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Different cultures celebrate birthdays in a variety of ways. Even within the same culture, you'll see differences. My family recognized my early birthdays with parties, cake, ice cream, and presents. As I got older, we shifted from parties to Mom making my favorite meal and baking the cake I requested. (Sometimes, I chose pecan pie instead of cake.)
When my children came along, I threw birthday parties until they reached middle school. Then, the celebration shifted to something more family-oriented. Rather than fixing a requested meal, the birthday child picked a restaurant where they wanted to celebrate. Sometimes we did cake, sometimes we did special desserts at the chosen restaurant, their choice.
With my grandchildren, we've altered the tradition a bit more. They have the party, but we also go out to eat on their birthday. So, last night, it was the birthday girl's choice. Later this week, she gets her party--probably her last true birthday party.
How do you celebrate birthdays? Is it a big deal or something minor that slips by unnoticed? Do you do cards and gifts or prepare a special meal?
As writers, we get to decide what our characters' traditions involve. This adds an element of history and development to the character as their life unfolds. Because people approach these celebrations differently, it's an opportunity to create a tradition, or lack thereof, that provides depth to our character's personality.
What events does your family celebrate and how? Your answer might inspire a writer's muse, so I hope you'll share yours in the comments.