AA History:  Chips, Medallions and Birthdays

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Here is bit of info on Chips and Cakes that I put together to answer some questions on the subject.

Chips, Medallions and Birthdays

The traditions of chips, medallions and birthdays vary in different parts of the country and I thought it would be interesting to look up some of the history on them.

Sister lgnatia, the nun who helped Dr. Bob get the hospitalization program started at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron was the first person to use medallions in Alcoholics Anonymous. She gave the drunks who were leaving St. Thomas after a five day dry out a Sacred Heart Medallion and instructed
them that the acceptance of the medallion signified a commitment to God, to A.A and to recovery and that if they were going to drink, they had a responsibility to return the medallion to her before drinking.

The sacred heart badges had been used prior to A.A. by the Father Matthew Temperance Movement of the 1840s and the Pioneers an Irish Temperance Movement of the 1890s.

The practice of sobriety chips in A.A. started with a Group in Elmira, N.Y.in 1947 and has grown from there.

The celebration of birthdays came from the Oxford Group where they celebrated the anniversary of their spiritual rebirth. As we have a problem with honesty, A.A. chose the anniversary of the date of our last drink.

Early celebrations of birthdays resulted in people getting drunk and Dr. Harry Tiebout was asked to look at the problem and he commented on this phenomenon in an articled titled "When the Big "I" Becomes Nobody", (AAGV, Sept. 65)

"Early on in A.A., I was consulted about a serious problem plaguing the local group. The practice of celebrating a year's sobriety with a birthday cake had resulted in a certain number of the members getting drunk within a short period after the celebration. It seemed apparent that some could not stand prosperity. I was asked to settle between birthday cakes or no birthday

Characteristically, I begged off, not from shyness but from ignorance. Some three or four years later, A.A. furnished me the answer. The group no longer had such a problem because, as one member said, "We celebrate still, but a year's sobriety is now a dime a dozen. No one gets much of a kick out of that anymore."

The AAGV carried many articles on chips and cakes and the following is a brief summary of some.

Feb. 1948, Why All the Congratulations? "When we start taking bows (even on anniversaries) we bow ourselves right into the cuspidor."

July, 1948. Group To Give Oscar for Anniversaries.
The Larchmont Group of Larchmont, N.Y. gives a cast bronze camel mounted on a mahogany base to celebrate 1st., 5th and 10th anniversaries.

"The camel is wholly emblematic of the purposes of most sincere A.A.s, i.e., to live for 24 hours without a drink."

August 1948. The Artesta, N. Mex. Group awards marbles to all members. If you are caught without your marbles, you are fined 25 cents. This money goes into the Foundation Fund.

June 1953, We operate a poker chip club in the Portland Group (Maine). We have poker chips of nine colors of which the white represents the probation period of one month. If he keeps his white chip for one month he is presented with a red chip for one month's sobriety.

The chips continue with blue for two months, black for three, green for four, transparent blue for five, amber for six, transparent purple for nine months and a transparent clear chip for one year. We have our chips stamped with gold A.A. letters.

Also at the end of the year and each year thereafter, we present them with a group birthday card signed by all members present at the meeting.

January 1955, Charlotte, N.C. "When a man takes 'The Long Walk' at the end of a meeting, to pick up a white chip, he is admitting to his fellow men that he has finally accepted the precepts of A.A. and is beginning his sobriety.
At the end of three months he exchanges his white chip for a red one. Later, a handsome, translucent chip of amber indicates that this new member has enjoyed six months of a new way of life. The nine month chip is a clear seagreen and a blue chip is given for the first year of sobriety. In some groups a sponsor will present his friend with an engraved silver chip, at
the end of five years clear thinking and clean living.

March 1956, The One Ton Poker Chip. Alton, Illinois. Author gave friend a chip on his first day eight years ago (1948) and told him to accept it in the spirit of group membership and that if he wanted to drink to throw the chip away before starting drinking.

October 1956, Bangor Washington. Article about a woman who sits in a bar to drink the bartender sees her white chips and asks what it is. She tells him. He throws her out as he does not want an alcoholic in his bar. She calls friend.

April 1957, Cape Cod, Mass. Group recognizes 1st, 5th and 15th anniversaries.
Person celebrating leads meeting. Person is presented with a set of wooden carved plaques with the slogans.

July 1957, New Brunswick, Canada. Birthday Board. Member contributes one dollar for each year of sobriety.

July 1957, Oregon. Person is asked to speak and is introduced by his or her sponsor. The wife, mother, sister or other relative brings up a cake. The Group sings Happy Birthday. The wife gives a two or thee minute talk.

April 1959, Patterson, N.J. People are asked to give "three month pintalks."

And that's a little bit of info on chips, cakes and medallions.

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