Like many traditions, I don’t remember when this one started. It was at least 10 years ago, though it could have been longer. I have a foggy memory of wanting to slow down the unwrapping of birthday gifts to make the sensation last a little bit longer, though maybe it was because my kids had recently started playing hide and seek?
In any case, one birthday long ago, I decided to mix it up. Instead of having birthday cake and then birthday gifts, I decided that we would play a version of hide and seek: birthday gifts would be hidden and the birthday person would have to find them. Simple? Sure….but MY KIDS LOVED IT. They literally squealed with delight and asked, “Can we always look for our presents???” (As any parent will attest, there are many, many more misses than hits when it comes to new things to try with your kids!)
This impromptu idea was such a hit, that for every birthday since then, our family hides the birthday person’s gifts—under the sofa; on the top shelf of the bookcase; sometimes even in the microwave. Each gift has its own hiding spot, just waiting to be found. Some gifts are quickly located, while others require a bit of assistance.
Just like the first time, yours truly alerts the birthday person that there are gifts for him or her by abruptly stopping whatever we’re in the midst of doing. With great fanfare, I inhale deeply and sniff the air like a bloodhound in search of prey. Only when I have “identified” the scent do I loudly proclaim,
That admittedly odd phrase starts the birthday person racing about the house in search of presents. I sniff the air to give the person clues about whether they are “hot” or “cold”. Obviously, the gifts have no scent, but it doesn’t matter—young and old alike run from room to room looking high and low for gifts as if they are suddenly contestants on a game show.
This gift hunt is pure theatre, and its very purpose is always the same: to celebrate the person we love so dearly. Somehow, the thrill of the hunt makes the opening of gifts a lot more enjoyable. The birthday person is still the center of attention, but now others in the family get to participate in the action. As for me, I can’t think of another time when my kids are excited to wait as I take a deep breath!
Our birthday gift hunt serves another role: it is one of our family traditions. It connects us together and is part of our shared history. This somewhat goofy ritual has taught my kids that birthdays can be fun for everyone–whether you are the one giving gifts or receiving them. At a time when events in the news leave your head spinning, it’s these simple traditions that can help remind kids of the importance of staying close to family and celebrating those you love.