Journaling About Birthdays 3


I KIDNAPPED MY SWEETHEART this weekend for a birthday getaway to the California Coast — a sweet spot just north of Gualala, courtesy of AirBnB. We definitely needed some time away from the relentless household chores and everyday responsibilities, and we’ve gotten to the point in our lives where we don’t need any more “stuff.” For us, experiences make much better birthday presents than possessions.

The excursion was wonderful and made me think about birthdays and the meanings we assign to them. In my family of origin, we didn’t really celebrate birthdays once you were older than ten. When you became a teenager, you were supposed to not care anymore. As a result, to this day my brothers and I rarely acknowledge each other’s date of birth. And yet I’ve always loved birthdays as a time to either feel special or help someone else feel special.

And I started thinking about how here in the West we typically celebrate birthdays with cake and candles and balloons and presents. And we give children one playful whack on the bottom for every year of age. In Australia, they eat “fairy bread,” a sweet bread that’s covered in butter and sprinkled with little candies. In Mexico, they fill a piñata with candy and take turns striking it with a stick—blindfolded—until it breaks and the candy spills out. The Vietnamese do not acknowledge birthdays; instead, everyone turns a year older together on their New Year’s Day, called “tet.” In other cultures, it is not the people having the birthday who are celebrated, but their parents for giving them birth.

With all these different cultural rituals in mind, I thought it would be interesting to create some journaling prompts and write about birthdays.

Choose one of the following prompts, write to it, then share whatever you would like to share about birthdays in the comments.

  • How were birthdays typically marked in your family of origin? Or were they?
  • Which birthday rituals did you love and which birthday rituals could you have done without?
  • When you think about your next birthday, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Freewrite about that topic for ten minutes.
  • Perform a creative cluster using the word “birthday” as the nucleus. What did you learn from this exercise?
  • What do you typically do for other people on their birthdays, if anything?
  • What is your general attitude toward birthdays? Explore the source of your attitude and the ways it benefits you.
  • Describe the last birthday celebration you had or attended. Who was there? What was it like? Write down all the details you can remember.


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3 thoughts on “Journaling About Birthdays

  • Sara Etgen-Baker

    The way other cultures celebrate birthdays is fascinating to me. I grew up in a different time–a time when birthdays were acknowledged and celebrated in simple ways–a cake (if mother had enough money to buy the ingredients), perhaps a small toy, and if one was lucky, a trip to the movie theater. It was the one day, however, when chores were put aside. Mother would always share the facts surrounding our births and how she felt during her pregnancy and how she felt afterwards in being our mother. Hearing her reflections were the best part of the birthday.

    So, the fact that there appears to be so much hoop-la in today’s world surrounding birthdays kind of baffles me. My stepdaughter is one example; she spends nearly $1,000 every year for each of her children’s birthdays–big, gala events designed to make her children feel special. However, I sometimes think their uniqueness is lost, however, in the grandeur of the event. I wonder, too, if the event is designed more as a status symbol for her rather than a heartfelt celebration for her children. Big events, though, seem to be the “norm” these days and who am I to judge? I just find it interesting, therefore, that cultures as well as time periods within a given culture celebrate birthdays differently.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Sara, you make a good point that traditions shift with time as well as with culture. My daughter-in-law threw this huge party for my grandson when he turned one. I asked her who the party was for, since my grandson wouldn’t know enough to care, and she said, “For me, of course!” I chuckled. At least she was honest about that.

      Reading that part of your comment in which your mother recounted your birth stories reminded me about how much all children love to hear about their births. They can’t get enough of stories about themselves. Your mother sounds like a wise woman.

      • Sara Etgen-Baker

        Yes, my mother was a wise woman. Thanks for saying so. Funny, Mother becomes wiser with each passing day. Hats off to your daughter-in-law for her honesty. 🙂