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Happy Birthday, Jesus! (The Back Story)

When did Eden Church start celebrating the modern “Happy Birthday, Jesus” along with our traditional Christmas? At Eden Church we can trace our happy habit of encouraging our children to collect food and gifts for others outside our congregation under the “Happy Birthday” theme to around 1950. At that time, Miriam Phillips, an Eden member, daughter of a Presbyterian minister and mother of Anne Duey, put her head together with her friend and neighbor Muriel Hanley to throw a “Happy Birthday, Jesus” party with the children of Jamison Way. Note that while the children were treated to cake, carols and the nativity story, the party wasn’t really for them. They were expected to bring food to donate to local families in need. The parties were a ringing success and collected many boxes and bags of food each year for several years.

A generation later, Mrs. Phillips brought the tradition along to her home on Sheffield Rd. and expanded the party to include lunch and musical performances. This included trumpet playing by Mrs. Phillips herself and vocal solos, notably by Jeanne Whitney, an Eden choir star. At least one neighbor child remembers being pressed into service as an a cappella soloist, willing or not! Again, the real pleasure of the party was collecting food to fill the pantries of local families who likely would not have the luxury of fresh winter fruits and vegetables, real butter, and big turkeys.

About 35 years ago, Mrs. Phillips and her friends established the “Happy Birthday, Jesus” tradition here at Eden Church and expanded the collection effort to include toys and other gifts for needy children. Sometimes the church picked out several specific families to sponsor; later our association with FESCO offered opportunities to allow that board to distribute food, gifts and toys to families in their service area. The collection parties were held
here at Eden and included a traditional birthday cake.

Currently, “Happy Birthday, Jesus” has evolved into a gift collection during a December Sunday service, followed by a luncheon and cake in Oliver Hall. Gifts given by the congregation, community members, and the Alameda County Firefighters are then distributed at the annual Tres Reyes (Three Kings) Fiesta, which we celebrate with the Cherryland community, as part of our Compañeras/os Ministry. This year our “Happy Birthday, Jesus” collection and luncheon will be on Dec 21. The Tres Reyes Fiesta will be on Jan 4.

For 70 years the tradition of celebrating Jesus’ birth by generously giving to others and sharing our own bounty has taken seed and flourished here at Eden Church. The locations and faces have changed, but the joy and gratitude endure.

A loving Christmas to all!

The 150th Anniversary Committee