Should December babies (whose families celebrate Christmas) feel cheated?

(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?

25 Responses to “Should December babies (whose families celebrate Christmas) feel cheated?”

  1. Bev Says:

    Oh I love this question! I have a December birthday and I married a man with a December birthday (in December–so we have a December anniversary too) and our daughter was born on Christmas Eve, so we basically party all month long. Back when the kids were at home I would bake a cake for each event, but no one can eat that much cake so I would freeze about half of each cake. Then around mid-February, when everyone was suffering from cabin fever, I’d get some cake out of the freezer and we would party all over again.

    It’s true that sometimes combined presents happen and the birthday event gets merged with holiday celebrations, but that’s not always a bad thing. One year my daughter wanted nothing more than to celebrate her birthday on the beach, so we all got a Florida vacation for Christmas. There’s always something special to open on the birthday itself, but sometimes a combined birthday/Christmas gift can be bigger and more elaborate than two separate gifts would have been (like a family vacation, or a cheap used car for a newly licensed driver). We like to have birthday breakfasts, so whatever holiday event may be happening later in the day (like a Christmas Eve service), the day starts by honoring the birthday person. Birthday gifts get wrapped in distinctive paper so it doesn’t look like we’re just grabbing a Christmas gift from under the tree. I suppose every family develops its own traditions, but we’ve never had a problem making holiday birthdays special. You just have to enjoy partying all month long.

    • Debbie M Says:

      I know a married couple (the Wests) whose birthdays are a week apart in November. In grad school, they would do something special every day of the week (and we got invited to most of those things), and they call it West Fest. Super fun!

  2. Carol Lynn Says:

    One of my kids has a late December birthday, but, honestly, evening out gifts is not something that’s ever occurred to me. The birthday and the holiday are totally separate in my mind. Maybe because the birthday actually happens after Christmas? Or because I’m a bad mom?

    The only issue is that I have to plan the birthday party with friends a few weeks later, to make sure that everyone has returned from vacation. (the family celebration is on the actual day of the birthday).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Obviously not the bad mom thing.

    • suburbanp Says:

      I love the idea of having a party in January once all the kids are back. My birthday is December 21 and I don’t care about the presents, but it’s really hard to celebrate when everyone is already so busy with Christmas stuff. I had 2 birthday parties growing up (5 & 16) and I wish we had celebrated more.

  3. rose Says:

    Grandchild born on 1/1. Always separate gifts in bday paper. Often 3 parties at least…. one for family, one for friends often done later in Jan because of people being away, one at midnight +1minute on Dec 31/Jan 1 with group celebrating the new year….. and the birthday child. Absolutely completed beloved and fabulous.

  4. Leigh Says:

    Oh, birthdays. My parents gave my (younger) sibling presents on my birthday too because otherwise they would throw a tantrum. They also got to invite one/some of their friends to my party. (Sigh.)

    • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

      That seems like a really weird way to deal with it.

      • FF Says:

        My sister did this with my nieces. One year, my older niece received a specific doll she had wanted and the younger one was so upset about not having one that they first made my older niece let her play with it, and when the younger one then refused to give it back to her, they went out to buy a second one to give to the older niece (I think they were around 7 and 3 at the time).

      • Lisa Says:

        I give little gifts to all the kids when it’s someone’s birthday. Not because there will be tantrums otherwise, but because we’re all celebrating together. Nothing fancy, just a little token.

  5. Anne M Says:

    My mother’s birthday was in late January. I learned early on that she expected separate Christmas and birthday gifts, or I’d have to listen (yet again) to her complain that her sister, whose birthday was in October, got “more stuff” than the combination Christmas/Birthday gift she usually got. Maybe she did get cheated, but her mother explained it as not knowing what to get her so soon after Christmas.
    Fast forward to my kid’s birthday in early December. We do separate Birthday and Christmas gifts. Holiday decorations (we don’t do a whole lot anyway) are mostly put on hold until after that day. Kid insists on wearing the Santa hat starting December 1st, though.

  6. delagar Says:

    Dr. Skull has an early December birthday, so his birthday almost always falls around Hanukkah. He resents to this day that he didn’t get separate presents for his birthday and Hanukkah, and that he never got a party.

    Meanwhile, my birthday falls around Easter, and my mother would buy me Easter clothes for my birthday — which I resented deeply. First, because I hate fancy clothing, and second, because my brothers got real presents for their birthdays, as well as getting fancy clothing for Easter.

    I objected to this when I was about seven, and my mother — to her credit — agreed it was wrong, and started buying me real presents for my birthday.

  7. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I have never thought about it very much because we didn’t celebrate birthdays OR holidays in my family, it all feels very much like extra when we do anything for either of them. PiC likes to make my birthday very special and keep his lowkey, we are learning the ropes on what we’re comfortable with doing for JB because I don’t want to be sucked into the over the top nature of birthdays here.

    JB always gets book gifts anyway so it’s not like there’s a great big difference in how we handle that part. We do small different gifts for holidays and birthdays but we also emphasize that gifts aren’t an expression of love from us per se. They ARE an expression of love from zir aunts and uncles though, really, and I don’t know quite how to parse that in a healthy way.

  8. FF Says:

    I have a late December birthday and as my parents put it, I am a Chanukah present, born on the fourth day (and an anniversary present, too). Some years my birthday is on Chanukah and some years (like this year) it isn’t (although my Hebrew birthday is, of course, always on Chanukah). I always felt that it made my birthday more special and I still think of Chanukah as “my” holiday. I would get birthday presents from my parents and sister in birthday paper in the morning. If it was Chanukah, the Chanukah presents were at night and in Chanukah paper, given after candle-lighting and, except for the 8th night, were usually smaller. My birthday party did sometimes get moved, usually to earlier in December, depending on when winter vacation started. I did have some relatives who did the “this present is for both” thing and I really hated that.

    My sister’s birthday is in April and although she had no issues with gifts, her birthday was sometimes on Passover and, as she complained, a kosher-for-Passover birthday is not nearly as good as a regular cake.

    • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

      My oldest was born during pesach too! He gets a flourless cake during and then real cupcakes afterwards, which is an acceptable compromise to him because cake twice.

      • FF Says:

        He sounds very lucky! I don’t think I’d even heard about them until college.

      • Debbie M Says:

        My brother got pie, which seemed extra special. (Because we didn’t know the rules and thought pie crusts were okay back then.) Now he gets flourless chocolate cake, also pretty special.

  9. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    The kids usually visit the Christmas celebrating grandparents over school break, and Sweetpea was born 12/31. They are terminally over the top gift givers so they always come home with piles of stuff. She gets a brunch party at the end of break and all her friends make her cards and I think that makes it special for her. It’s basically a big new year’s open house where we sing happy birthday. The kids all get little stuff for Hanukkah and one bigger gift for birthdays. The boys get to take their friends out for lunch – so everyone gets something fun. I don’t know. I also have more kid stuff in my house than I know what to do with!

  10. Anoninmass Says:

    Well my birthday is December 25th, so there is much here that I can relate to!

  11. nicoleandmaggie Says:

  12. rose Says:

    Additional remark: title asks if people SHOULD holiday season babies feel cheated. Should is a wrong word IMHO. People can CHOOSE to feel cheated for many reasons on many topics, but that feeling isn’t a ‘should’. Choice is involved after the first seconds of automatic reacting, learning this is VERY hard, practicing it is even harder especially after years of not knowing and practicing it. It does require Thinking about your response and not just emoting internally or externally. I regularly as a human fail to remember to do this but it IS important and helpful. We all need to work at practicing this, especially around our triggers … (& politics has been such a huge hard place to practice it these years). But most humans CAN learn and change ….

  13. becca Says:

    As a kid, I think I got more stuff from extended family because of holiday birthday (Dec 23rd). I did not feel terribly fussed about it, but my parents gave me a different target for resentment (we could never get down to decorating or anticipating either my birthday OR Christmas prior to Dec 21st, cause that was my Mom’s birthday. This is very last minute if you asked tiny planning oriented human me!).
    The only real problem was I was under-supplied with outdoor toys relative to indoor ones. If your parents loath Alvin and the Chipmunks (AS THEY SHOULD! *shudder*), buying a hula hoop for your own kid at Xmas is just asking for stuff to get knocked down.

    I didn’t get a *lot* of parties, but I had two especially memorable ones as a teen that resolved any lingering disappointment on that front.

    I did very much resent that my parents cried uncle and wouldn’t celebrate Hanukah as well as Christmas (they would have substituted it, but nobody with sense would take that deal). So I do Hanukah now.

    As an adult, I still prefer winter-festive penguins to specifically-Christmas Santas on my wrapping paper, and also I prefer birthday pie and you are very much welcome to try out the Christmas pie recipes on me (even if it is bad I will probably prefer it to cake).
    All I want for my birthday is the universe would bequeath me with a halfways decent version of “Chestnuts roasting over an open fire”.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m a bit tired of that song this season because every single day since Dec 1st, the classics radio station has played at least one version of chestnuts on my way to pick up DC2 from after school. They always say, “And here’s another old chestnut” and then play it. Which was cute the first three times, but…

  14. Debbie M Says:

    January 8 birthday here. As an adult, I switched to celebrating my half birthday because I prefer summer weather. I found there were two added benefits. 1) My family calls on my real birthday, which never interrupts my birthday parties. 2) My employers would give us cake (all the leftovers, too) on my real birthday, but that didn’t lead to way too much cake, because my birthday party cake was 6 months away.

    Then I moved to Austin where the winter weather might actually be better than the summer weather. And my boyfriend is born July 7, which leads to sharing anyway. Also, my boyfriend would want to celebrate both of my birthdays (because he’s like a friend AND like family), but he didn’t want me to celebrate his half birthday. Now I just don’t celebrate it at all, except for when other people decide that I will.

    My dad had a December 28 birthday. I seems to have escaped any scarring.

  15. accm Says:

    My mother once jokingly complained to (adult) me that my mid-January birthday was too close to Christmas. I gave her a *look* and asked whose fault that was!

    My biggest related peeve is people who keep their Christmas lights on past my birthday. Don’t they know that’s the deadline for taking them down?

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