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Birthdays Do Matter
By Susan Hines-Brigger


The Greatest Gift
Start Celebrating
For Teens: Birthdays With a Twist
For Kids: On This Day

From the day I first met my husband, Mark, 17 years ago, we have had the same disagreement over and over again. I say birthdays are a big deal and should be celebrated. He says theyíre just another day. And, unfortunately, Iíve learned Mark is not the only person I know who believes this.

But riddle me this then: If birthdays donít matter, then why do we even celebrate Christmas? Isnít the whole holiday based on Jesusí birthday? We wouldnít think of not celebrating that, now, would we?


The Greatest Gift

And that is exactly why I firmly believe that birthdays do matteróbecause each of us matters. Now, Iím not trying to promote big parties every year with lots of extravagant presents. Iím simply lobbying for the fact that we should celebrate our birthdays for the mere fact that we exist and there is no one else on earth like us.

In his book Here and Now, Henri Nouwen perhaps expresses this sentiment best: ď...We really need to celebrate peopleís birthdays every day, by showing gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, and affection. These are ways of saying: ĎItís good that you are alive; itís good that you are walking with me on this earth. Letís be glad and rejoice. This is the day that God has made for us to be and to be together.íĒ

Itís a message I learned throughout my years of Catholic education, and one Iíve been teaching every Sunday in religious education for the past five years: You are special. There is no one else like you, and only you can bring your special gifts to your family, Church, community, etc.

Recently I saw a sign in a catalog that stated this idea very cleverly. It read, ďBe yourself. Everyone else is taken.Ē

Start Celebrating

So if weíre all for celebrating Christmas, shouldnít we feel the same way about birthdays? Here are some ideas for how to make birthdays special:

Reach out. Make a real effort to acknowledge your friendsí and familyís birthdays this year. It doesnít have to be anything expensive, just a card, note or phone call.

Give gifts that matter. Sometimes the perfect gift doesnít have to cost anything. Last Christmas I made Mark a video with pictures of our kids. He loved it and it didnít cost me anything more than my time. You could write a letter about what that person means to you or what you think is his or her best characteristic.

Start giving. The focus of most birthdays is receiving. But in honor of Christís birthday, think about turning the tables. Most parishes have giving trees during the Christmas season with the names of children and families in need. Collect a few names. Then go shopping, not just for the items on the personís list, but also for things you think he or she might enjoy.

Have a party. Not that there is any shortage of parties around Christmas time, but how about having a party in celebration of Jesusí birthday, complete with a cake and the story of Jesusí birth?

Take a look back. Haul out the baby books, photo albums and home videos. Ask your parents or older relatives to recount the story of your birth.

So perhaps the best message of Christmas is that the joy of birthdays is not so much tied to the dayóI know quite a few families who celebrate half-birthdaysóbut rather celebrating the person.


For Teens: Birthdays With a Twist

Want to add a little twist to your birthday celebration this year? Then collect presents not for yourself, but for others instead.

Recently, Iíve heard that a couple of kids at my daughterís school have asked people invited to their birthday parties to bring presents for a particular charity, instead of for the birthday boy/girl. Select a charity or organization that you are interested in and find out what they need. You could collect stuffed animals for a local childrenís hospital, items for care packages for soldiers or even pet-care items for the local animal shelter.

For Kids: On This Day

We all associate Christmas with Christís birth, but what important things happened in the world on your birthday? In all three of my kidsí baby books, I have a printout of the important events that happened on the day they were born, as well as who shares their birthday, popular movies and songs at the time of their birth and things such as how much a gallon of milk or gas cost then.

You can find out all of this information for your birthday, as well as members of your family, at various Web sites, such as, or you can check reference books at your local library.


Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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