Those of us with babies born near Christmas know the dual emotion: thrilled to be pregnant, but not so thrilled that an already stressful time of year is only going to get busier.
Like most parents, I promised myself that I wouldn't let my child's birthday get swept into the tidal wave of the holiday season. It would somehow remain separate and unique and her own magical day. And for the most part, it has.
There are plenty of families out there in the same situation, and while no solution is perfect, there tends to be a viable solution for each family. Sometimes it just takes a while to figure out which one is best for you.
One popular choice is to celebrate the birthday as close to the actual day as possible and ignore the holiday. If they like Star Wars, then have a Star Wars-themed party. It takes some advance planning and extra time during the holidays but for many kids, it means so much. "I love it! I get triple the presents!" exclaims Grant Heinberg of Oak Brook. His mother, Kim, usually holds his party close to Dec. 22, his actual birthday. "I have the most luck planning the party on the last day of school. People are still around and not on vacation or with relatives yet," she says. She usually takes the party elsewhere rather than hosting it in her home to take some of the stress off.
Timing is important with holiday parties. Allie Johnson of Western Springs is now 16 and remembers the years of juggling her birthday and the holidays. "It was hard because if I tried to do it on a weekend, then a lot of people couldn't come because they were all at family parties or on vacation," she recalls. Still, her mom tried planning the party near her birthday, Dec. 23, although she admits some years it was exhausting.
Jessica Mancuso of Elmhurst has always had her son's Dec. 17 birthday party near the actual day. "The only disadvantage is that on the years where we have big parties, he gets tons of presents all at once and gets overwhelmed," she says. "But he loves that time of year so much, it doesn't really faze him."
Upside: A special day near the actual day devoted to celebrating your child's particular passion.
Downside: Planning and budgeting a separate event with themes and decorations in the middle of an already busy party season.
Stop searching for Tinker Bell cups or a Darth Vader centerpiece, and consider the fact that the Christmas holiday (or another December holiday) lends itself to plenty of party ideas and the decorations are already in place. If you host it at home, simply put a twist on traditional games: pin the star on the tree or play musical chairs with holiday music. Partygoers can decorate cookies or make ornaments as a craft. If you prefer not hosting a party at home, take advantage of all the holiday entertainment in the area. Plan an ice-skating party, have the kids go caroling or take them to any of the holiday plays.
Cindy McCann of Clarendon Hills embraced the holiday theme for her daughter, who was born on Dec. 22. One year she bought small Norfolk Island pine trees and the kids made ornaments. The decorated trees went home as a party favor. Another time, the girls had relay races with shaving cream and decorated her relatives (good sports who were dressed in red) like Santa. They've also been to the zoo for Holiday Magic and attended The Nutcracker.
"We recognize the fact that Christmas is right around the corner so we incorporate the season but still make it about the birthday girl," she says.
Upside: The theme and the decorations are already in place.
Downside: Birthday child can feel forced to share the holiday theme.
Some parents and kids prefer to spread out the fun. Kelley Nelson of Geneva used to plan her daughter's big celebration on June 22 to commemorate her half-birthday. "One year I made a half-birthday cake that was half lion and half zebra," she remembers. "I usually made some joke about Santa or Christmas in her June invitation and explained that it was her half-birthday."
You can incorporate the holiday theme in a summer birthday. Have Santa make an appearance or play Christmas music outside in the warm weather. Kids will get a kick out of playing traditional Christmas games in June, and this is probably the only time when it's not only OK but actually funny to use Christmas paper to wrap birthday presents!
A half-birthday helps spread out the glut of gifts that would otherwise arrive in December and adds some variety.
Upside: Birthday celebration is spread throughout the year. Summer is an easier time to focus on a party.
Downside: Not near the actual day, which is hard for some kids. Parents need to acknowledge the real birthday in a smaller way.
Our family has finally settled on a January party. The Christmas rush is over and we can focus on her and her special day. January is a rather quiet month, and people are usually available. Plus, many businesses have January or winter specials to entice people out after the holidays.
On my daughter's actual birthday, Dec. 26, we take her to out to dinner at the restaurant of her choice. It's too exhausting to whip up another fancy meal and she likes being able to make the decision. We celebrate at a family party with cousins and grandparents early in December, making her birthday celebration a month-long event-another bonus for her.
Upside: Close to the actual birthday, but not lost in the shuffle of the holiday rush.
Downside: Easy to get distracted and forget to plan it. Some feel tapped out by holiday parties and gift-giving.
This is perhaps the toughest birthday of the year. By necessity, part of the day is spent watching other people open gifts. No matter how hard parents may try, the focus of the day is on the celebration of Christmas.
Stacy Leonard of Elmhurst has only celebrated her daughter's birthday once on Dec. 25. "There is a photo taken of me that day that says it all," she recalls. "I'm sitting in a chair, sound asleep. We had Christmas morning, church, Christmas dinner, birthday cake and presents. It was too exhausting."
Now they choose to celebrate her birthday one or two weeks before Christmas. They pick the day in advance, and that day is entirely spent celebrating Meredith's birthday. When she was younger, they would have her friends party during the day and a family celebration in the evening.
When it comes to December birthday celebrations, no one solution is perfect for everyone. Some kids resist celebrating on any day but their actual birthday, while some enjoy having a day that doesn't involve the holiday. It may take a few years to get it right or the answer may come easily. It's a tough time to have a birthday, but it's a magical time, too.
Laura Amann is a freelance writer and the mother of four living in Elmhurst.
See more of Laura's stories here.