The Birthday Tablecloth

Title: The Birthday Tablecloth

Category: Ceremonial Object

Informant: Lisa L. Gabbard

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: 58

Occupation: Housewife

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/8/18


The Birthday Tablecloth is a white cotton blend table cloth belonging to the child whose birthday is taking place. The tablecloth is taken out of storage annually for the person’s birthday. Beginning when they are an infant and ending around the age of 18, usually when the person stops having organized childhood birthday parties, the tablecloth only makes an appearance once a year for the party itself. Guests arrive to the birthday party, sign-in to the event on a piece of paper or book placed on a table near the front entry, and then approach the cloth on a table immediately next-to the sign-in. The guest then places their hand on the tablecloth and their hand is outlined with a fabric marker by the adult manning the sign-in process. After having their hand traced, the participant then signs their own name on the tablecloth on or around where their handprint falls. The guest is then allowed into the party with the other guests. After the party has concluded, the tablecloth is taken to the sewing room for additional steps.

The party title, aka age of child whose birthday has taken place or theme of the event, is catalogued on the side of the tapestry in a small colored font that represents the theme of the party that occurred. The handprints for that event are then sewn over and embroidered by machine in the same color. The signature of the party-goer is also embroidered in the same color, permanently sealing their handwriting at that stage of life.


The Birthday Tablecloth is taken out each year for the child’s progressive birthdays. The table cloth will evolve into having a collection of handprints all overlapping each other, in different colors, and progressive sizes until the birthday table cloth is no longer used at the birthday celebration. The tablecloth shows the progression of the child’s age (size of handprints), friendships (which guests are invited from year to year), and interests (theme of birthday party thrown). Each child has their own birthday tablecloth. Sometimes the parents of children attending birthday parties will sign the tablecloth as well and adult handprints and signatures are visible. The tablecloth is the property of the child and it is able to be used whenever the child desires, however, the cloth is primarily only seen during birthday celebrations.

Personal Thoughts:

This has been my favorite birthday tradition. I loved getting to see my best friend’s name and handprint on the table cloth from years prior and having a record of the types of parties I’ve been thrown. Friends and family think that the tablecloth is super cool and a fun special way to remember a celebration. The whereabouts of all three of The Gabbard Family birthday tablecloths are unknown at this point (We’ve moved several times and each move things just get burred deeper and deeper within cardboard boxes and tubber-ware).