Cultivating A Culture of Meaningful Birthdays

By Laura Heister

Over spring break I was celebrating three birthdays with a group of friends. During the dinner conversation my friend Rhiannon said “We need to do the birthday questions!” No one knew what birthday questions were, and we were reticent until she explained a little more.

First, the birthday person answers three questions:

What were your top three memories from the past year?

What is one thing you want to accomplish in the next year?

Subtract 5 or 10 years from your current age. What would you tell your younger self?

Then everyone says one thing they love about the birthday person.

It was a transformative exercise for our group and one I will be making a ritual in my family. Rhiannon’s questions allowed the birthday people to reflect on and share about the past year of their lives and also gave everyone else an opportunity to encourage and lift up each of them.

This kind of face-to-face encouragement can be more meaningful than any gift. For our group of friends at dinner, the birthday questions changed an annual event that – while special – was also routine into an intentional, distinctive, powerful experience for all of us.

For birthdays in the 21st century we send cards sometimes but more often post on Facebook, craft the perfect Instagram caption or compose a 140-character tweet. I don’t doubt the genuineness behind these posts but I do wonder if we sacrifice the real for appearance – the perfect photo collage of friendship, a clever hashtag instead of looking in someone’s eyes and saying “I appreciate you because…”

At dinner, Rhiannon’s birthday questions quieted the noise between us, required us to focus on each other and especially the birthday people and inspired honest appreciation. They added value to our celebration because we were celebrating each other rather than the day. They required no shopping or wrapping, and they were simple but meaningful.

I encourage you to examine the rituals in your family and friend groups. How can you add more meaning to your celebrations to honor the people rather than the party?

Laura Heister is the Vanderburgh County Teen Court Program Coordinator at Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana.