When I think about birthday traditions, I think of a humorous conversation with my then 5-year-old daughter. She asked:
“Mama – why do we have birthday parties?”
“Well, we love you so much and we’re so very glad you were born and so we celebrate that day.”
“Oh… and so we can have cake?”
10 Unique Birthday Traditions to Make a Birthday Celebration Spectacular
Here is a list of unique birthday traditions that will delight your kids. A simple birthday celebration becomes special and memorable when you add in just one or two little touches that set the day apart. Birthday traditions don’t have to be complicated or expensive to be wonderful. In this list, you’ll find some fun ideas to choose from. This post contains Amazon affiliate links, and I receive compensation from qualified purchases through them.
1. Birthday Person Compliment Time
What a great way to surround a birthday kid (or grown-up) with love! Write down or share compliments about the birthday person. If you’re having a birthday party you can make a birthday wishes jar and let the recipients enjoy reading compliments whenever they want a boost.
You can turn this into a birthday ceremony by sharing compliments at a birthday dinner.
Kelly: One of our favorite birthday rituals is the compliment time we do on the birthday person’s birthday dinner. We go around and around saying all the things we love about the person and they just accept it they can’t say no or I’m not that great, they can just say thank you.
Or give compliments as a wonderful way to wake up and know they’re loved.
LHB: Blow up a ton of balloons and write something special about them on each one, then fill the hallway outside their bedroom door with the balloons so when they wake up in the morning and walk out, they’re greeted with a really special start to their day.
2. A Special Way to Wake Up
Your family’s birthday tradition for waking up can be as simple as singing Happy Birthday right away or inviting your child to snuggle with you and look at baby pictures first thing. Here are a couple more birthday wake up traditions:
Elizabeth: We start every birthday by waking up the birthday boy or girl with a “Long John” or doughnut with a birthday candle and the “happy birthday” song. We always take a picture with the birthday boy or girl and their Long John (which has lead to some crazy morning hair pictures)!
Eileen: When my kids go to sleep the night before their birthday, I’ll decorate their doorway with streamers and balloons so when they open the door in the morning they have a whole celebration to walk through. My teenage son is starting to lose his patience for this little tradition LOL!
3. Let Your Child Pick Dinner
In our family, for birthday celebrations, my kids pick what kind of cake they want to have. One year we had a stack of marshmallows (which we took out back and roasted)! Another time my son asked for a “Strawberry Elephant Cake” which was only accomplished because I had a tiny elephant cookie cutter and cut sliced strawberries into the elephant shape.
Other families have a tradition of letting the birthday celebrant choose a special meal they love or a place to eat out for dinner.
Barbara: “Younger grand kids go with me and we pick out a cake to bake and decorate together. I than cook their favorite meal. My 19 yr old daughter and I always buy a Dairy Queen ice cream cake and just the two of us eat the entire cake. It does take us a few days to eat the cake. We do this on her birthday and on mine.”
Jessica: The big deal at my house is that the birthday kid gets to eat anything he wants for dinner. The little ones are usually easy… Like Mac and Cheese. But the older ones are always after homemade sushi:)
Sarah A birthday crown and the Seuss birthday book, which we only wear and read on that day. A special breakfast of whatever he chooses. And cupcakes!
4. Make a Memory Keepsake of the Year
Whether you make a photo album, or a framed photo with well wishes, a keepsake that highlights the past year can be a fun birthday tradition. I’ve heard of people who have birthdays near Christmas receiving a commemorative birthday ornament each year. Other ideas include a t-shirt, a calendar, or adding to a personalized journal each year.
Keepsake traditions stress me out when I think “But I didn’t start when they were a baby!” Or “What if I do this a couple years and then not on others??” But really, even creating a memory keepsake only one or two times gives your kids some special mementos from childhood. My son will have a letter from me from his first birthday, and a list of questions he answered this year for his eighth, and just pictures in between, and that’s fine. I trust he’ll like the little gems he gets.
Rhonda: We put a picture of our son in a black frame with a very large matting around it. We display it at the party and ask all of our guests to write a small note to our little man. He now has a small collection of frames displayed in his room with special memories written on each one!
Kim: I take photos from each month and special occasions and put them in a collage poster (costco 7 dollars) I hang up the ones from the earlier years at the party too. It is a simple and easy way to view each year. And the guests always love to see them.
5. Have a Birthday Treasure Hunt!
A birthday treasure hunt is an extremely fun birthday event. When kids are younger, doing a treasure hunt in the house is easiest. As they get older, you can make a treasure hunt around the neighborhood, and they can ride bikes between clues!
How I set up a treasure hunt: We write the last clue first that leads to the present and hide the present there, then write the next clue before that and hide that clue, then the one before that – working backwards until we have a beginning clue to put into an envelope. This year we gave our son a Magic Set (perfect for an 8 year old, he’s been too cute with it so far…), so I had fun with the magic theme by making his clues on the backs of playing card. It doesn’t take long. And if you don’t want to write clues, you can also try the fun hot/cold idea below.
Do you have golden birthdays? When you turn the same age as the day of your birthday, like turning 8 on the 8th?
Rachel: I have a treasure hunt game for them to find their presents in the morning…Eg…”go to the sweetest place in the house”…they would then find the next clue near the sugar bowl..it would then have another clue etc. etc. I would do this about 10 times before the final reveal of where the presents are. Sometimes there would be presents along the way with the next clue taped to it.
Megan: My Mom started playing hot cold with my gifts. She would hide them all over the house. I used to love this and it makes the opening of gifts last longer. I’m excited to do this with my son when he’s older.
6. Make a Birthday Crown
This can be made of fabric or felt (you can find adorable fabric crowns on Etsy.) Or you can simply make one out of paper. It could even be a birthday party activity – you cut out the crowns and let the kids decorate.
7. Recite a Special Birthday Chant
Maybe you sing Happy Birthday, maybe not, but what if your family has their own twist on this tradition?
Kim: I don’t know but I’ve been told, Someone here is ____years old. Bad news is we sing off key! Good news is we sing for free! Happy (happy) Birthday (birthday) Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday!
Mary Price My family has a tradition that’s at least five generations old. After singing Happy Birthday and before blowing out the candles the whole family recites the following poem: “Many happy returns to the day of thy birth, many seasons of joy be given, and may our dear Father prepare you on earth for a beautiful birthday in Heaven.” Then we clap and chant 1…2…3…etc, up to the celebrant’s age. (It’s a lot of clapping at a grandparent’s birthday!)
8. Special Decorations Just for Birthdays
Turn a simple birthday celebration into something very special with the way you decorate, and it doesn’t have to be over the top! We have a fabric birthday banner we hang every year. It’s come with us to parks and grandparent’s houses. You can find a birthday bunting like this one and hang it up at each birthday for a sweet tradition.
9. Make a Special Event That’s Just for Your Family
Traditions should come out of what your family really loves – don’t continue things that don’t work. Your family could enjoy something as small as a hike, a bowling trip, or as big as a trip to Hawaii, but they should suit your family, not what your friends or in-laws love.
Helen I don’t know if we will keep this up, but our current tradition (started at the beginning of last year) is a family trip bowling and then out for cake on the afternoon of the persons birthday. My son was 3 when we started this and we did it for all family members… (Me, my husband and him so far)…
Jennifer: The 10th birthday is big in our family. You can only add a digit 2x in your life, 10 & 100. We take a big trip somewhere none of us has ever been before. We start talking about it when they turn 8. Have to make a decision when they turn 9 so mom & dad can make plans and save some money. For my son’s 10th birthday we went to Honolulu, HI. It takes lots of planning but is so much fun. My 6 yr old is already thinking about where he wants to go. Can’t wait to see where we end up.
10. Embrace Calamity
Some of the best birthday traditions are born out of birthday disasters. One time when we were kids, my mom was sick in bed on my birthday. She was feeling too crummy to do much, but told us we could bring cake into the bedroom and unwrap presents sitting on her bed. We had birthday parties on the bed for years after that because it was so much fun.
Barb: For something that became just a silly family tradition, one year we forgot candles on someone’s birthday. My husband went and got his big red Mag-lite & ‘illuminated’ the cake that way (the bbq grill lighter has also been used) but that has become the family tradition. No candles — a flashlite or lighters
Tips for Creating Birthday Traditions:
Many of us have some pretty fun memories of birthdays, and we want to create these special memories for our kids, too. Here’s how you can make birthday traditions your kids really love:
- Remember that you don’t have to get complicated to make something meaningful (though if you’re into planning elaborate shin-digs, by all means, enjoy yourself!). As a parent, your stress level and ability to be present will make the most difference – so go with what feels good to YOU.
- Traditions can change over time. You don’t have to hold onto a family tradition if it’s no longer feeling right! Here are some more ideas about changing traditions.
- Different kids may enjoy different things. Thinking about the individual you’re celebrating and what makes THEM feel loved will help you think of the best birthday traditions for them.
Cheers! Happy Birthday!
Alissa Zorn is an author, and founder of the website Overthought This. She's a coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa is certified through the International Coach Federation and got her Trauma-Informed Coaching certification from Moving the Human Spirit. She wrote Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection, and is always following curiosity to find her next creative endeavor.