Every family has at least one tradition—whether it is where the holiday meal takes place, who says the blessing, or the after dinner festivities. Commonly, traditions seem to be about what we should do, or what has been done for years. Customarily, we follow along with traditions, often forgetting the reason why. The core of a tradition often offers insight to the true meaning that it holds. It is not just about the custom, but about the meaning behind the custom and how it has come to future generations.
I am lucky enough to have been given a tradition to carry on. It holds a very special place in my heart and I would like to share it in hopes that others may grasp it and begin a new one of their own.
For many, Christmas can be all about the hustle and bustle, gifts and family time. Among all of the distractions, the true meaning of Christmas is often lost. Christmas is a holiday for celebrating Jesus’ birthday. How many children do you know who wake up on December 25th and scream “Jesus’ birthday is here”? Not many.
Everyone is guilty of getting caught up, including me, which is why I am thankful on every Christmas Day I have a cake, with a candle to light and sing happy birthday to Jesus. Thus the title Happy Birthday Jesus Cakes or so they have become known throughout the nearly 50 years that my late Grandmother, Tencie F. Gifford, baked and shared the true meaning of Christmas.
The Beginning: Although I am told she always cooked one of “Mother’s pound cakes” for church each Christmas, the real inspiration began when my Aunt Ellen was 3 years old. She asked, “Mom, why do all the other kids think Christmas is all about Santa Claus and not Jesus’ birthday?” As a teacher, Grandma quickly came up with a plan to remind many of the children why Christmas is celebrated. She baked, iced and delivered cakes to families with young children that year, encouraging them to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus on Christmas Day. It soon became a tradition in the Gifford family, as well as with many families who received the cakes. The tradition grew by leaps and bounds as more families became aware. At one time, nearly 60 cakes were delivered around town, in hopes that many voices would be singing on Christmas day.
Learning with Love: Like many traditions, this one was essential to pass on. As the oldest grandchild and the only girl, I was at my grandmother’s side by the time I could stand up on the step stool to pour in the sugar. I learned from an early age that every ingredient was stirred in with love. As a child, and well into my teenage years, I was banned from stirring while the mixer was on. My grandmother would say, “Lindsay, don’t stir the batter with the spatula while it's on, let me do that, you might just get hurt!” Well, in the years that followed, I was subtly passed that special spatula, which to this day I still use. As I grew older, I stood by her and baked, and then carried on the baking while she, fighting cancer and often tired, watched and encouraged me. In 2004, Grandma suffered a stroke, and for the first time, I baked the cakes on my own, carrying on the tradition she had given me so many years before. My wonderful grandmother passed away in February 2005. That Christmas, with the support of family and friends, I baked Happy Birthday Jesus Cakes, cherishing the surprised looks on people’s faces as I delivered them. Most families thought the tradition had passed away with Grandma, but Miss Tencie’s Happy Birthday Jesus Cakes continue on to this day. As a strong-willed Christian, Grandma believed these cakes were making a difference in both children's and adult’s lives. I know she was right, because they have made a world of difference in mine.
Passing it On: Here is the recipe, which has been handed down from my great-grandmother. It yields one large cake or three small cakes. I encourage you to bake the three cakes, keep one for your family, and offer the others to friends, family or neighbors. Through your generosity, spread the story and the meaning that each cake carries. Create a worthy tradition to be carried on for years to come.
This year my family and I will continue her tradition, albeit on a smaller scale. I hope in relaying this significant tradition, you might take a minute to stop this Christmas and remind your children, young and old, that this is not just another holiday. It’s a birthday celebration!