The Birthday Circle: A Ritual to Celebrate Another Year Around the Sun
The Birthday Circle is a ritual that shows children that they are loved, known, and appreciated in our families and communities. Done in a church setting, it makes good on and strengthens the promises we make to families during Child Dedication Ceremonies to help nurture the spiritual lives of young ones. It requires only a chalice and room enough for the group to gather around the child.
How It’s Done
A chalice is placed in the middle of the room. The birthday child sits behind it. Circled around is the community, maybe comprised of the other children and teachers of the program, maybe comprised of the whole congregation, maybe made up of the members of the family if done at home. The lights are dimmed or off, and the chalice is lit.
A leader begins a song. (An excellent one is “God Danced the Day You Were Born” by Andrew Lawrence (YouTube).) Other ideas are using the chorus of Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” or the Beatles’ “Happy Birthday.”
When the silence gathers after the singing, the leader invites all those in the circle to share a gift with the birthday child.
The gift can be:
- kind words, e.g. “You make me smile,” “I like your style,”
- a wish or blessing, e.g. “Happy birthday!” “May your feet walk on paths that lead to truth and love."
- a shared memory, e.g. "I remember the time we played bakery in the playhouse and had so much fun.” “One time you stood up for a kid who was being bullied and that was brave.”
When the offered words wind down, the leader says something along the lines of, “Thank you, (name of child), for sharing your journey around the sun with us. We are so glad to be part of your community.”
The ritual ends well if there is a short group sing and dance after the closing words. An upbeat version of “Come, Come Whoever You Are” reinforces the feeling of togetherness in the group and widens the circle back out from the one to the many.
Birthday Circles can be done in the RE program on the Sundays closest to the child’s birthday, or can be the occasion of a church potluck on an evening of the week. It’s important to make the Birthday Circle about the one child and not to combine them. If two children share a birthday or share a birthday week, it’s good to do a circle on the Sundays that bookend the dates.
The leader of the Birthday Circle can indicate an amount of time that there is for words to be shared, if time is an issue. “We now have five minutes to share our gifts (words) with __________ (child). Who would like to begin?”
It’s good to have adults and children in the circle. Especially if a child is not very well known by many of the other children, the adults can fill in with wishes and kind words so there is a feeling of abundance. It’s also important that all present be part of the circle. This isn’t an “on display” kind of a ritual; it’s one that literally surrounds a child with the love and support of those gathered, and is as powerful for those who witness and participate in the circle as it is for the person in the center. Sitting and being witness to the ritual without speaking is fine, too.