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Turning 13: A Meaningful Way to Celebrate a Son (updated)

October 7, 2019

13 is a milestone birthday

13 is a milestone birthday – a huge deal for all involved.  Both child and parents will come face to face with new realities.  The climb up the mountain of the teen years requires new equipment, endurance, a route map, and a team.  There are obstacles ahead, but there are also breathtaking vistas along the way.  In fact, they will probably happen simultaneously.

The birthday marks the beginning.


It’s base camp.

Base camp is where climbers prepare for their journey.  Here supplies are stocked, packs are prepared, and the warm security of safety is found.  As my sister and I talked about what to do for my nephew Caleb’s 13th, we wanted to create something memorable.  Something to fill his pack, and an experience he could look back on when the climb gets tough;  Something that helps him to remember that base camp awaits him, no matter where he goes, no matter what his journey.

Creating a birthday rite of passage

We heard about a rite of passage ritual of a son going on a path where he meets men of wisdom along that way who give him advice.  We decided to use that concept, but change it so that family would be the ones on the path, and with the goal of telling him something that sets him apart as unique and special.  It would also be an opportunity for the adults in his life to share some of their wisdom.

Marking Out The Birthday Path

On his birthday, my sister explained that he would walk from our lake cabin, down to the creek where we always go.  He was told that people would meet him along that way, and that they would each walk him to the next person.  After everyone was in their place, his dad gave him a bag, and sent him to walk his road.

What he found along the path:

His brother, explaining why popcorn describes him. His Boppa giving him advice and wisdom about money.

His uncle, and cousin, telling him they think he is 5 star!

His great aunt telling him how special he is in the world.

His cousin telling him what a great example he is in his life. He made him a walking stick.

His Gigi explaining the importance &  legacy of family.

And me, his auntie, reminding him to stand on a firm foundation through the shifting teen years.

His mom prayed over him, and spoke words of life as he walked down the final stretch of the trail.

He arrived at the bridge to find us all waiting. We prayed over him and asked God to walk with him closely, and we thanked Him for giving us the gift of C.A.L.E.B.

Caleb climbed Mt.Adams for his 13th with his dad. We know this will be the first of many climbs for him, both figurative and literal.  But no matter where he ventures, this base camp crew will be cheering, preparing his pack, and helping map his route.


To save this post for later, pin this image


This post was originally published in 2012, since then we’ve done this tradition with every child in the family, adjusting it to meet the specific personality of each one. See the additions below.

Variations of this Birthday Tradition:

Time of year for birthdays make a difference! To see our ski/winter version of this click here. Or pin the image to save for later.
birthdays, winter, skiing, snow, trees

Book Version:

We also did a book version for Dawson’s birthday. Everyone gave him a book that has been impactful in their life, or their favorite pick. They wrote on the covers to him. As he walked he collected the books in his backpack.

grandson, grandpa, grandfather, son, birthday, woods

Because Dawson is a reader, this was a perfect adaptation for this tradition for him.

books, traditions, favorite books, reading, book list

I’d love your thoughts, can you think of other ways to adapt this tradition?

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  1. Kendra Grabowski says:

    Thanks so much Kris for documenting this milestone. It was so awesome and reading it made me cry all over again. I am so grateful for our family!

  2. peggy says:

    amazing! wish I would have seen this before my son’s 13th!!!

    • Krista says:

      Thanks for stopping by Peggy! You could still do it…. maybe for your son’s 16th?? Blessings to you in all that you do!

    • Julianne Shelton says:

      wow, i just found this through a google search since it is my twin neice/nephew’s birthday today.I would love to follow the life of Caleb (and the other children who went through this special rite of passage in your family), and see what great things the Lord does in their life and then for Him. This is surely laying a foundation for them to know how loved and precious their life is…

  3. Alison says:

    Beautifully documented for Caleb and your family, but thank you for also sharing it with all of us. It is inspirational.

    • Krista says:

      Thank you Alison. You are always such an encourager! I really, really appreciate your comments. Praying you and your family are thriving this 2013!!!! XOXO

  4. Joshua Vang says:

    What an amazing gift this is! So special and personal. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Krista,

    This sounds so similar to what we did for our son’s 13th – my husband planned a special ‘manhood’ celebration where specific individuals spoke truth over him (with similar objects lessons) – it was really awesome — one he will never forget. It was funny, b/c Kendra and I chatted about this last Nov. and realized we both did something similar for our boys. 😉

    Awesome! God bless your week, Love, Hester 😉

  6. Gweynn says:

    Completely amazing, had me crying!! Thanks for the great ideas! Bless you CALEB!

  7. Rachel says:

    This is so beautiful. My son turns 13 in two weeks and we have things rolling to make this happen. What was the book that you read? Did you come up with the ideas for each person to talk about? Or did they do it on their own? Thank you for sharing this. We are so excited.

    • Krista says:

      I’m realizing your son’s bday is probably past Rachel! How did it go? We came up with our own ideas, and the main idea of it ourselves. What did you end up doing? I’d love to hear!

  8. Ro Lewis says:

    I just prayed this morning and asked God what to do for my son’s 13th bday and I have found it!!!

    Thank you so much for sharing

    • kristagilly says:

      I am so glad!!! It is so very meaningful… we’ve done it several times now with the kids in our family. I pray it will be such a blessing for you all!

  9. […] my niece turned 13, and in our family we have a unique ritual for that.  It’s so […]

  10. […] the kids in our extended family turn 13, they go on a walk down a path in the woods with a backpack. Along the way, they encounter various […]

  11. Mike says:

    This is great. Thanks. I’ve just prayed about what to do for my son – we’re in the UK – and found this – very inspiring. I’m contacting various relatives, youth pastor, friends, to ask them to join in. Thanks so much for posting this even though it’s a few years back for you now.

  12. Toni Willis says:

    I love this idea! My son is turning 13 in one month and I want to do something meaningful for him to carry with him. I am so inspired by this blog post. Our family is small but we have a loving community around us that could drop pearls of wisdom for him on his journey into manhood. Blessings to you and your family and thank you for sharing.

    • Krista says:

      Hi Toni – thank you and I’m so glad you are doing something special with family AND friends. It really does matter! Blessings on you and your son.

  13. Gloria says:

    I love this!!
    Thank You for sharing!!!
    I realize your son must be 18 now?!
    All the best to him and you.

  14. […] Turning 13 – a meaningful way to usher in the teen years (Krista’s blog post on the ritual). […]

  15. Salini says:

    Hi Krista
    Thank you for sharing your story,my son is turning 13 on Feb 14th, and would love to do something similar to bring in that sense of manhood. Your story got me teary eyed.Much love♥

  16. Hannah says:

    I’m searching for a special way to celebrate my son’s 13th birthday at the end of this year. His Dad passed away in December and this will be his first birthday without him. This is beautiful…thinking now of how to modify it for a late November birthday in Vermont! Thank you for the inspiration!

    • Krista says:

      I am so sorry Hannah. That must be so hard. Way to step in that gap and make it special for him. I would LOVE to see this done in Vermont. Take pictures and share them with me 🙂 We’ve done this in the snow and it’s really fun.

  17. Tierra says:

    I LOVE this idea. My son doesnt turn 13 until 2020 but this is something that I would totally do. I would also try to incorporate something from his Grandmother and uncle who meant everything to him but have passed away. I think that he would forever remember and cherish a moment such as this. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Krista says:

      Hi Tierra – I REALLY love that idea of honoring and bringing in those loved ones who have passed away. What a special and meaningful add to this idea. Thank you for sharing and I’m excited for you to do it xoxo

  18. Caleb Grabowski says:

    lol, Gabe and I just looked back at this!!!

  19. Andrea says:

    I never leave comments on blogs, but I was moved to TEARS, I mean literal crocodile tears as I read this. What a wonderful, impactful, thoughtful, caring way to show and tell your son who he is to his family, friends and to the world. Congrats and this was awesome. I know he is noooooow an adult, but this was oh so amazing. God is Awesome. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Krista says:

      Oh my goodness THANK YOU Andrea! That means so much. It’s been a very important tradition to our family – every child crossing the teen threshold has done it. Thank you for taking the time to encourage us!

  20. Tori G says:

    My son will be turning 13 in June so Ive been searching for something special to do for him. He mentioned he wanted a Bar mitz vah but…were not Jewish. This is PERFECT. My eyeballs are sweating!!! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Krista says:

      Oh I’m so glad Tori! Yes, I think barmitzvah’s are such an incredible experience for young people, and this is my version I guess 😉 Let me know how it goes!

  21. Des says:

    And his mom prayed over him,this part made me cry. I pray over mine daily,and I never thought to pray over them on their birthdays. Wonderful inspiration! Thankyou for sharing!

    • Krista says:

      Oh that is so heart warming! Thanks for reaching out to let me know. I’m sure it was so special! Blessings on all of you. xo

  22. Granpa says:

    The Klein world and world rotates around you lots of love wear your armor Grandpa

  23. […] This post is about what we do when a child in our family turns the page into the teen years. This child goes on a “walk” and encounters family members along the way who encourage, give gifts, and speak wisdom for the road ahead. It’s been one of our very favorite traditions. […]

  24. […] wrote several years ago about what we do in our family when a child turns 13. It’s a major milestone in a child’s life, and we wanted to mark it well, so we created a […]

  25. Erin says:

    What a lovely celebration of Caleb and a wonderful welcome to the teen years! Thank you for sharing.

  26. Deena Estes says:

    I think this is a beautiful way to celebrate your son turning 13, but what about those families that don’t have family around. It’s just myself my husband and our son.
    We live far away from family and have no family support.

    • Krista says:

      Hi Deena! I love that you want to do this with your son. I know many people who have done this with friends instead of family. Here are some ideas – church groups, sports team coaches, impactful teachers, etc. I hope that gets your wheels turning – it’s totally doable!

  27. Kyleigh Nichole Morgan says:

    I am crying. Seriously this is so sweet. I was looking for a special thing to do for my sons 13th

    • Krista says:

      Hi Kyleigh – thank you for taking the time to leave a message. It’s been a special tradition in our family. I pray turning 13 will be a monumental moment for your son and will kick off life-giving teenage years for him. Blessings!

  28. Mary Ann Nickles says:

    What a lucky young man to have such a spiritual mom/family. What an amazing idea. Thank you. May God bless you and your family

  29. Melyssa says:

    This is amazing. Gave me happy and sad tears. My son turns 13 in a few weeks unfortunately we don’t have much family left and recently moved but I’m going to have some long distance family try to do the book idea.
    Thank you for the idea

    • Krista says:

      I think that sounds like a wonderful idea Melyssa! I hope it goes so well – I know your efforts will be such a blessing to your son. xo


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