Making Birthday Memories

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These past few weeks have been busy ones.  You see, in our house we move straight from Christmas celebration to birthday celebrations. Three of our four children have birthdays during the first week of January.  However, we do things a little differently around here.  We do not have birthday parties (besides some cake with family). No, we are not punishing our children.  No, they don’t revolt. Instead of parties and gifts, we give experiences.

This all started about 7 years ago when our younger two children joined our family through adoption.  The trauma they experienced made parties and gifts hard to take in. Extreme excitement. Unregulated emotions. Feelings of shame and not worthy of gifts. Feeling that would creep in and not let go until they broke the toy…. usually within a week.  With experiences, we are able to truly enjoy the celebration. Experiences means that it’s only our immediate family of 6.  No friends to get overly excited about.  No loud, unpredictable situations.  Experiences means they accept it as a gift. It is not a tangible thing that they can break and they don’t quite see it in the same way.

And just as I thought we were doing something that no one else did, depriving our children of a childhood rite of passage…….

A few months ago, a friend and I were on a weekend trip together. One morning we were seated next to a couple from the northern mid-west (Wisconsin? Minnesota?).  As we started discussing our desire for travel, I learned that they take their (now grown) daughters on trips quite often.  They explained that they try to make experiences more important than material things. Yep, go on.  This is sounding familiar.  They take their daughters on experience trips for their birthdays much like we do.  No gifts….well, except for the occasional Shutterfly book.  And that’s when my friend and I started laughing because that is the exact gift we give as well! A way to remember the experience. I feel we would have been best friends had we lived in the same state.

I’m glad to hear there are others out there just like us.

Our theater kid getting his day on stage

Experiences give my kids a chance to try new things.  And instead of paying for a bunch of kids I’ve never met, I pay for their siblings to try it out too.  Will they remember the trip to the Philadelphia Orchestra more than the new PS4 game?  Probably.  Think back to your childhood.  Do you remember the item or the event? I want to create memories for our family.  Memories that also make them more worldly people.

Now, do I want to give my kids “experience trips” like the couple we met?  Absolutely.  Can I financially do that? That’s a BIG FAT NO.  A few of our activities have been a bit pricey but most have not.  Remember that Philadelphia Orchestra I mentioned?  When you can’t afford the full orchestra, did you know the chamber orchestra is cheaper? Find a way to make it fit in to your budget.



A few activities we have done include:

  • Indoor skydiving – Only for the birthday kid. The rest of us watched.  We can’t all afford to be blown around in a tube by a fan.
  • A Christmas sing along show at a small local theater. We’ve done lots of birthdays at local theaters. They are usually free or a nominal fee.
  • Ice skating
  • A local college soccer game – Use your local small college as much as possible. Jazz concerts, theater, sports games – usually all free or cheap.
  • My kids’ first real concert

    Making Birthday Memories
    The thrill of flying!
  • Urban Air (trampoline park)
  • Paint your own pottery place
  • The PA Renaissance Fair
  • A rock climbing gym
  • Local arboretums and farms
  • Chocolate tasting class at Hershey
  • The Houdini Museum – really, it’s a thing. In someone’s house.  Kinda weird.

I hope this gets you thinking about how you can use experiences in place of traditional gifts.  Maybe not birthdays but for any other holiday.

So go forth and make memories!

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