Celebrating something special
The night before was endless: the bedtime routine, the dive under the covers with eyes tightly shut, the tossing and turning when sleep couldn’t overcome the excitement. Yep, that was always the night before my birthday. But then morning came! I was fortunate enough that my birthday often fell during half-term, so I didn’t have to spend the whole of my birthday waiting for school to finish so I could have my party – oh, the years when I had to go to school were excruciating!
Age and birthdays are really important to children. Anyone who has got a child’s wrong, or not include the ‘half’ or ‘three quarters’, will have realised that. And today’s parties are often much grander (and more expensive) than mine in the 1980s, yet the sense of excitement and importance is the same. How then can we celebrate these momentous events in our churches and children’s groups?
A church I have occasionally visited marks everyone’s birthday (whatever their age) as a regular part of their service. They even have their own Christian birthday song. For most adults, singing this is a little cringeworthy, and it must be more so if it’s your birthday and the congregation is singing it to you. But for children, having the whole congregation celebrate your birthday (even by singing a daft song) is a significant event. It helps them feel part of the community and makes them feel special.
What else is possible? Well, it might be that you’re only limited by imagination and budget. But here are a few thoughts to bear in mind.
Know in advance: if you don’t know when a child’s birthday is, you can’t make them feel special. You’ll probably have their date of birth recorded as part of the registration process, so make sure you’re prepared for their special day. Admittedly, there will be times when visitors have birthdays or when someone slips through the net (and that’s regrettable). However, knowing a child’s birthday, like knowing their name, makes them feel a valued part of your community.
Treat them as individuals: children are different people and so like different things, so don’t buy a job lot of the same birthday card, or recycle decorations or candles. The church I grew up in brought out the same candles (wedged in the same plank of wood) for every birthday – if you got the end of the candles, then the display was very disappointing (particularly as there was probably more dried spit than candle wax).
Let them take a lead: you might have part of a session where a child can decide what you do – a choice of game to play or a ‘treat’ at the end of a session. Using this as a birthday treat is a possibility!
Use your skills: if you’re a good baker, bake a cake as a gift; if you’re crafty, make something. Even if you’re not good at these things, there’s bound to be someone in your congregation who is. Bless children with something special.
Aside from birthdays, there are plenty of other things in children’s lives we can celebrate – success at school or in sports, a new brother or sister… it doesn’t have to be a massive event or achievement. All we need to do is help the child realise they are loved and part of our community.
Alex Taylor is Children’s Ministry Trainer for the Diocese of London and has celebrated more birthdays than he cares to remember.