(this draft is from 2011!)
December and January babies have to share their birthdays with the holiday season. That means that it’s easy to combine their birthday presents with their Christmas presents, suggesting that overall they might get less stuff.* And people with holiday birthdays have said they were not happy about getting one large gift in place of two smaller ones. (As parents, we’d be happy with that! Our kids get So Much Stuff.)
Getting less stuff isn’t a problem when there’s only one kid because one kid doesn’t know what the counterfactual would be, but when there are two kids, they might worry about fairness.** My mom, with her early January birthday and 6 younger siblings feels very strongly that she didn’t get her due growing up. My MIL, similarly, wants to be scrupulously fair to each grandchild.
What the grandmas do is they have a specific dollar amount they spend on each kid for Christmas and for birthdays. They send separately wrapped packages, making sure that the birthday gift is not in Christmas wrapping. This seems to be the best option that we’ve come up with.
Another popular solution is to celebrate a half birthday, though with the half birthday falling in the summer, that doesn’t help with other kids not coming to a birthday party. Back in preschool when there were people around during school holidays we had more kids show up for a belated birthday party in early January than for our other child’s summer birthday. So I’m not really sure that a half-birthday is a great solution, though I suppose one could just pick a time in April or May.
But these solutions focus on fairness as some kind of dollar amount. Stuff. The focus shouldn’t be on who gets the most stuff as presents. Presents are optional and not an entitlement. They shouldn’t be the focus. Insert your favorite complaint against rampant consumerism here.
But the true concern comes when the difference in stuff given is taken as a signal for something else. Stuff shouldn’t be a proxy for love. It’s easy to take it as a proxy, but it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s probably why there’s so much focus on which wrapping paper is used on the presents– not because it actually matters but because it is a proxy for whether or not the kid’s birthday is special. That link doesn’t have to be there either.
What is really important? A kid with a December or early January birthday needs to feel that their birthday is just as special as a kid whose birthday doesn’t correspond with the holidays. Both of our kids get to pick their own birthday cake (this year DC1 wants a cookie cake) that we make, and they generally get a birthday celebration with my in-laws (DC1 over Christmas break either on hir birthday or the night before, DC2 whenever we do our summer visit) and my sister (some weekend in the city) in addition to their home celebration. It’s a lot of us showing that we think they’re special, even if they don’t get actual parties anymore. Even if we only give them small gifts.
What are your experiences with holiday birthdays?
*There’s also a possibility with holiday sales that they’ll get more stuff, or if they’re the extended family over their birthday they’ll get stuff from people they wouldn’t otherwise get stuff from, but more likely it’ll be less.
**Though given that most of the first kid’s stuff gets passed down to the second kid eventually, what does fairness even mean?