthday interview each year.
I actually do this each year when we start a new homeschool year, but it’s super fun to do it at their birthday, too! Check out this free printable one here.
Celebrate by serving others.
This is becoming a popular trend I love. Instead of focusing on getting something or being honored, why not take up donations for a cause or do one Random Act of Kindness (RAK) for each year of your age.
Start the day with a special breakfast treat complete with candles.
This was the birthday tradition in my house growing up. Mom would wake us up with a plate full of something yummy, a candle, and a festive birthday song. We groaned every time, but secretly loved every minute of it!
Have a birthday or celebration plate.
I know lots of families who have special plates to celebrate special days. It’s even more fun if you and your spouse go to a pottery place and paint it yourself. What a beautiful memory.
Share your traditions
So what are your birthday traditions? Leave a comment and tell us about a favorite in your family or tell us which one of these you’d like to try!