Let me preface my comments with this... We believe Jesus loved a good party. His first miracle was at a wedding celebration after all. He was often seen at celebrations and dinners with friends. He has blessed us abundantly and we believe He wants us to have and enjoy his blessings. Money (things bouht with such) is not the root of all evil after all but rather the love of it.
It is a difficult balance, and one that requires serious consideration, prayer and preparation. I also believe that if the Fathers of the Church used pagan holidays & symbols and transformed them into a means by which to bring Christ into ordinary things, so to can we. I would go a step further and suggest that perhaps so to should we.
In our celebrations Christ is always the center and He radiates from all apects of the celebrations. I believe this is a positive witness to those who live outside the Light of Christ. I want them to see the joy and celebration that we enjoy as result of being a new creation in Him. If I were a non-believer, particularly a child, and I saw my neighbors not celebrating, or getting the most meager of blessings for their birthday and holidays, I doubt seriously that Christianity would seem very appealing, let alone Catholicism. I think it was Father Groeschel that said that piety for piety's sake is useless or something to that affect -that I am sure I just butchered. I do not spoil the kids, we don't believe in excess for excess' sake either and of course proper respect for their belongings, work with the poor and self sacrifice need to be included in the upbringing.
Feast Days: the kids normally write a paragraph about the Saint and/or we discuss them after daily Mass. Most dinners around here pretty big and we have dessert every night already. We have at times decorated the front door or done coloring pages with the younger ones.
Valentine's Day: We celebrate the love in our relationships. I go out on a date with each of my sons and dh takes dd out as well. Everyone dresses up and girls get flowers. It's excellent training ground for courtship. We also love cards.
Lent: We have ton of things we do. Build a cross, hang purple cloth on the many crosses in the house, prayers, meditation, adoration, watch the Passion, and other activities to numerous to list from one year to the next. We work the food pantry and the homeless shelters all year round.
Easter: We love EASTER!!!! This should be the biggest celebration of all, IMO. He conquered death for us! During Holy week we make banners, a table cloth with our hand prints and we do freestyle art about our faith and Jesus. We also make a large paper mache tomb & stone. We have a piece of drop cloth we have painted and decorated and we make a large hill with the tomb. We have a plush Jesus doll that is probably 14" high. We place Him in the tomb on Friday and roll the stone in front. On Easter morning, He is Risen!! The kids must "seek Him" to find their blessings, "blessing baskets" we call them. They immediately go searching for Him and find abundant treats, and trinkets, spring toys, bubbles, Christian Cd's, books, religious medals & jewelry or VeggieTales movies, and LOTS of candy. We search for eggs too with Jelly beans, another seeking game, and we always discuss how important it is to seek Him, even when He seems well hidden in a situation.
We decorate the mantle with flowers and the kids banners. We also do a Lion and Lamb theme each year. We discuss the renewal of spring, new life in Christ, being a new creation etc. We have fostered chicks for the farm before, and a few ducks (not my hubby's favorite choice). We invite friends and family over and have a huge meal, and celebrate.
Christmas: we do gifts, even plastic ones, probably made in China, hopefully without lead paint though! I expect the children to treat their belongings with care and respect. So, when the next year comes around we clean out the rooms, clean and spruce up their toys and sell them in St. Nick's Workshop, a shop I run at Christmas with all the proceeds going to the homeless shelter for mom's and children. We made more than $300 this last year and donated all the extra toys as well as beautiful new ones and clothing to the shelter. We also attend lots of special services, go to the Shrine, etc.
St. Nick: we do the shoes, gold coins, prayer cards & books.
Birthdays: I do big, but inexpensive. We do parties that I do at home and create on my own - my 16 yr old's was a video scavenger hunt - video your team giving a policeman a group hug for example. It was awesome. My daughters 13th will be The Amazing Race -a take off the show. I'm very creative and come up with fabulous parties. I do the cakes. We also have a separate family party where I make the meal of their choice. We give the birthday boy/girl cards and write what we have seen God doing in their life this last year and what our prayers are for them in the next year.
Life is for living and God wants us to live joyfully. Even when we had nothing, 2 weeks after hurricane Katrina we had a fabulous birthday party for dd with what we did have, and we celebrated. My daughter got shoes and a futon to sleep on. "Count it all joy."