Podcast 8: Making Special Days Special (7 ways to celebrate)

Hello, and welcome to Episode 8 of Life On the Brink!

I don't know about you, but I love traditions.

For the past several years, I’ve spent my birthday the same way. I bake a cake in the morning, I go have Thai food with my family in the evening, we come back home and have tea. I get out all my teapots and cups and we have tea and cake. My family sings Happy Birthday in English, then in Spanish.

Every Christmas Eve the family gathers at my grandparents’ house for a Puerto Rican Christmas feast. The music is as loud as the punch is colorful. After dinner and dessert we play extremely high stakes bingo (see video) until everyone is sleepy and very aware that they still have gifts to wrap.

And during this fall season, it’s been a tradition to go apple picking in Charlottesville since I was 3 or 4 years old. We drive up the terrifying mountain, we pick apples, we get the cider donuts, maybe a tractor ride (though the increase in both the size of my family and the price of the tickets pretty much eliminated that part over the years) and then we venture downtown.

You can't get more fall.

Every year, without fail.

I love looking forward to these time-honored pastimes that not only mark the passing of the year, but also encourage us to really celebrate these special days. This year, though, as we’ve all experienced, has been a little different. We can’t necessarily go where we want to go or do what we normally do to celebrate. Just the ability to gather is a luxury, and not everyone can afford it right now. What can we do then?

In my opinion, choosing to celebrate special days is more important now, or during any crisis, global or personal, than ever. Here at Life On the Brink, there’s so much emphasis on enjoying the everyday, savoring the simplicity of life, one day at a time. With that, though, there’s something so lovely about having little joys to look forward to. We need birthdays, holidays, small getaways, date nights, and milestones to add a little color to our everyday lives, but without looking too far ahead.

I’ve been thinking about this year, along with other times of hardship or transition in my life, when the traditions I so enjoy weren’t feasible. How did I celebrate? In my family, special occasions cannot go unnoticed, so we always found a way.

So with that in mind, let’s get cooking. Whether you’re celebrating yourself or someone you love, here’s a dose of hopeful creativity. Today I’ve compiled 7 simple ways to make special days special, no matter the circumstances.

Birthday Dress 2020

1. Wear something pretty (or on theme): I’ve made it a personal tradition for the past few years to buy a dress for myself to wear on my birthday. Maybe it’s a bit of a splurge, but I take great care in choosing it, and once I have it I save it to wear specifically on my birthday. It just makes me feel a bit more special, plus I’m confident because I like the way I look. Now, you don’t have to necessarily go out and purchase something new for your occasion, but making a point to dress for the day is a simple way to emphasize to yourself that it’s a special day.

2. Go against your routine: If you’re someone who has to get up early every day, why not try to sleep in or take a nap on the special day? Take some time to rest. Josh’s birthday was just a couple weeks ago, and he took a 1.5 hour nap in the middle of the day. It was exactly what he needed.

On the other hand, if you’re home a lot right now and need a little excitement, why not spend the day outside? Whether you’re out in a park or maybe a nice restaurant or spending time around other people, anything out of the ordinary will make the day special.

3. Plan a little surprise: This is one that really applies if you’re trying to celebrate someone you love. I’ll use Josh’s recent birthday as an example again:

We weren’t able to celebrate with anyone else on his actual birthday as I had a family member who was waiting for Covid test results (it came back negative), so it was just the two of us. He just wanted to go to breakfast at our favorite bistro, but I had also planned a little scavenger hunt with little clues and puzzles around Williamsburg as a surprise. We spent about an hour walking around in the rain as he worked out each clue, and even though it only led him to a simple birthday gift (a jigsaw puzzle, he likes working his brain), he felt so special. It was something unexpected.

So whether you surprise someone with a visit, a gift, a meal, whatever it may be, giving something unexpected and sweet is a great way to celebrate.

Just tryna do Mary Berry proud.

4. Eat cake: or at least something sweet. Cake really doesn’t do much for us in terms of nutrition, so the presence (even necessity) of cake really emphasizes that it’s a special day. There is reason to celebrate if cake is around. Obviously, not everyone is into cake, but ice cream is certainly acceptable. Anything that is a simple indulgence, something you don’t enjoy every day, is a great way to make a day special.

This year I didn’t get to celebrate my birthday the same way I always do. It’s at the end of April, so it was in the middle of intense lockdown. But! I still made my birthday cake. It was a Victoria Sponge with blackberry jam and whipped cream. Completely unnecessary in any other situation, but completely essential to my birthday.

5. DIY the experience you’re missing: Maybe a trip got cancelled this year. Maybe you can’t go to that one place where you always go to celebrate. Why not try to recreate the same experience at home? It requires a bit of creativity, but can be oh-so-special.

Here’s a lovely example: Josh and I had planned to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon, but as the wedding approached and Covid restrictions became more of a long-term situation, we realized we wouldn’t be going anywhere. I also didn’t have a bachelorette party, it just wasn’t going to work out. So, about a week before the wedding, my sister and matron of honor Sarah surprised me with a party at her apartment as a little pre-wedding fun. It was a very low-key gathering with some of our friends from high school, but she went all out with the theme. She took that Hawaiian theme and ran with it (think Enchanted Tiki Room), I totally loved it. It made me feel special, even bridal, which I didn’t have much time to feel during the craziness that led up to my wedding.

So whatever experience you’re missing out on, I’ve found that a little creativity goes a long way. It won’t be the same, for sure, but it can still make the day special, and certainly memorable.

6. Give them your full attention: I asked Josh what he thought would make a day special and this was his response. “That’s rare,” he said, and I think it’s true. While we can’t always do the same things we like to do to celebrate, if we’ve learned anything in 2020 it’s that the most important thing in our lives is the people. Why not set aside some time to give someone your full attention on their special day? Maybe it’s your significant other on your anniversary, maybe your grandmother on her birthday, or maybe it’s yourself. This can be as simple as a phone call, or can be an entire day just one-on-one. It’s very individual, and makes them feel special.

7. Know that you’re going to remember this day for a long time: We’re going to remember 2020 pretty vividly in our memories. I’m going to remember my crazy 24th birthday when I couldn’t go anywhere, but did manage to make my whole family watch The Great Gatsby with me. That’ll never happen again, I’m sure, so it was a very special experience. And I’m definitely going to remember the ways that others went out of their way to make sure I was celebrated this year, just as I have celebrated them.

This will still be true once this pandemic comes to an end, and it will. There will still be seasons of hardship in all our lives, but what you do during those times to celebrate yourself and those around you will stay with you. Even now, we are worth celebrating.

Little joy: I've become obsessed with the blog/instagram/cookbooks by Half Baked Harvest. Now that we're solidly in autumn weather, I'm craving all kinds of comforting soups, pastas, and cozy foods. This blog has you covered. Literally every single recipe looks amazing, plus she goes through each new recipe step-by-step in her stories almost every day. I've already made her curry lentil soup and the roasted garlic spaghetti squash lasagna boats. Both were amazing! Give it a taste, friends.

What I’m Listening To: Here's a playlist I made of some of my favorite autumnal jazzy favorites. Naturally, it's championed by the incredible genius of Vince Guaraldi in "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," but there are several fall-centered classics, as well as a few tunes that just make me feel happy and cozy.

How have you been celebrating this year? How do you make special days special? Leave a comment in the box below with your ideas and examples. As you can see, it requires a bit of creativity, so I always want to find new ways to make a little fun.

If you like what you're hearing, feel free to leave a rating or review wherever you're listening. Thanks so much friends, and until next time, have a lovely week!