This week has seen my little lad’s second birthday which, naturally, has sparked reminiscence about his first birthday and his actual birth – day. We combined our celebration of his turning one with a kind of welcoming ceremony. We welcomed his earth-side arrival when he was born, of course, as well as in an intimate, informal ceremony on our return home from the hospital. (A ceremony held at 1a.m in the “welcoming nest” of cushions and blankets we had made before we had left the house. It was just the three of us after a crazy, traumatic birth journey and we were exhausted. But it was here that we named Dylan and said our real “hello” and “welcome” to him). On his first birthday, we wanted to share a celebration of Dylan’s coming into our lives with special people who we loved and respected, and who we hoped would hold strong roles in Dylan’s life. Apart from church Christenings, or equivalents in other religions, there are seemingly few options for this kind of rite of passage. So we made up our own.
Fortunately, his the day fell on a weekend which made it easier to gather the friends and family that we wanted there – especially because we invited them with a lot of advance notice. We were also blessed with beautiful weather: perfect for the garden ceremony that we had planned. My husband, Rob, and I stood in front of these twenty-something people holding Dylan, and thanked them all for coming. At that age, Dylan was a big fan of clapping. We told our guests that, throughout the ceremony, we would sometimes say “yay for us!” or “yay for Dylan!” and that we would like them to repeat that back, with much clapping. (One of the things I love most about creating DIY ceremonies is that you can personalise them by throwing in little phrases like this that you wouldn’t get in, say, most church services. Your guests will remember them!).
We then sang “happy birthday” to the star of the show before Rob explained how we were celebrating a whole earth-turn since Dylan’s birth and a year of us living as a family. And that we were also celebrating our transition from maiden to mother, youth to father and couple to parents. We acknowledged that it had been a year of magic, exhaustion, intense fun. sacrifice, abundant love, surprises and the blessing of daily challenges – with the learning an fulfillment that they bring. (Yay for us, clap clap!)
Rob and I then turned to each other and, in turn, thanked each other for their daily love, support and acceptance. “Wowzers, we created a whole new person! And he’s ace!” is another phrase probably not found in the standard Christening service of most churches. We welcomed each other to the next bit of our path, promising to keep each other in sight as we grow our Dylan. We hugged.
We then lit a candle to remind us of the light and sparkle that family life brings, saying that we would remember that candle on the days when we feel in need of strength and smiles.
We then turned to Dylan, who by then was probably toddling around the garden. We thanked him for coming into our lives and bringing us so much joy. We acknowledged how he had grown and developed in so many ways during that year and welcomed him towards the end of babyhood and start of toddlerhood – and beyond. “Yay for Dylan! Clap, clap!”.
We had bought Dylan a dwarf apple tree, which we then presented to him, promising to nurture him and the tree through times of blossom, fruiting, being bare and being in bud. We then made some vows to him, representing each vow with a blackberry (his very favourite fruit). As we spoke each vow, we handed him a blackberry, picked that morning on the estate we lived on. After all the vows were made, and his chin was as purple as could be, we shared the remaining berries with the guests with another “yay for Dylan!” and more clapping.
We then assembled everyone in a line, standing with their legs apart. The idea was that all of these people had already reached toddlerhood and that Dylan would, if comfortable doing so, crawl through their legs to resemble being welcomed to post-babyhood by us all. He more or less did so and was enthusiastic about it (we wouldn’t have pushed it at all if he was reluctant). At the end of the “tunnel”, our younger guests had assembled a tower of Dylan’s stacking cups for him to knock over; cue more clapping and “yay for Dylan!”s!
We then thanked everyone for coming, stating our belief that it takes a village to raise a child and that we wanted them to be the heart of that village. Before the birthday feast commenced, we asked everyone to contribute the blessing or motto that we had asked them to prepare beforehand to the bookcase that we had bought for Dylan and painted leaves on; one for every guest to write in.
This year, his birthday was more relaxed and low key. We planned a day of things he loved; us, his grandparents and best friend (and his parents); a farm trip; a picnic of foods he loves; a boat-shaped cake; a walk in the woods and a trip to a noodle restaurant. As a bonus, we were blessed with beautiful weather again, and a hot air balloon display across the Bristol sky. Yay for Dylan. ♥