How To Celebrate Birthdays The Waldorf Way
A child’s birthday is a time of hope, a time of looking forward to a new year filled with fresh milestones and experiences. Celebrating another trip around the sun for a child is an opportunity for reflection and a chance to bring beauty, meaning, and a smattering of magic into their lives.
In Waldorf tradition, birthdays are always a cause for celebration, as traditions and rituals help ground children, allowing them to experience the rhythms of a year. Celebrating a birthday in the Waldorf way provides an opportunity to not only mark this special day but to honor the child’s place in your family and their world.
According to The Birthday Book, an indispensable guide to Waldorf birthdays and celebrations in general, there are three essentials needed for every birthday. The cake which represents sustenance and “the totality of life of which we are all a part.” The upright candle which represents the individual, and “helpers on the path” who are there to support and celebrate your child. If you have all of these three things, you are well on your way!
We have compiled some answers to the most common questions about what makes a Waldorf birthday celebration unique and how to get started, as well as offer some ideas about creating your own traditions and rituals that fit your family. Remember, there is no one right way to create a meaningful celebration. The key is to find the parts that feel like a fit for you and your family and to have fun celebrating your child!
Why celebrate birthdays in the Waldorf Tradition?
Waldorf traditions and rituals help children mark the passing of a year and celebrating a child’s birth honors their presence in our lives, the child’s place in the family and in the world at large. Rituals and traditions allow children to experience the “rhythm of the year.”
With a Waldorf birthday, the emphasis is more on the child’s life and experiences than presents and structured party themes. While the child’s interests certainly play a big part in the day, the rituals and special moments begin several days before the actual birthday and then are carried out throughout the entire day. There is a big emphasis on creating handmade gifts and adorning a table with beautiful objects that represent the child and their place in the natural world and seasons.
What are some special Waldorf birthday traditions?
Celebration Spiral Countdown: This tradition uses the Grimm's Wooden Celebration Spiral. You can do this countdown a few ways using the holes in the spiral to represent each day leading up to the birthday. Some families use a peg person that travels closer to a candle at the end of the spiral each day. Others will light a candle each day and then move the candle forward one more day. The empty holes can be filled with beautiful treasures, like rocks and shells that the child gathers, or Celebration Ring Decorations that represent special moments or meaningful aspects of their personalities.
Beeswax Countdown Candle: We love this simple rolled beeswax candle adorned with 7 figures in decorating beeswax. Children can roll a candle in the color of their choice and help add the designs. Then, each day leading up to their birthday, light the candle and let it burn until one more design disappears. While the candle is burning, discuss something special the child achieved or learned during the year. By the last day, the child is filled with anticipation and excitement!
Roll The Beeswax Candles: In Waldorf education, it is important to have the children play an active role in helping with all of the celebrations. Rolling their own beeswax candles before the birthday is a lovely way to prepare for the big day. Make sure to roll enough candles to represent the age of your child. Most Waldorf birthdays do not include the one to grow on candle, but if that is special to you, certainly add that in!
Birthday Eve Traditions
Special Pre-Birthday Verse
Day Of Birthday Traditions
Birthday Crown & Cape: After your child follows the magical path to the celebration area and birthday table, ceremoniously place a felted birthday crown (see our tutorial & template for how to make one here) on your child’s head, and a silk birthday cape on their shoulders.
Birthday Ring: This is one of the most distinctive Waldorf Birthday traditions and has its origins in Germany. The wooden birthday ring usually has 12-16 holes around the circle. If your child is turning 6, you will fill 6 of the holes with beeswax candles (make sure to put a brass ring in the hole first for safety) and the rest of the holes can be filled with wooden decorations, such as a wooden 6 and wooden figures that represent the child and the season they were born in. For example, if it is spring, you might put in wooden flowers, birds, rainbow, or baby animals. Wooden peg dolls as well as stones and other natural elements can be used to fill the holes.
Birthday Table: The birthday ring is set on the special birthday table which can be decorated with playsilks, felt ornaments, flowers, artwork, and photos of the birthday child. In many Waldorf traditions, a felt star wand is placed on this table whether mixed in with flowers or in its own special spot.
Birthday Story: The birthday story is one of the more creative parts of the birthday celebration. You can start the story with each candle that you light on the birthday ring and share memories of each corresponding year as you light each candle. Or you can tell the story after all the candles are lit on the birthday ring. This story will include what their birth was like, what the day they were born was like, and 3-4 milestones from each year that has passed. Traditional Waldorf birthdays incorporate some version of the Rainbow Bridge story where your child is looking down on the earth from above, seeing their parents and choosing to cross the 'Rainbow Bridge' to join their family on the earth. Another version of this story can be found in the book Beyond The Rainbow Bridge by Barbara Patterson. The picture book Little Angel's Journey offers another version of the story with beautiful illustrations by Dzvinka Hayda. To find more examples and templates for birthday stories, see below.
Birthday Chair: A chair of honor for the birthday child is set up at the birthday table. This special chair is wrapped with ribbons and fabric, and then decorated with leaves, flowers, and perhaps balloons.
What are some classic Waldorf birthday party decorations?
Decorations for a Waldorf Birthday tend to focus on natural materials that are soothing to the senses of the birthday child. Flowers and seasonal elements are important parts of the decoration. Families can make felted letters of the birthday child’s name to hang along with fabric streamers or crepe paper streamers, and fabric garlands that can be reused every year. Play silks are used to wrap presents and to decorate tables.
What are some special songs, verses, and books to incorporate into the birthday celebration?
The Birthday Book by Ann Druitt, Christine Fynes-Clinton, and Marije Rowling has wonderful ideas for bringing meaning in the Waldorf tradition to your child’s special day including ideas for games and activities, recipes, decorations and much more.
Here are a few Waldorf Verses suited to birthday celebrations:
We hope this Q & A has answered some of your questions about the traditions that make up a Waldorf Birthday and that it has encouraged you to add some special new components to your family celebrations. As we said in the beginning, there is no “right” way to have a Waldorf-inspired birthday. The beauty of traditions is that they are pulled from different cultures and family backgrounds to create a unique blend of festivity. Perhaps you will add the birthday ring and the birthday chair and one verse for the night before or you may choose to make a felted crown and cape and stick to your families' cultural traditions.
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