One of the traditions my kids love most during the Christmas season is making a birthday cake for Jesus. We usually do this on Christmas Eve, or sometimes on December 23, so we can have a cake for Jesus’ birthday party.
We decorate the cake differently every year. One year we put the gingerbread nativity on top of it. Another year we simply wrote “Happy Birthday.” Some years we cover the cake with lots of sprinkles, other years we simply spread icing. Every year we like to add candles. I think we’ve settled on one for each person in our family, though 2,000+ candles were suggested at one point.
With so many sweets and desserts already in our home over the holidays, I sometimes wonder why we’ve chosen to add another into the mix. For us, the point is to mark Christmas as the day Christ was born in the same way we celebrate our birthdays. Jesus is real. He was really born. He still lives. He needs a cake. It’s just what we do when we celebrate birthdays of people we love.
So when do we have cake?
I know a lot of families celebrate Christmas with Santa, and that’s great. “Doing Santa” doesn’t eliminate the possibility of having a cake, nor does it mean the parents are syncretistic pagans. I’ve known plenty of godly men and women who include Santa as part of their Christmas traditions and still teach their kids that Christmas is about Christ.
That said, our family doesn’t “do Santa” in the traditional sense. Our kids know all about Santa, the reindeer, the gifts & coal, along with the historical St. Nicholas, his generosity, and his gentle Christlikeness. We hang stockings and everyone in the family spends the month of Advent thinking of small treats and gifts for others and secretly slipping them into the stockings. It is really fun to watch the stockings go from skinny to bulging as the month progresses.
Since we don’t do Santa, our Christmas mornings look a little different than many. We focus the whole day on Jesus’ birthday party.
We start with breakfast – homemade cinnamon rolls, hot chocolate, sausages, fruit salad – and once tummies are full and the kitchen is clean (and usually lunch preparations have begun), we read the full text of the Christmas story that we’ve read in pieces during Advent. We sing some of the carols we’ve worked hard to learn during our Advent celebration, letting each person pick their favorite. Then we open presents. The unique thing about Jesus’ birthday party is that all the attendees get the gifts. We remind the kids Jesus came to give us the gift of eternal life and also left his Spirit to give us gifts to serve in the church. When we get hungry, we eat the lunch we’ve been cooking in the background and finish with birthday cake. We actually sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. We usually have the youngest child blow out the candles, which works well because every few years we seem to have a new youngest child. At some point we’ll need to figure out a way to spread around the candle blowing so the older kids can participate in blowing out candles again. And sometime between lunch and bedtime, we like to watch The Nativity Story together.
There are lots of ways to incorporate birthday cake into Christmas. Most don’t involve a “birthday party” per se, nor do they have to. But making a birthday cake is a small thing that draws our attention back to what Christmas is all about. It focuses us.
We can use it to remember Jesus is real and still living. Or maybe we see the candles as a reminder of the Light of the world. Analogies abound: the sweetness of walking with Christ, the darkness of sin (since we usually make a dark chocolate cake) swallowed up by the cross, the moment when “it is finished” i.e. the cake is gone…
No, every bite doesn’t have to be full of significance, but every year some piece of significance fills us and reminds us of the hope we have because Christ was born. I’d say that makes the extra effort (and calories) worthwhile.