It is finally that time of year again when everyone is gearing up for Christmas. With the end of 2020 drawing to a close and many countries still in lockdown from COVID-19, most people are worrying about how to have a “normal Christmas.” Yet at this time of year, I face a different struggle, every year since my middle son was born. How to handle the dreaded “Birthmas.”
If you aren’t familiar with the term, it is basically a combination of birthday and Christmas, which is used to describe anyone who is unlucky enough to have their birthday land during this festive time.
Holiday birthdays horrors
This phenomenon isn’t restricted to Christmas though as many people are unhappily celebrating a holiday birthday. Halloween birthdays with creepy-themed presents and hobgoblins running down the street knocking on doors. Valentine’s birthdays filled with love heart teddy bears and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes, made even worse if you are single. New Year’s birthdays when everyone is too busy getting drunk and making promises they won’t keep.
I can remember as a kid having experienced this once when I was unlucky enough to have my birthday fall on Easter. Everyone was busy getting ready in bunny outfits to hunt Easter eggs, and I was feeling forgotten and that my birthday never really happened.
Each of these major holidays would really suck to share your birthday on, but I have to say that the Christmas birthday has to be the worst. I don’t just mean a birthday on Christmas day, but also the surrounding week or two. The entire time is strewn with troublesome dates like Christmas Eve, the boxing day post-Christmas stupor, and the recovery period before people hit New Year’s Eve. Every year, I not only have to navigate the holiday waters, but also ensure that my son’s birthday doesn’t get forgotten under a pile of Christmas paper.
Everyone forgets your kid’s birthday during Christmastime
Thankfully, I don’t have to contend with singing Happy Birthday on Christmas day, or trying to throw a Christmas day birthday party. Yet even though his birthday is just 3 days after Christmas, he falls into a sort of limbo land where everyone is too hungover, broke, or busy to come around.
Most people forget his birthday completely, because they are too busy planning for the holidays. Seeing how it falls after Christmas and before New Year’s most people are recovering and don’t want to leave the house for another party.
The people who do remember his birthday often give him the dual purpose gift “for his birthday and Christmas.” I have lost count of how many times his presents have come wrapped in Christmas tree or happy reindeer paper. One year he even got a pair of Santa-themed Christmas pajamas and a snow globe on his birthday, probably bought at 90% off during a post-Christmas sale. Many of the gifts tend to be cheap, last-minute buys, because the person forgot or their budget is stretched too thin at this time of the year. I have even seen some of his presents that clearly go together being separated so that one can be for Christmas and the other his birthday. This of course left the Christmas gift useless until the birthday gift arrived 3 days later.
The emotional impact of holiday birthdays
What I am worried about as a mother isn’t the fact he doesn’t get as many presents on his birthday. I am worried about the emotional impact it will have on him. The whole reason we celebrate birthdays is so that the person feels special and loved. If you boil a birthday down, we are basically waiting all year to feel seen and recognized. It isn’t about the items that are bought for you, so much as the acknowledgment from those you love.
With his birthday so close to Christmas, most people forget his birthday and in doing so, he feels forgotten. People get grumpy that they have to spend money on him or feel annoyed to have to come around to see him during this busy time. When he starts the “kid countdown” to his birthday, all anyone is talking about is Christmas or New Year’s. Many people don’t share that buzz with him that most kids get in the build-up to their birthday celebrations. Inviting his friends round for a December birthday party is usually out of the question because people have holiday plans.
In most cases where kids have a Birthmas the year drags on because with their Birthday and Christmas clumped together, there are no other days during the year they get celebrated and seen. This can be particularly hard when they have a sibling who gets to celebrate a proper birthday.
How I celebrate my son’s December birthday
So to try and combat the emotional aspect of this problem, from a young age I decided to acknowledge my son’s birthday completely separate from Christmas. Sometimes you can’t separate the holiday from the birthday, but you can always separate how you celebrate each of them. Sometimes it is a lot of work and the last thing I want to do in the post-Christmas haze, but I know how important it is for him emotionally to acknowledge the shift out of Christmas mode.
Before he was born, we used to keep the Christmas tree up well into the middle of January. Now I make sure the Christmas tree comes down the day after Christmas without fail. I hope that by packing away the Christmas tree and decorations, it distinguishes the house enough to let him know Christmas is over. I then do my best to do a mini kid countdown where we talk for 2 days about his upcoming birthday.
When I set up for my son’s birthday, I avoid anything holiday themed. No tree-shaped cakes, red or green decorations, or anything remotely Christmasy allowed on his birthday. I want to buy him things he can use all year, not festive frills to be hidden away until next year. I make sure to wake him up singing Happy Birthday, bake his favorite cake, and usually order a pizza.
We also have what I like to call a “just because I love you day” in the summertime. It is basically a birthday party in the middle of summer where my kids get a present, cake, and we have a party. I feel it helps break up the year for my son who doesn’t have to wait all year for another Birthmas day.
Unfortunately, so far I haven’t managed to get the message across to all his extended family. He still gets dual-purpose “Birthmas” presents, or I get random texts asking, “When is his birthday again?’” But I hope that everything I do as a mom helps him feel seen on that special day. I also like to remind him that all the last-minute birthday money hastily shoved in an envelope gets him triple the loot in all those post Christmas shopping sales.