Birthdays, graduations, weddings, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter... Celebrations are important in the life of a family. They commemorate achievement, honor sacred institutions, provide a wonderful opportunity for remembrance of God's goodness, for honoring and encouraging our loved ones.
Dr. Leila Denmark, history's longest practicing physician, encouraged family celebrations, but she didn't think they needed to be expensive, exhausting or lavish. Again, she emphasized simplicity.
Let's make our celebrations simply special!
Hi, I’m Madia. I have eleven children and one of the greatest privileges of my life was to know Dr. Leila Denmark. She practiced pediatrics for over 75 years and was my mentor for 32 years.
I can hardly express how much she helped me, both with the children’s medical issues and family life challenges. I would love to share what she taught me with you.
How to Make Them Special
Develop a simple lifestyle where some things are reserved for memorable occasions. Don't spoil your children's fun by spoiling them. If Mom makes a special cake every week, what's the big deal about a birthday cake? If certain foods, gifts and activities are reserved for times of celebration, it makes them simply special!
"The happiest children in the world are those who have something to wish for, something to give them a thrill. But if they instantly get everything they want, there’s no thrill. Christmas was a great time for us because we received gifts that were special, things we normally didn’t get except once a year. There was an orange, nuts, raisins, toy, a doll perhaps. It was a thrill, but now a child is bought a new toy with every trip to the store. Where is the excitement? It’s kind of like...well, modern marriage. If a couple’s been living together before the wedding, they've already had all the experiences... So what’s the point in a honeymoon?" Dr. Leila Denmark
Every family is different. Which days have unique significance to your family? Parents have the freedom to make those choices. Be calculated in your choices. The days you choose will reflect and reinforce your values and priorities, what and whom you honor. Celebrations speak volumes to children. After you have designated those days, try to be consistent in your celebrations. Children come to expect and anticipate them. No one enjoys them or mourns the neglect of them more than children do.
You are creating memories for your family. It is often these happy memories which help children form a sense of identity with their larger family unit and treasured memories may help carry them through hard times in the future.
When your days of celebration come around, take time to remind everyone why you are celebrating: "Today we are celebrating Steven's graduation. He has worked very hard and completed all his requirements. Lets pray that God will give him direction for the future."
Is there unique historical significance of the day you are celebrating? Spend a little time explaining how did the things which happened on this particular day have a significant impact on our lives and culture.
Special Guests, Food and Traditions
Special occasions are a time to invite special guests- extended family and friends who mean a lot to you, It shows our children that we value and respect these relationships. It also provides an opportunity for kind hospitality to those who are lonely and need encouragement.
How about special recipes, dishes and traditions?
We Bowmans fix the same recipes every Thanksgiving. On ordinary days, our family does focus on nutrition, but taste supersedes nutrition at Thanksgiving. We fix favorite recipes passed down from friends and family that are easy, and everyone shares in the cooking. It is also the time our children polish and use silver serving dishes which typically sit in the china cabinet year to year. After dinner, everyone gathers in the livingroom to sing Thanksgiving hymns and recount God's blessings from the previous year. One person is designated to share a Bible devotional and close with prayer. These are some of our traditions.
In a large family, birthdays provide a wonderful opportunity to focus on and give individual attention. When our children were young, birthday parties were one of the rare occasions that we catered to individual food choices, gift preferences, and activities. The birthday girl or boy got to choose the menu.
Special Clothes and Decor
Special occasions are a great time to dress up and arrange a few decorations to commemorate the event. Dressing up shows respect for the occasion. This doesn't mean spending inordinate amounts of time on our appearance or lavish amounts of money on decorations. (Dollar General or Walmart can be a great source for festive décor.) Again, stick with simplicity.
We live in an very casual, but hyper-active culture. (It's ironic that those two characteristics coexist) Dr. Denmark bemoaned this mode of living...
"This is a day of casual living. We have casual clothes, casual houses, and casual everything; and casual means without care... How can we have patience to teach our children manners and customs when our bodies are constantly in a state of tension... How can we teach our children a good way of life when we live likethis?"
Holidays were certainly festive for our family when the children were very young. My mother-in-law was of Lebanese heritage and a wonderful gourmet cook. “Sitti” (Arabic for grandma) and Granddaddy often had a fabulous Middle Eastern feast waiting for us when we arrived to celebrate. I encouraged the children to dress up, use extra-good table manners, help clear, and be sure to thank Sitti and Granddaddy before we left. The event always began and ended with lots of kisses and hugs. I will never forget the little ones sitting around lovely tables set with china and candles, dressed in frilly dresses, smart little suits, and bow ties.
My husband and I both come from gift-giving families. We love to give presents. I often do remind myself that it really is "the thought that counts" and that gift-giving needs to stay within our budget. I also remind myself, that the gift of time and attention in our children's lives is far more valuable than expensive birthday presents. Fewer, carefully thought-out presents are usually more appreciated in the long run than a mountain of gifts which lose their interest and clutter the home.
Special, Not Perfect
When it is all said and done, no celebration this side of Heaven is going to be perfect. (unless you watch the Hallmark channel!) No matter how carefully Mom prepares for this special event, she should not expect perfection. The birthday boy may not like his present... a dessert was forgotten and overcooked... there was a glitch with the wedding party...
It is okay if things aren't perfect! Events don't have to be perfect to bememorable.
You are not a fairy godmother. Don't feel guilty or too disappointed if things go wrong. Enjoy what did work out, and the joy that came with the occasion. So often kids take their cues from how Mom is responding to a particular event. Here is an opportunity to model a positive response.
When a mother is helping plan a special occasion, it's such a temptation to over-extend one's time and financial commitment. Weddings have become a big business. Our daughter, Leila, was married recently and we were so blessed to have the help of many family members and friends, which made the event all the more special. Even with all the help, it was still easy to stress over details. I kept reminding myself of my own parent's wedding. The following is my mother's recollection:
"Daddy was a minister and Mama really wanted us to get married in his little country church. Your dad went out and bought himself a new suit and I bought a pretty, but simple weddingdress. The ladies in the church decorated the sanctuary with pine branches and white lilies. The ladies also made food for the reception. It was a small wedding and a small reception, but we were very happy and thought it was beautiful!"