Having a child is one of the most joyous occasions in our lives. It's something we want to share with our family and friends, something we hope means as much to them as it does to us. There are many traditional celebrations we use to mark their entry into the world, or their first milestones. We have baby showers, christenings, first birthdays, name days. But when is enough... well, enough?
Mia Freedman raised this question, wondering if the proliferation of new milestone celebrations are nothing but millstones around the necks of those expected to attend. Sure, your wedding or new baby might be the centre of your universe, but do they really warrant not one, but a series of events? In the case of weddings, there are often engagement parties, kitchen teas, hen's nights... and that's not counting the wedding itself, which may take place over multiple locations or even multiple days. With babies there are showers, baby-moons, christenings, name days. Some of these celebrations cost guests often substantial amounts of money. Presents, outfits (especially for bridal parties), travel (to sometimes exotic locations), accommodation, hosting parties on the celebrators behalf, expensive gifts. So how do you celebrate anything without feeling like you are participating in a gift-grabbing circus?
My own wedding was straightforward. No engagement party, no kitchen tea, a joint hens/bucks night with the wedding and reception in one place over a few hours. We were uncomfortable with events that traditionally require a gift, so they were automatically out, except the wedding itself where we requested that people purchase carbon offsets rather than gifts if they were comfortable to do so. When we were expecting Avery, I craved a celebration that would let me share my overwhelming excitement over his impending arrival. In the end, I didn't like the rather naff traditional baby showers, and certainly wasn't comfortable with the central gift-giving aspect of the event, so we skipped it. After he was born, we started wondering about a name-giving ceremony, a meet-your-loved-ones celebration... it never ends.
Right now we're considering his first birthday party. In an effort to avoid a never-ending rotation of 'events' that we would be asking people to attend (especially given we were only married a few years ago) we decided to save his name-giving ceremony until his first birthday and combine both events. But here's the rub. In all this effort to avoid the crazy me-me-me circus, what if we've missed the chance to celebrate this amazing part of our life? What if we've been so busy trying to avoid the commercialisation of the gift-giving that we've prevented our family and friends being able to share our happiness, and the joy that comes from them having a new grandchild, niece or nephew?
These moments in our life are supposed to be about taking the time to celebrate the occasions that most matter with the people that most matter. They're not about the official photographs in multiple locations, or the latest gadget gifts. Having said that, they are about that special something. A prettier outfit than your regular day-to-day clothes, food you don't cook for a regular Saturday afternoon, more ceremony than your average get-together. There are items from my childhood that I treasure which were gifts for a birthday, or from my christening. I love them because they came from my family and I've cherished them my whole life. I have photographs I love of my childhood from birthdays, weddings, christenings... they show myself, my family and my friends dressed up in our best clothes, excited to be at a special event. I want Avery to have that too.
While we aren't naturally formal people, I want Avery to know that we made the effort to welcome him into his family in a deliberate way. I want him to look back and see how happy his family and friends were to be with him on his special days, the effort that they went to to participate in his life. I don't want his birthday to be about expensive presents, but I do want him to have items in his life imbued with a sense of history and love. I didn't want loads of presents at a baby shower, but I do regret that I won't have photographs of me, heavily pregnant and showing my excitement that I will soon get to meet him. And this is what it's really about. Avoiding commercialism and extreme parties doesn't mean we should forget to share special occasions, create memories and celebrate. Life shouldn't be a series of forgettable days.