Even if nobody in your immediate family has a birthday in February, March or April, chances are, at some point, extended family or friends will have one during that time period. And since birthdays mean celebrations, this often becomes a touchy subject if you are trying to observe an austere Lent. What is a proper way to “celebrate” something during a time period where many family and friends give up sweets, eating out, and other fun activities? What should you do if you or your children are invited to participate in such festivities even though your family is trying to set aside Lent as a more reflective season?
In my family there are two of us with possible Lenten birthdays. Billy, a February baby, and I, born in April, have birthdays that are usually in Lent. Two years ago, Billy’s birthday was on Ash Wednesday. Mine has been on Good Friday. Since these days are strict days of fasting and abstinence, it is pretty clear that any celebrating needs to be shifted to a different day. Excepting these days, let’s consider the rest of Lent.
I am one who shuns “parties” during Lent. If you’ve read my blog for an length of time, you probably realize that I am the sort of person who will find any excuse to get together with friends and alcohol and a good guacamole. Nevertheless, when Lent rolls around, I close up the liquor cabinet, put away the martini glasses, and shove the tonic water to the back of the pantry. So, when an invitation comes for a birthday party, my inclination is to decline. It’s not in keeping with the season of prayer and introspection.
But is that fair?
Consider the child born in the middle of March. That child is always going to have a Lenten birthday. Imagine of she were told, “Sorry, honey, no cake for you!” or “We’ll have a party for you in April after Easter,” or “Everybody said they couldn’t come to your party because we only have devout Catholic friends who strictly observe a 40 day fast,” or “Because it’s Lent, we’re serving tuna fish sandwiches and sugar-free ice cream at your birthday dinner.”
It’s not the child’s fault for being born during Lent.
Now, some people simply move a celebration to the closest Sunday. That’s fine. I have done that, especially when my birthday has fallen so very close to Easter. That one year, we celebrated Billy’s birthday on Mardi Gras. However, a birthday is a birthday. I don’t typically move birthday celebrations for my non-Lenten birthday children and don’t think the Lent birthdays should always have to be relocated.
At my home, your birthday, generally, means that you pick dinner and you pick dessert. Sometimes we include other people in our celebrating. Sometimes we allow the child to pick a restaurant. This year, for Billy’s ordinary time birthday, I treated 3 other families (10 additional children) to ice cream at our favorite local shop. He picked steak for dinner.
Had his birthday been in Lent, I would have done the same thing, although I would not have made steak on a Friday. It’s a special day.
A friend called me a few weeks ago, uncertain how to handle her young children’s piety. It was a early in Lent, and she was hosting a modest celebration for a friend who was turning 50. 50 is a big deal. That March birthday person should get a cake on his birthday when he turns 50, and friends and family should celebrate with him in his honor. It’s not much fun to eat cake alone. My friend’s little boys declared that they would not eat cake, having given up sweets for Lent. I suspect, a month later, that perhaps they would be less resolute. My friend’s littlest boy, though, said that he would eat cake. This was a great opportunity to teach the boys about keeping penances to oneself, both as an act of mortification, and so as to not make others feel guilty for being less gung-ho.
It’s also a good time to consider that voluntary penances are not morally binding and may be lifted without guilt for special reasons. In other words, having a slice of cake to honor someone on their birthday is not a bad thing, even if you gave up sweets for Lent.
Now. If you, the mom, made a three layer triple chocolate fudge cake with mint icing (serves 40) for your family of 4 to celebrate your baby’s first birthday, and then justified eating the leftovers for the next week and a half because you didn’t want to waste it, I’d have to disagree. Plan ahead.
I, often, make cupcakes for Lent birthdays and put the unfrosted leftovers in the freezer until Easter.
Sometimes, I make a big cake for Mardi Gras, freeze the leftovers, and use that for my birthday cake.
Sometimes, I freeze my birthday cake and use the remainder for a cake on Holy Thursday.
Usually, I try to make sure that there are enough people or the cake is small so that there are no leftovers.
This year, I ordered an ice cream cake (from our favorite local shop). Any leftovers will do just nicely in the freezer.
Speaking of this year, TODAY is my birthday. I am 40. I am really quite happy about that.
So far, this week has been fabulous, and today’s plans include a lot of spoiling of me. My sister is in town, and she’s coordinating a perfect day. She will flog children who don’t treat me like a queen. I will do another post on how wonderful my friends and family are and what we are doing to celebrate. The bottom line is that today, just today, Lent is on hold…at least Lenten sacrifices. We are eating good food and having a relaxing day. 40 just seems to be a big deal and deserving of special attention.