Autumn really hits full force at our house in October. In addition to the usual autumn activities of cleaning up the garden and yard, getting the house ready for colder weather, and raking the seemingly endless supply of leaves our neighbor's tree dumps in our yard, we have quite a few birthdays to celebrate. And all within a few days of each other. As with other celebrations, it has been exciting to see new traditions and rythms emerging in our family.
On each child's birthday, we celebrate as a family with a few small gifts in the morning and the child's choice of dinner and dessert. This year, with the start of school, we added a special acknowledgement during our morning circle time.
|F looking a little suspicious|
at our request to blow out his
candles. Oh, and he really
liked his "gnome hat."
So here's how it goes on a birthday at our house: On the day before the child's birthday we set out his/her birthday ring. I believe this is a German tradition (which we have borrowed) and we all love it. S and F selected where their candles would sit (there would be five and three this year!) and where the little woodland characters would sit in and out of the ring. For those of you who are not familiar with this, the birthday ring contains 12 holes to fill with candles (one for each of the child's years up to the age of twelve) and little wooden decorations. It's lovely to have the child set it up on her own when she's old enough, and to see the candles beginning to fill up the ring. Plus, I have to say it always seems kind of gross to eat cake that some kid blew all over while blowing out the candles on the birthday cake. I like to spare my guests that gesture. This fits the bill nicely.
|S at morning cirlce|
with her new doll
I'll use S's recent birthday here as the example. Before breakfast, she got to open her presents as we sang Happy Birthday to her. During the morning circle, I read her the Birthday Story from Gateways while lighting one candle at each appropriate moment in the story. It is quite a lovely story, and I regret only having just discovered it. It will be part of my children's birthday rituals from here on out. Then F and I sang to her again, and she blew out the candles on her birthday ring. This will go similarly when it is F's birthday.
In the meantime, we had "The Big Party." This is one of the only times of the year when we get a fairly large amount of family together (about 20 people or so). The party has always been just for family, and I think it will remain so. When S requested to invite a friend from the neighborhood, I explained to her that in our family, we celebreate birthdays as a family. The kids have been to plenty of "kid" parties, and enjoyed them, but it's not something I ever think we'll do. She seemed to understand and take it just fine, and we did make an extra party favor in case her friend happened to drop in, as she often does.
As we have only just begun our Waldorf homeschooling journey, I was faced with the expected dilemnas: What about gifts? Toys? The whole idea of a huge party in and of itself seems so not...well...Waldorf-y. So we did our best. I have seen innumerable posts on Waldorf group sites regarding the toy and gift dilemna. It seems to be something that we all struggle with. How can we let people know, without offending them or passing judgement, what we deem acceptable for gifts for our children? And how do we not fall into the trap of teaching our kids to be greedy and materialistic? I was tempted to ask people to not bring presents, but after much debating, and for several personal reasons, we decided to go with the giving of gifts. This is how I handled it. I sent out an e-mail to most of the people who were likely to buy gifts for the kids. And this is what it said:
"Hello! It's that time of year again. Birthday season. Some of you have already started asking about what the kids would like for their birthdays, so I have attached a wish list. The items on the list have been chosen by the children from their very favorite catalogs. For safety and ecological reasons, we are trying to eliminate or at least cut down vastly on plastic toys in our home. The toys on the list also fit in nicely with the Waldorf philosophy, which is what we are using in homeschooling the children. Thanks so much for your support (or at least tolerance!) in this!"
Hopefully I didn't offend anyone. If I did, no one mentioned it, and I'm happy to say, that this actually worked! As people purchased items from the list, I sent out updates letting everyone know what had been purchased. Seems like a lot of work, but it was so worth it to have the kids get quality toys that they wanted, will last, and fit in with our philosophy. I should mention that there were a few pleasant surprises too, from those relatives who do really understand where we're coming from. :)
In keeping with all of the fairy tales we read, and my kids' (and yes, my own) slight obsession with gnomes, the kids decided they wanted an "enchanted forest" party. What? A themed party? Yikes! I decided to go with it though, and it was so fun. For party favors, the kids and I made each child a little gnome terrarium to take home. I made a cake in the shape of a big mushroom and made little marzipan gnomes (one boy, one girl) on top and the kids scattered leaves they had collected around the base of the mushroom. It was pretty cute, actually. S wore her gnome party skirt that I made for her, and F wore his gnome T-shirt that I made for him (at 11:30 the night before the party.)
|S with the tree blocks|
and some home made gnomes
After the party, the kids were able to sit down and enjoy their new toys, which I had already made room for in the playroom so they wouldn't be overhwelmed by choices the next day. I have really enjoyed watching the kids' play evolve as they are using more toys from nature. Baskets of shells, feathers, acorns, stones, and tree blocks have completely overshadowed the more "traditional" toys they used to play with. They have had playsilks since S was less than a year old, but they are getting more use now than ever. This comforts me in my decision to be a little more outspoken about what is okay for my kids to have. I am truly realizing, although I always suspected, that less is so much more when it comes to children's playthings. I'm looking forward to days ahead when I don't have to purge the playroom of things they no longer play with because the toys they do have will be enjoyed for so many years to come, and through many stages of development. And I can't wait to see what the kids put on their wish list for next year....