Just last month month my son celebrated his 30th birthday. Coming from a large family myself and with four children of my own, birthdays have never passed by without some fanfare. We believe each life is a gift from the Hand of God and deserves notice and celebration in some manner. The traditions in our family are like this: Upon rising in the morning, the birthday celebrant has his or her ears pulled–one for each year of life; and an additional one for good luck.
Later in the day, we enjoy a meal together, and then comes a traditional favorite, an ice cream cake. The candles are lit, we all sing Happy Birthday in English, followed by a traditional Polish tune called “Stolat!” It is a rousing, upbeat and joyous melody sung in the native tongue which is intoned to celebrate every happy occasion. My ancestors brought this melody with them from Eastern Europe, and generations later we still sing this greeting. It translates into: “May you live a hundred years.” (As the Polish-born Holy Father Pope John Paul II would remark when he was well into his 80s: “It is easier sung than done!”)
This year, however, my son announced early in the morning: “Mom, please no cake, no singing this year.” I felt a little sad, but reluctantly agreed. It was his birthday, and after all, he came home for the weekend and would most likely spend the day with his girlfriend. She said birthdays were hardly noted by her family–maybe a quick text message with a birthday greeting. So, off they went to dinner and a movie. The cake sat in the freezer. I felt something was missing that entire day. Little did I anticipate that my son did also. He and his girlfriend arrived home in the evening. He smiled a sheepish smile. He wanted his cake. We all gathered around the table, and he smiled again as he blew out the candles!
Traditions and celebrations remain an important part of family life. We take them for granted on some level–not realizing the true depth of our family ties. We are uniquely and unrepeatably bound to one another in family life. No matter how simple the noting of special dates and events, it is the love of family and connectedness to one another that makes family celebrations so important. These moments are to be celebrated and cherished. These days actually reveal to who we are in relation to one another– and how wonderful it is to share these times with loved ones. Celebrating one another is truly an expression of love itself. These are “our” moments which belong to no one else but to our family members and those blessed enough to witness the celebrations along with us.
Anniversaries of marriage are equally important. Husband and wife should set aside an evening just for themselves. A quiet dinner and reminiscence of their first date is a beautiful tradition. This is a sweet reminder of what brought them to the place and when they decided to commit a lifetime together. Pull out the wedding album and relive the joy and closeness of family. Recalling the wedding vows they made covers all the situations of life they have already lived together, whether it be 10, 25, or 50 years. “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” No loopholes there. And so much for which to be grateful over the years.
When a couple notes an anniversary and truly celebrates the good times and appreciates having survived the bad, they realize how very much they have grown in love together. And how rich the living out of their vows has made their lives. The recognize and actually feel God’s love for them–a love which sustained them through the bad times. They can imagine God smiling at their good times–especially the ones He Himself had a hand in creating: the overwhelming joy at the birth of a child.
In celebrating these milestones, we are actually expressing gratitude to God for His abundant blessings upon our lives. We are saying to God, “Thank you for these gifts to us. Thank you for allowing us to experience Your love through those You have sent us to love and who love us.”
And so, each celebration of family life is a thank you gift given to the Father in Heaven–the Author of all life. He truly deserves as much!