The pragmatic Dutch approach life as sensibly and realistically as possible, without too much fuss, stress or pomp and circumstance. But birthdays are an entirely different phenomenon. The Dutch are refreshingly sentimental about them, “congratulating” the birthday celebrant, parents, siblings, significant others and anyone close to them really. I initially found it strange that a congratulations was in order for simply surviving another year.
The Dutch even have the cultural practice of having a ‘birthday calendar’ perfectly posted on the bathroom door so you can inspect it when you’re sitting on the toilet first thing in the morning. It’s a faux pas not to give birthday greetings to loved ones and even acquaintances.
There’s a tradition of bringing a traktatie, a little treat, to school (and work). But here’s the caveat: there doesn’t seem to be any overachieving Dutch moms who foster silly social expectations about the heights these school traktaties should reach. (Though maybe there really is a traktatie production behind the scenes that as a foreigner I can nonchalantly ignore.)
It’s actually often a bragging right if a mom (or dad) discovers an easy, cost-effective and time efficient manner to make the treats.
The fourth birthday is an important one. It’s when a child informally “graduates” from preschool (or créche) and heads over to the local elementary school. So the fourth birthday is both a celebration of the day of their birth and a bittersweet farewell to a special stage in their life.
The American mom in me couldn’t resist taking this as an opportunity to let the often repressed, wanna-be Martha Stewart come out. I wanted to give a special treat to my son’s preschool classmates and a token of appreciation to his three teachers. But I also looked forward to the Dutch mentality of not over-stressing. (Starting next year, I’ll definitely get him to help out on making his birthday treats.)
I decided that Bram’s fourth birthday treat would be miniature cupcakes and a 3D pencil giveaway card. I outsourced the miniature cupcakes to my talented baker friend Sweettoot which saved me time and still ticked off on the homemade (read = made with love) taste.
Added bonus: Bringing a birthday treat is also a great way sneak in a little 15 minute party at the end of the day at school. The preschool teachers are experts in entertaining the two to four year-olds with various birthday songs; there’s a built-in, cost-free venue, minimal preparation and clean-up, and no hurt feelings since everyone is invited.
How To Make a 3D Pencil Giveaway Card
Take a picture of child with his arm extended into a fist. Don’t hesitate going paparazzi as it may take several shots to get the desired 3D effect that you are going after.
Customise picture using whatever photo-editing software you feel the most comfortable with (Photoshop and Pic Monkey are easy).
Print however many photos you need.
Using a paper knife (or a really sharp knife with a small blade), cut one slit above the first and another slit below the fist.
Insert pencil (or whatever it is you want to add).
Admire your handiwork and feel like Martha Stewart.