My half birthday is November 4—so, past as you read this, but future and present as I write.
Half-birthdays were never a thing in my family. In fact, I’m not sure the concept of a half birthday even crossed my mind until I became friends with Marissa. Now, there were (and are) a number of very cool things about Marissa’s family, like the fact that they had a trampoline, and a lot of Mary Kate and Ashley movies, and a minivan (in which they sometimes drove long distances on family trips!). But they also had half-birthdays.
I’m a little fuzzy on this point about how the half-birthday was celebrated (sorry, Marissa). I seem to remember the honoree getting to choose a restaurant for a half-birthday dinner. I immediately wanted in, and began trying to convince my own family that we should be similarly marking half-birthdays, but with minimal success.
I’m a bit of an odd one out in my family when it comes to rituals and tradition. Of course we had some of our own—reading bedtime stories with an apple snack, Thursday grocery day with the grandparents, Christmas morning waffles, Sunday nights and New Year’s Eve playing cards with the aunts and uncles—that ebbed and flowed according to life circumstances, but I always wanted more, especially around this time of year as we barrel into the holiday season.
I wanted to be the ones to host big holiday dinners, to put up a real Christmas tree, to go to a midnight church service on Christmas Eve, to set out the same decorations in the same place every year and cook the same traditional menu and use the same seasonal dishes. I spent the first couple of decades of my life trying to institute traditions.
Sometimes I was successful. We had a Christmas tree many years of my childhood. (There’s a family joke that when offered a tree or the money the tree would cost, my brother went for the bribe. I refused.) Santa was never a part of my family’s Christmas, but one year I insisted on writing him a letter and leaving out milk and cookies. I didn’t believe, but I wasn’t above trying to cultivate a little magic. I gained a best friend in high school who loves traditions and holidays at least as much as I do—she even helped with tree decoration one year, and introduced me to the idea of decorating with ribbon. That tree was Martha Stewart caliber.
The pinnacle of Operation: Invent Traditions for me might have been The Year I Did Thanksgiving. It was November, my senior year of college. I was very into food and food writing at the time, and when our family’s usual Thanksgiving cook had to work that holiday, I eagerly volunteered (and possibly begged and cajoled a bit). I stayed up until 3 a.m. the night before, making everything from spiced nuts to snack on to a 30-pound turkey (needed an assist from Mom on that one) to bourbon pumpkin pie with a from-scratch crust. I put out a tablecloth and holiday dishes and a centerpiece I made from berries and sprigs I found outside. It was glorious.
I was not always successful in my attempts at tradition, though. One year the cat climbed the Christmas tree in the middle of the night and we woke to the crash of shattering ornaments (Jewel may have shaved off one of her nine lives, but escaped unscathed). One year, when I was living in the dorms and was less able to oversee decorating efforts, my mom proudly informed me she had gotten a tree—a fake tree, but a tree nonetheless. It was a fake tree, indeed. A lighted tinsel palm tree.
Since then, I joined a denomination heavily invested in ritual, and am now pursuing ordination in that tradition. I married a man who is delightful in many ways, one of them his investment in traditions and in marking special days with special practices. I no longer have to cajole for a Thanksgiving turkey or a Christmas tree (though I have resigned myself to the benefits of an artificial tree). I will be at church at midnight on Christmas, because that’s my job now. I’ve surrounded myself with tradition and ritual, and I feel right at home.
Half-birthday celebrations never really stuck for me. It might be something I try to revive when I have children of my own, but I tend to mark the day with the briefest of hat-tips. Perhaps, though, this is the year I start the tradition of treating myself to a half-birthday cupcake. In fact, I think that sounds like a fine idea.
Alissa Goudswaard Anderson (’10) lives with her husband Josh in New York City, where she is earning her Master of Divinity at General Theological Seminary. Alissa enjoys private kitchen dance parties, big Midwestern thunderstorms, and perusing other peoples’ bookshelves. For more, find her online at www.episcotheque.wordpress.com or tweet her @episcotheque.