When I was a kid, and right until I moved out of home at 23, my family brought me breakfast in bed on my birthday. Usually an omelette, sometimes pancakes (my choice). Every family member got breakfast in bed on their birthday, and everyone else would pile onto the bed and put their cold toes under the edges of the covers. Breakfast in bed would be eaten, gifts would be given, and then we’d all move to the kitchen where omelettes (or pancakes) were consumed by everyone who didn’t happen to have a birthday today.
The rest of the year, my breakfast was cereal. And you know what? If I’d had an omelette every day of the year, I bet I wouldn’t have liked my birthday omelettes as much.
There are exactly two rules for making a special occasion special:
- Do something enjoyable…
- … that you don’t do on non-special occasions.
Enjoyable things that only happen once a year or so get extra specialness-points, because over the course of many years we form rich layers of association with them.
The reason so many people find Christmastime magical is pretty simple: there are all kinds of lovely things that we associate with this time of year and with no other time of year. Lights. Gingerbread. Carols. (I know, I know, some people hate carols, bah humbug, etc.)
But I’m a grown-up
But Christina, I hear you say, I’m a grown-up. Birthdays and Christmas are for kids. Well sure, if all the special things you do on birthdays and Christmas are things that mainly kids enjoy. But there are lots of things you can do that are enjoyable as a grown-up and that you can reserve for special occasions. The secret of special occasions is that they are exactly as special as you make them.
So, look. Maybe you’re not a fan of carols, and maybe you think exchanging gifts with everyone in your life at one particular time of year is kind of stupid. Why can’t you just buy yourself what you want?* Maybe Christmas isn’t your thing at all. That’s a-ok! There are lots of other days in the year that you can make special.
Here are some ideas for grown-up specialness-making activities:
- Breakfast in bed. Get the decadence of having a special breakfast without even having to get out of bed.
- Pretty decor that you don’t use the rest of the time. I have a friend who has pretty fairy lights in her living room, and only turns them on when it’s the weekend. And suddenly, the weekend is that little bit more special.
- Fancy clothes
- Specific foods that you associate (or can start to associate) with a particular day or time of year. (My background is Finnish, and there are literally dozens of different foods that are associated with particular days in the Finnish calendar. Amazing.)
- Reserving a particular restaurant or place you like for a particular special occasion. On my birthday each year, S and I visit the NGV and watch Shakespeare in the botanical gardens. I love doing both of these things, but I’ve grown to love them even more after years of associating them with my birthday.
- Doing literally anything that you would enjoy that you don’t get around to doing in your day-to-day life.
Your specialness-making activities don’t have to be something that’s culturally associated with the occasion (like cake on your birthday, or costumes on Halloween). My favourite Christmas tradition is one that I just made up the first Christmas that S and I were living together: Every Sunday in December, we have “Cocktail and Christmas Special Sunday”, where we mix ourselves cocktails and watch holiday episodes of our favourite TV shows.
What specialness-making activities do you use to make your special occasions special? Let me know in the comments!
*Answer: we actually get lots of warm fuzzy feelings out of giving and receiving things that we don’t get out of buying stuff for ourselves. Psychology.
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