How to make a Christmastime Birthday Special

My daughter was born on December 28 - right between holidays and in the middle of the week when most people are absolutely exhausted and tired of the hustle-bustle and socializing. I wasn't sure how to celebrate that first year - how could we make her birthday feel set apart and special?

I received a gift that December - the gift of a great idea - and it’s given us a creative way to slip into birthday mode in the midst of the holidays.

It’s the Birthday Tree.

On Abby’s birthday each year, I take the Christmas ornaments off the tree and transform it into the Birthday Tree. The first few years I bought new ribbon and shimmering balls in the theme colors.

On her first birthday, the theme was Angels:

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I found ribbon in soft pastels with hints of golden glitter. Guests brought an angel ornament and I added in the ornaments we already had that referenced angels. I love this picture because the painting in the background was me, painted by my grandmother but it looked so much like Abby - she thought it was her for years!

Vintage angel cake toppers, wooden angels from our whirligig, angel tree ornaments and mercury glass candles surround the homemade carrot cake.

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Birthday #2 was a vintage 1940’s theme. I chose ribbon in patterns and colors that referenced our favorite children's books from that era.

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Birthday #3 was the Princess Birthday and Abby was ready to help decorate her tree - so much fun!!

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Birthday #4 was a polka dot theme - all the ribbons were spotted and wrapping paper too! On this birthday, I decorated with old photos of the birthday girl.

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Another year, the theme was ballet to match her passion for dance and the kids were all old enough to help make a Bûche de Noël for her.

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As Abby got older, we reused some of these original ribbons, mixing them and hanging what felt right that year. We decorated with the ornaments she had received each year. Some years there was more of a theme than others. As I look back, there are a few years when we didn't make much of the birthday tree and there are no photos.

One year, when life circumstances had made the holidays particularly painful for me, I took the Christmas tree and decorations down right after Christmas (I needed it to be over) and made the Birthday Tree out of a large branch from our yard. It felt like a fresh start to a new year as well as a special “tree” for my girl.

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When my kids were babies, I made up little songs for them. Abby’s was sung to the tune of Hark the Herald Angels Sing perhaps because she came at Christmastime. I’ll never forget the look on her face at the age of 3 when we were sitting in church and she heard the entire congregation singing “her song”. There is joy to be found in the imperfect and having a birthday at the holidays is one of those lovely limitations that inspires creativity.

I’m not sure yet what this year’s theme will be - perhaps Hygge, since my girl is now 13 and loves that style. Looks like I’ll be shopping the after Christmas sales to find little wooden ornaments and creamy neutral textures.

Do you have a family birthday during the holidays? What has your family done to make it feel special?

Homemade Advent Calendars

Happy December 1st!! Can you believe it’s here already?? We put our tree up last night - the earliest date ever for our family and I’m loving it! I’m ready for the music, the cookie-making, the Advent season at church, and that joyful energy of anticipation and celebration.

Today I’m sharing a sweet tradition - making homemade paper Advent calendars.

Years ago, I found a cardstock template with the little windows already cut out but that product hasn’t been available for awhile, so my kids have been making their own. Here’s how we do it…

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1) Use the back of an old advent calendar as a template, tracing the little window openings.

2) Using an exacto knife and a self-healing mat, carefully cut along the lines, leaving one side still attached.

3) Turn the page over so the pencil lines won’t show.

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4) Use high quality colored pencils to create a design that covers the entire front of the paper. Christmas books, cards or magazines can inspire the design as well as favorite things like sports teams or pets.

This one tells the Christmas story…

This one tells the Christmas story…

This one reveals what was top of mind for my 10 year old boy one year…

This one reveals what was top of mind for my 10 year old boy one year…

5) Number your windows.

6) Place a matching - sized sheet of paper underneath and trace the shape of the windows onto it.

7) Decorate the bottom page so little images or words fill the places the windows will reveal when opened.

8) Use a permanent glue stick to seal the two pages together.

9) Hang your Advent calendar and open the numbered windows for December 1-25.

Here’s Abby’s for this Christmas.

Here’s Abby’s for this Christmas.

Have FUN and take JOY, friends!! Let me see what your kids make - in the comments here or on Instagram Merry Christmas!!

The Lonely Scarecrow

Since I can’t help but read children’s picture books ANY time of the year and ESPECIALLY not in Fall, here’s another installment in the series, Through the Seasons with Children’s Literature - Fall edition. This week’s book is Tim Preston’s “The Lonely Scarecrow” which I bought for the gorgeous cover, but fell in love with for the sweet story and Maggie Kneen’s vibrant illustrations. They are done in a raised texture which children (and adults) can’t resist touching. I’ve written some lesson plans and ideas for using this book with your children so you can create memories around another Fall favorite.

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I also recorded another video of me reading the story, so if you’d like 8 free minutes, mama, you can park your littles in front of the video and I’ll entertain them. Or perhaps YOU need someone to read YOU a story? Then, cuddle up and I’ll read to you too.

Children can narrate the story by writing or drawing what they remember or, if they aren’t yet writers, dictating it to you. I’ve also had students create their own scarecrow with colored pencils, scraps of fabric, etc… Here’s an example…

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Enjoy this sweet book! Next week I’ll post one about Thanksgiving and then, (oh my!) we’ll be ready to look at holiday books! Happy reading!

xo

Jill