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Birthday Traditions

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. The tradition of giving special foods or sweets as gifts is interesting because it reflects the family’s emphasis on not valuing material goods over kindness. The tradition of wrapping their birthday presents in comics is also a reflection of the family’s income level and how fiscally conservative they were in order to have enough money to send all of their kids to college.

Main Piece

“When we had birthdays we—my mom we didn’t have a lot of money first of all, so my mom would just get stuff that we could share ‘cus she wanted to teach us that we could share our gifts. So they would give us candy like licorice, cashews, Andes mints, or sometimes a box of sugar cereal—like cookie crunch or something like that—‘cus we usually didn’t get sugar cereal so we would get, like, candy or something like that that we could share and we could keep it in our room, but after dinner we would have to bring it out and share and the birthday person would bring it out and, um, it was always wrapped in the comic section from the Sunday paper which was always colorful ‘cus my mom didn’t want to spend money on wrapping paper that would be ripped off and thrown away [laughs] so it was always wrapped in the comics.”

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