I’m once again striding boldly into the dangerous, churning waters of Lenten “breaks.” This time to answer a mailbag question . . .
Hi Kendra! My youngest is celebrating his first birthday next month and I’m wondering how to celebrate a birthday in Lent. I guess a Sunday would be our best bet. But I’m working around my husband’s work schedule (which includes nights and weekends) and our son’s godparents’ very busy schedules. So, if I couldn’t make a Sunday work, would you still go ahead and serve cake and treats? What do you think about a birthday party on Holy Saturday? I’m thinking maybe a brunch with a bunny theme. Would that be okay? (I would only go bunnies on Holy Saturday. Otherwise, I’d choose a different theme.) One factor that puts me in favor of Holy Saturday (other than the idea of a super cute bunny brunch!) is the (hopefully!) warmer weather could allow the kids to play outside. What are your thoughts? Maureen
Update 2019: While reiterating that this is NOT Canon Law or anything, and good Catholics can have different opinions on the matter, our family practice has evolved a bit from what I’ve written below.
Our family’s voluntary Lenten disciplines for ten years now have included giving up treats (except for Sundays and solemnities). We went back and forth as a family for a few years on how to handle special days that fall during Lent. There is a case to be made, for namedays at least, that these could be celebrated as a solemnity for the individual, or for the whole family if the individual is the head of the household, as feast days get bumped up to solemnities for the members of a parish on the parish’s patron’s feast day, and the same is true of a town or city on its patron’s feast day. But that seems like a bit of a stretch in the home. Also, it doesn’t really engender the kind of family camaraderie I’m looking for if only one kid gets a treat on his nameday and everyone else gets to watch.
The only people whose birthdays appear on the liturgical calendar are Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist, and of those MARY’S birthday isn’t even a solemnity, so I certainly don’t think mine counts as a solemnity. So, all that to say, we no longer abandon our voluntary Lenten disciplines for family three special days that fall during Lent. But that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate them! We do. The special day person gets to choose a meal, meat free if called for. We’ll do a family activity like a board game or a hike. But no treats on the day, because it’s Lent, and Lent is for real around here, and Tierneys are tough. If it’s a birthday, we’ll have a party with friends and a cake on a Sunday.
There isn’t an official church teaching on this, so you get to go with your gut on this one. For our family, we do celebrate birthdays with cake and treats, even if they fall during Lent. Just like specific religious orders celebrate particular days as special feasts for their order, we treat birthdays, name days, or baptism days as special family feast days . . . even if they fall during Lent.
It’s not a free-for-all day. We mostly maintain the rest of our voluntary Lenten disciplines, but if it’s a “special day” — either one of the liturgical calendar feast days that falls during Lent, or a family birthday — we have a special dinner and a dessert.
But not every family does. My grandmother will turn 95 this year, and she’s never in her life had a birthday cake. She had a sister with juvenile diabetes, and her birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day, which always falls during Lent. So, no birthday cake. Ever. And it doesn’t seem to have bothered her any. Still, I’m not sure every kid would be as understanding.
We actually don’t have any spring birthdays in our immediate family, but my oldest daughter’s birthday is in early February, and it once fell on Ash Wednesday. We weren’t going to have a special dinner and treats on THAT day, so we just celebrated early. If you’re not comfortable serving treats on a regular Lenten day, you could always celebrate on a Sunday.
Every Lent, the kids get invited to a couple of birthday parties for friends. We always gratefully accept the invitations and show up ready to have fun. We eat the food that’s set before us, without being gluttons, of course. But ruining other people’s birthdays is NOT one of our voluntary Lenten disciplines.
Many Catholics have conflated giving up sugar with the observation of Lent. But Lent is about so much more than sweets, anyway. There are TONS of other ways to grow and better myself during Lent (here are sixty-six of them). If I’m living my Lent as a time to really try to perfect myself — yelling less, praying more, engaging with my children, attending daily Mass — there’s just no way a birthday cake is going to derail that.
That said, I, personally, don’t throw parties on Holy Saturday. Again, this isn’t an official doctrinal thing, it’s just my opinion. But it’s because that’s the one day of the year . . . that we really feel Our Lord’s absence. He’s absent from tabernacles. There’s no Mass celebrated (as with on Good Friday). In our home we use it as a day of preparation and quiet. And just because there are so many secular egg hunts and whatnot on Holy Saturday, our kids just know that, as a family culture thing, Tierneys just don’t participate in that stuff.
The weekend before is Palm Sunday, which would be a great day for a celebratory brunch. You could decorate with palm fronds, and . . . um, donkeys? Up to you.
Update: Maureen wrote back to point out that another drawback of having a party on Holy Saturday, would be the need to prepare for it on Good Friday.
Some related posts you might enjoy . . .
Sundays in Lent: We Can’t ALL Be Right About This
Every Kid is Special (three days per year)
How to Win At Lent
Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You’re thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I’m not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I’m just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.
If you’ve got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.
Kathryn is turning three on Good Friday this year. Thanks for the timely post.
This makes me think of something a priest told me once: If you show up at a person's house on Friday and they are serving meat (we abstain), eat it up with a smile on your face and don't say a word.
I think there comes a point when you can get too nit-picky about things, and you have to keep in mind the big picture: drawing closer and becoming more like Christ.
Yep, that's what we do too! We also have a rule that if we are on the road during a Friday and fish or vegetarian meals are hard to come by at restaurants, we can have chicken.
Holy Week birthdays are the trickiest part for me, because it is hard to make an exception during that time. And to my memory, the Church itself doesn't even celebrate the Annunciation when it's during Holy Week. My kids are at an age in which they know about their real birthday and they care about their real birthday. So not celebrating on the actual day is disappointment. But it's only an issue for one of them, and hers falls on Easter Sunday this year. It hardly feels worth it to work out a system when the particulars change every year. Flexibility and making stuff up as we go seems to work best for us, at least in this.
My birthday is always during Lent and my brother's is almost always and growing up we always did birthday cake. We didn't break our Lenten disciplines on Sundays so our birthdays were the only times we got sweets and it worked out well that way. I think we'll continue to do that as family – not take Sundays "off" but have birthday cake.
It's interesting that you don't have any babies born during Lent, Kendra. Do you have certain times of the year when ALL the birthdays are? I know two of your boys always have a joint birthday party, but are there other birthdays clumped together?
We are fall birthday heavy. We have four birthdays in five weeks from Oct 26-Dec 2. Then we've got two (soon to be three) summer birthdays, and Betty is on her own in February.
My birthday falls on Ash Wednesday this year, so I'm thinking we'll have to do a Mardi Gra celebration instead! Although my due date is February 19, so maybe I'll just be in labor… Thanks for the insightful post!
This is our second Lent and we have one birthday that falls right after Lent starts. Thankfully it is on a Sunday, with her party on the Saturday before. But, if it falls on a weekday in the future we'll still celebrate as an immediate family on her birthday and save her party for a weekend.
I love the point you make about not refusing hospitality when it butts up against our lenten sacrifice. And the hubs and I don't give up coffee for Lent because it would cause more suffering for each other. We do enough of that already. 😉
We also have a couple of birthdays that are sometimes in Lent (late March, early April) We've got one this year that falls the week before Holy Week this year (phew!)
Also,I think you might have gotten your holy days mixed up. 🙂 There are no Masses said on Good Friday,because its the day when The Sacrifice took place, and there are Masses on Saturday, though the tabernacle remains empty until the vigil Mass. In fact, if I remember correctly, its a mortal sin for a priest to celebrate Mass on Good Friday, because they're under obedience not to!
Hey, actually, we're both right! There are no Masses celebrated on Good Friday OR Holy Saturday. The only Mass on Holy Saturday, is the Easter Vigil, but that's for Sunday, not Saturday. I had forgotten since we spend so much time at church on Good Friday with the various services, but it's not Mass. Check out the About page on Holy Saturday for all the details.
Our pastor once explained that the entire triduum was only one mass spread over three days. That on Thursday and Friday there is no dismissal at the end of mass, because it is not yet finished.
That's an cool insight Rosa, thanks!
This is so helpfu. I especially like it because it supports exactly the way we handle our many Lenten birthdays – we consider them family feast days and we still celebrate with cake! The Triduum would be harder and we don't usually have to deal with a Good Friday birthday, but we have 3 out of 6 birthdays during Lent every year and that doesn't count our extended family! Thanks Kendra!
Interesting. I had to go and look up my son's birthday, which is February 6. It could potentially fall during Lent if Easter is on March 22-24. He is just a year old, and Easter will not fall on March 22-24 until 2160, so he is all set. There are a couple of March 25th Easters in there, which will make his birthday fall on Fat Tuesday. Glad I timed things out well for him. 🙂
I love your blog so much! You have a beautiful family and I wish you knew how much you have helped me embrace the Liturgical year and family culture. I even bought your book on Confession!!! Yay!
I agree so much with your practical advice!! My oldest daughter's birthday is March 15, so we have had to hash this one out. We used to live in Omaha, and they diocess really goes all out for St. Patrick's Day. So much so that the bishop gave it "off" to Catholics during Lent! We have parties during Lent. We have treats, cake, presents. We even had it once on a Friday (and served cheese pizza!).
So now I'm going to open up my own can of worms. It's started to bother me how Catholics tend to always give up sugar, pop, chocolate, etc. during Lent. Here's why: because they're giving them up to loose weight/look better. I know those are good sacrifices, but how about fixing something that's keeping you from Christ? I don't know. It just seems like everyone gives up food. I give up food, too, but I also love your list of other things to do. I once gave up sleeping with a pillow- harder than you might think. I've also tried not hitting the snooze button. Another toughie for me.
I'm sincerely trying to share what I think without offending anyone. I just think people nowadays worry so much about food. I like how you said to pick something that you won't necessarily start up again after Lent. For me, consciously engaging with my children is much more beneficial than giving up sugar.
Have a great day!! I hope you're feeling better soon!
Kandace, I agree with you that our relationship with food here in the modern western world is a lot different than it is is other parts of the world, or was in earlier centuries. We have this odd adversarial relationship with food, we see it as the enemy, rather than as sustenance, because it's so readily available to most of us.
And you're right, just going on a diet to lose weight probably isn't going to make for a particularly holy Lent. BUT, for people who do need to work on their relationship with food, Lent is a great time to do that, provided you can make it about God, not just about your body.
I tend to choose things for Lent that I DO really need to work on, like moderate screen time and no yelling, it's just that if I take them on during Lent, I can give those personal issues a supernatural weight, and hopefully find the grace I need to overcome them.
So, I guess I'd say, it all depends on how you're looking at it. Right?
Some of us know that we have an unhealthy relationship with food (sugar, soda, whatever). We are fat, addicted, and not in good health. To use Lent as a time to cut those ties, I think is very healthy. It may look like I'm giving up sugar so I can lose weight but it's much more about learning to respect and love my body.
The issue I think lies in people not then adopting sugar or soda or whatever back into their lives in a moderation after Lent.
And of course, some people just use it to lose weight.
This sounds like a sensible way to look at it – I personally don't think it impairs our practice of Lent to have a "day off" from Lent for special occasions like birthdays. I would think you don't want to have one kid feeling like they get left out every year because their birthday falls during Lent. Although we have precisely NO birthdays during Lent in my family, so take that with a grain / pellet / boulder of salt.
The Church gives us so many instructions, why not this one?? Ha. This seems like a very reasonable way to look at it. We don't have any Lenten birthdays (all 6 almost 7 of us are late April-October) but I have been wondering about Friday birthdays/name days. We let the birthday child pick all the meals,and one is bound to include meat. I don't mind abstaining from something else, but it seems a little less celebration-y to make the birthday child. We could wait until Saturday, but a kid's birthDAY is so important to them. Anyhow, thanks for helping me think that through.
Also, a question I should know the answer to: The About page says on Good Friday Eucharist is given, and I thought that's what made it Mass. If we are there for a service, and they are giving Communion, how is it not Mass?
The consecration of the host takes place separately usually on Maundy Thursday. On Good Friday, the Eucharist is distributed to the people but not consecrated on Good Friday.
Yes, what Ashley Sue said. There are communion services on Good Friday, but the priest doesn't consecrate the host on that day. He consecrates double on Holy Thursday, and it's reserved in the tabernacle.
When I planned birthday celebrations later in life for my mom/Kendra's grandmother we would get a watermelon cut it in half and put candles on top to blow out just like a birthday cake. At first it was hard to find one and they weren't very good but then they became available all year round from countries south of us and they are good. Never having eaten sweets my Mom just doesn't miss them.and was very happy with the party.
Now that's a delightful idea, Nana Camille. Thanks for sharing.
My birthday is situated in mid-February (this week) and as you might guess, it regularly falls during Lent – if not on Ash Wednesday itself. We've managed it differently through the years for me, but party and cake on Ash Wednesdays isn't something I'm comfortable with either, so I will move my own birthday to a Sunday when that's the case.
I also thought it might be interesting to point out that all of Ireland gets dispensation for St. Patrick's Day, so culturally there is a huge difference in how that feast is observed there just because it's not a day of observing Lenten sacrifice there at a cultural, historical, as well as modern diocesan level. It's treated like a Sunday, but it's more than that too.
Our "comfort" level on this topic is very similar to yours though in that we'd certainly acknowledge a child's birthday on the "day-of" if there was something conflicting, but celebrations during Holy Week would get moved.
I just came from a catechesis lecture and the question of birthdays on Lent fridays was raised:) Our bishop said that it would be good to celebrate a birthday on another day but if that would strain the family relationships, it`s ok to celebrate on the correct day and move the fasting to the next day. So technically it wouldn`t be a break, it would just be on another day that you normally wouldn`t fast. Except on a Sunday which is always a day of joy.
Loved this post Kendra! It's so easy to get caught up in giving up sweets, etc (I always do)…but you're so right. Eating cake isn't going to derail us. This post is a reminder to focus on what's really important in Lent! Thanks 🙂
I have written online quite a bit on a different birthday-at-bad-time-of-year problem: birthdays falling during holiday and vacation periods (especially concerned about the traditional school year). Try looking at the introductory remarks about (my) Facebook photo album about (2016) half birthday and birthday; Facebook account Carl.moore.7792 .
As for birthday falling during Lent, noting that March 10 thru 21 must always fall in Lent: If celebrating at that time is a problem, consider full celebration at another time of year.
I have shared this on Facebook and added a long comment there.