January 10th is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It’s the day of the Church year on which we officially wrap up the Christmas season as we recall and celebrate Jesus’s baptism in the River Jordan.
The Gospel for this day is one of my favorites, as it paints a picture of the heavens being “torn open” as Jesus emerges from the flowing water, and the Holy Spirit descending upon him in the form of a dove. The voice that comes from the heavens speaks a message that I try to hear for myself. “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”
Jesus is God’s beloved, and so are we. I know this in my heart, and yet sometimes I lose sight of the words. In the hectic nature of managing work, family, home, social lives, and more, it is rare that I take time to rest in the beauty of the knowledge that I am God’s beloved child.
That’s why our family celebrates the baptism anniversary of each member. We know that it is all too easy to forget that we are God’s beloved, that we are asked to walk by the light of Christ, and that we are part of a community of faith. So we devote several days to specifically remembering our baptism birthdays and what they mean for us.
Here’s how we celebrate a baptism anniversary:
We pull out physical mementos. My kids welcome any opportunity to look through their baby bins, and when I made an effort to organize these bins a few years ago, I consolidated all of the baptism-related items and created a separate box for them.
Each year on a child’s baptism anniversary, we display sacramental memorabilia on our family altar. In our family, baptismal mementos include cards or special gifts that our kids received, our family’s baptismal gown, the baptismal certificate, pictures from the baptism, and items received during the child’s baptism (like their baptismal bib and candle).
If you are reading this and thinking, “If only I had saved all of that stuff!” or “I know it is somewhere… but where?!” Have no fear. God does not demand (or even ask for) organizational perfection, and celebrating a baptism anniversary doesn’t require the presence of these specific items. But like Christmas trees, birthday tablecloths, and carved pumpkins help create an atmosphere of festivity, so too, can the display of specific items on baptism birthdays.
If you don’t have your children’s memorabilia handy (or at all), get creative. Deem a candle your family’s baptismal remembrance candle, ask your priest to bless a vessel of water to place on your altar as a tribute to the waters of baptism, and print and frame the baptismal promises. As Catholics, we believe that sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and invisible grace and visible items go a long way to recalling these invisible graces.
We light a candle and renew our baptismal vows during dinnertime on the anniversary. A Catholic mom friend once told me that her family lights their children’s individual baptismal candles (the ones they received on their special day) every year on their baptism anniversary, and I loved that idea.
But I also worried about burning the candles down too quickly. They aren’t big, after all. So instead of lighting baptismal tapers, our family chose a special candle that we deemed our family baptismal candle, and we only light it on baptism birthdays.
Our celebration ritual looks like this — after we all sit down, but before the meal is served, Matthew lights the baptism anniversary candle as I or one of the older kids reads the story of Jesus’s baptism. Matthew or I read the questions that form the backbone of the baptismal promises, and everyone gathered says, “I do.” Then, we sprinkle the kids with holy water blessed by our priest.
Over dinner, we try to have a kid-level conversation about some of the themes of baptism. For instance, since the baptized are called to live as lights in the darkness, we might ask everyone to share how they have been a light recently... or ask everyone to share how they see the light of Christ through the person whose baptism anniversary it is.
We have a special meal and dessert. Here’s the thing — my kids like sifting through their baptismal memorabilia and they enthusiastically (sometimes?) recite their baptismal vows. But what they really get excited about is chocolate cake.
And what can I say? I get it. We talk about baptism and faith in our house a lot, but it can be hard for little ones to fully understand — and therefore feel fully enlivened by — concepts like renewal, spiritual adoption, and cleansing waters. But even if they can’t understand and feel moved by these concepts on an intellectual level, they can feel excited on an emotional level when they anticipate a celebration involving their favorite dessert.
That’s why we pair the more explicitly faith-related elements of our baptism birthday celebrations with the chosen treat of the child whose anniversary it is. It’s sort of like presents on Christmas or baskets on Easter. We’re celebrating the birth of Christ and His resurrection, and part of the way we do that is through sharing joy in the form of cake.
Honoring our family’s baptism anniversaries is how we call attention to one of the most important days in each of our individual faith histories, and it infuses our home with celebration throughout the year. If you try this, let me know how it goes, and if you have any new ideas to share with me!