There are thousands of people at our Kansas City Hallmark headquarters, which means birthday parties happen all the time around here. Traditions vary around the company. Some departments just go out for lunch or host a birthday treat potluck. Some ask the Hallmark Gospel choir in to sing for them. And some have made an art form out of “re-do” birthday cards: Using a permanent marker to change, say, an “On the Loss of Your Pet” card to an “On the Loss of Your Youth” card.
Traditions and rituals are a big part of making any celebration unique, so we asked a few people to share their traditions with us. Let the ideas below inspire you to create new traditions for your friends and family.
Ditch the cake
I hate cake. I haven’t had a birthday cake in about nine years. But when I was a kid, we had this musical turntable display. You wound it up, put your cake on top of it and flipped the switch, and it slowly rotated while playing a music-box version of “Happy Birthday.” Since I don't like cake, I make vegetarian lasagna in a cake pan every year, and we put it on top of the musical turntable with candles in it. I blow out the candles and we celebrate with lasagna!
In my family, the birthday boy or girl takes a picture holding a framed copy of the previous year’s picture. The result is a picture within a picture within a picture…and so on. I’ve done this since my first birthday holding my one-day-old picture, so my most recent photo contains all 17 of the previous photos.
My stepson is Catholic and for many years he would give up sugary treats for Lent. Since his birthday fell during Lent, I would come up with other things to replace cake. One year I decorated a cheese block with squirty cheese to look like a cake and put a candle in it. He loved it.
My family celebrates the “Birthday Bird” tradition. On the morning of the birthday, the birthday kid looks under his or her bed to find the gift that the Birthday Bird has placed there! Then, in the evening before bed, we read Happy Birthday to You! by Dr. Seuss (where the Birthday Bird originates).
Get a clue
My parents used to send me on a treasure hunt for my birthday presents. I’d wake up to a clue next to my bed, get up, and start looking for the first present. Then that present would have a clue, and so on until the end. The clues usually rhymed, and they got tougher as I got older. Until just a few years ago, my husband continued the tradition for me. I can’t wait to start with our son.
Do it yourself
I make my daughter an “ugly cake”: I decorate it myself—and I am terrible at that. But it was done by my hands and with love, so she loves it! *
*[Editor’s note: Joan’s daughter, Maggie, verifies that she actually does love this tradition.]
My husband and I have vowed to use our engraved wedding cake knife as our birthday cake cutting knife every year for the rest of our lives—as did the family who gifted us both the knife and the idea. It’s a romantic way to keep our wedding day fresh in our minds.
Save the plate
We grew up with a red plate we called the “You Are Special Plate.” It only came out on someone’s birthday. The birthday boy or girl got to choose the cake and eat it off this plate. After dinner we went around the table and said one thing that made the birthday person special to each of us. (From about ages 9 to 21, my brother and I would say to each other, “Well, you’re my brother.”) When my wife joined the family, she got to enjoy the You Are Special Plate, too.
Our Hallmark number-crunchers say we’re not so different from the rest of the country (besides the easy access to party plates, of course).
- 69% of you nosh on something sweet to celebrate the birth of your favorite people.
- 67% make sure to bring the family together for a birthday.
My youngest son decided that since there’s a Christmas Eve and a New Year’s Eve, there should also be a “Birthday Eve.” Every Birthday Eve we make cupcakes, put a candle on each one, blow out the candles and say goodbye to the past year. I ask him what the best thing was about his current age. Then we talk about what he’s looking forward to the most in the next year of his life.