Celebrating Birthdays during Lent

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.


27 thoughts on “Celebrating Birthdays during Lent

  1. We have three Lenten birthdays and we always consider them a feast day and therefore outside the normal rules of Lent. But we are prone to moving birthday celebrations around anyway, Lent or not, depending on Davey's work schedule, so moving to a convenient Sunday does not bother us. But we NEVER decline other people's hospitality or good will, for that does not quite seem in keeping with a Christian spirit. So whenever an elderly friend offers the children a cookie, they happily accept – guilt free. 🙂

  2. Happy birthday!!

    Little Brother's birthday always falls during Lent. We always figure that all “dessert-related” bets are off when it comes to celebrating a birthday.

    And last night at Folk Group practice, we celebrated a member's birthday (as usual, with cake–sometimes we have brownies instead). It's Lent. But nobody declined. It's a birthday, and birthdays are special.

  3. Happy Birthday! May this be your best year yet!

  4. Happy birthday dear Michelle. We have three Lenten birthdays here as well, and we always celebrate! We are converts from the Baptist faith, and if my in-laws ask us out for pizza (which our family of 7 would never do) we go, rather than offend them and have them think more ill of the Catholic faith. This becomes a sacrifice in itself, because we're sacrificing our Lenten observances as to not offend. (Does this make sense?) Hope you have a wonderful day and that you get super spoiled!

  5. First of all, Happy Birthday! I, too, loved 40!

    Secondly, we have two potential Lent b-days, and unless they fall on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, we celebrate. I agree, it's not their fault they were born during Lent. I've always felt that part of our being a pro-life family was to celebrate birth to the fullest, so that is what we do.

  6. Happy birthday, Michelle!

    I'm nodding my head in agreement with Lenten birthdays. The person can't control when they are born! All great points! My birthday is always in March, and we always celebrate it, whether it means moving a few days or so.

  7. Happy Birthday, Michelle! XXXOOO (since we can't be there to give you real ones). I hope everyone spoils you well today!

    While I believ in Lenten sacrifices and observe them, you are a particular age only once in your life, so I really think birthdays should be celebrated. I agree with Marcy – you are sacrificing your sacrifice for a birthday celebration. (The celebration can be low-key.) When you help others celebrate their birthdays you are following the dictum that it is more blessed to give than to receive – another reason not to feel guilty. When it's your birthday, you are giving others the opportunity to give – another reason not to feel guilty.

    So enjoy your birthday! And reflect on all the successes you have had so far in your life – there are many! God bless you & may you many, many more.


    Mom (& Dad)

  8. Happy Birthday! We don't have any Lent birthdays in our immediate family, but my inlaws have a bunch of lent bithdays. I'm certain they propbably treated them as feast days too. No holds bar.
    We will very likely have a lent birthday next year though, and I hadn't even thought of this sort of thing. Good post!

  9. Happy birthday!

    The one time we moved a birthday was when the twins had Good Friday birthday. It drove Bill crazy. We also moved a birthday to celebrate it with him when he was home on leave during a deployment. That drove him crazy too. 🙂 He's a birthday celebrator ON THEY DAY. I feel like it's a nice day to celebrate when it's convenient, but I think I'm just not a partier at heart. We DID have cake yesterday, but I gave away part of my piece. That had nothing to do with Lent, though, and everything to do with pregnancy indigestion.

  10. We move all birthdays in the family to the closest Sunday. We've done it for years so if we had a lent birthday that's what we would do. Others parties we'd go to and enjoy in general unless it was meat on Friday.

    Happy happy birthday!!!!

    I'm closing in on 45 and honestly I think the 40's are the best.

  11. Happy birthday!!!!

  12. Happy, happy birthday!

  13. Happy Birthday, Michelle! Hope you have had a fabulous day!

    This was a great post with lots to think about. We are not birthday 'movers', so we do celebrate on the day barring Ash Wednesday or Good Friday. We make a small cake and either eat it all (we're good at that) or save the rest to Sunday. Like others have said, we treat it like a 'feast' day.

  14. Happy belated birthday. My mom's birthday is March 29, but I can't remember ever having any discussion about it being during Lent. It just was… My family gets a lot more excited about kids' birthdays, I guess.

    Thanks for the advice over at Faith & Family. : )

  15. I have an always in Lent child (but thankfully, on the Annunciation so it's always a FWO day) and a sometimes in Lent child.

    Dh is always in Advent – I am the only one who is not a fasting child.

    Having said that, Happy, Happy Birthday!

    • Actually, there are a VERY FEW cases where March 25 is not in Lent, but Easter would have to be March 22 thru 25 for that to happen.

    • Annunciation is March 25, unless moved when March 25 falls on Sunday or in Holy Week or Easter Week. If Easter is very early (March 22-25), March 25 is in Easter Week, not in Lent, as happened in 2008. So it’s not quite right that March 25 is always in Lent.

  16. Just got back from our Warrior Vacation and catching up on your blog. Happy, happy Birthday!!! I bypassed 40 a few years back – it's a great age!!

  17. Happy birthday, Michelle! Enjoy your 40th!

  18. Happy Happy Birthday Michelle! All of our birthday's are in October – December, but our newest addition decided to have a March birthday, so next year we'll have to face a possible Lent birthday. It will be treated as a feast day, unless it happens to fall on Good Friday or something of that nature. In that case I think we would just move it.

  19. Happy Birthday!

    I wouldn't celebrate my Lenten birthday on a Friday – I'd move it to Thursday or Saturday – but we do celebrate birthdays during Lent. A friend once told me that the best way to turn a child away from their faith is to completely avoid the celebration of Lenten birthdays. We don't go overboard, but we do a special dinner and dessert.

  20. HAPPY, HAPPY, Birthday!!!! Much love to you,and love this post!

  21. Happy belated birthday!

    Well reasoned post. Yeah, the bets are off for birthdays during Lent.

    I can not believe you are 40! You are very pretty.

    I have been meaning to ask how you like Gaw-gia? I guess Columbus is your closest “big town?”

  22. This is my first time reading your blog. This year my husband's birthday was Ash Wednesday and our oldest son's was Good Friday. We normally celebrate birthdays on the day, but this year felt the need to move the celebration for both of them. We had a wonderful Mardi Gras and a fabulous Holy Saturday! I liked this post and will return to read more. Thanks!

  23. I posted on catholicallyear.comand on Facebook account Carl.moore.7792 about this tonight. I have a different birthday-at-bad-time-of-year problem: I never got a school birthday celebration due to August 2 birthday. I urged that no one be shortchanged regarding birthday celebration.

  24. To correct this post because I don’t think anyone noticed nor said anything but you have to be 21 to participate in Lent. Yes children can take a part of it but holding them 100% to the standard guidelines of Lent is not Gods way. At least in the Christian Faith. Allow your child cake.

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