celebrating birthdays

You don’t get harmony when everyone sings the same note.

— Doug Floyd

ID-100264061 birthday
How you acknowledge someone’s birthday is highly individual. (image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Today is my birthday.

Not that I’m telling you because I want a flood of ‘Happy Birthday’ messages coming my way; rather, I am merely using the occasion to illustrate a point about celebrations.

Over the course of the last couple of hours I have received a mixed bag of ‘birthday tidings’: there have been lots of lovely messages via Facebook and SMS; my mother sent me a text; I just got off the phone with my grandmother; my son forgot until I reminded him; my daughter and husband handed me a card and said, “Happy Birthday”.

When I was growing up, we never made a massive deal about birthdays. They were  acknowledged and celebrated in a small way, but they were never forgotten. We would always have a ‘family party’ with cake and presents. We never did the big parties with loads of people — our family was not into that; I’m still not, I really don’t like them. In my entire life to this day, I recall only having one ‘party’ where loads of friends were invited. I also recall having a rather miserable and uncomfortable time. I would much rather have a small gathering of close friends and family for dinner.

I assumed this mode of operation was the same for everyone; but then I met my husband and discovered it isn’t.

It took at least five years, probably longer if I was to think about it, for my husband to remember my birthday. The idea of this was so far removed from my own experience it actually offended me for a long time. (And, if I’m honest, it still does a bit.)

The thing is, though, as lovely as they are, my husband’s family are a tad blasé about birthdays. They might ring each other on the day — if they think of it. Even then, the greeting seems slightly awkward, “Yeah, so, I’m just ringing to say Happy Birthday for today.” A gift, or even a card, is not a given. Some years they come, others they don’t. (This includes the grandchildren; a HUGE bone of contention on my part.)

Birthdays are not only about what you can GET, I know that, but something small from a close family member is important. Again, this may just be my upbringing and the influence of my father. Gifts aside though — forgetting that it’s a family member’s birthday is unforgiveable!

It has taken me a long time to reconcile my own ‘birthday beliefs’ with those of my husband. When my children were young, I fought tooth and nail to make sure their birthdays were celebrated — and that they appropriately acknowledged the birthdays of others. Not discounting a few hiccups (today!), I think we’ve done alright. I’ve come to accept a slightly less enthusiastic birthday greeting and acknowledgement; and my husband hasn’t forgotten my birthday for at least the last twelve years. It’s a happy medium.

I know a couple of people who rail against any sort of celebration on their own birthday. One person flatly refuses to go anywhere or see anyone until the day is over. Good on them, I say; birthdays are about the ‘birthday person’, not about other people’s enjoyment.

I also know people who go ‘all out’ to celebrate their birthdays with massive, themed celebrations. Again I say ‘good on them’; if that’s what floats your boat and makes you happy, why shouldn’t you do it?

I also know some people, like myself, who appreciate having their birthdays acknowledged with a quiet celebration (or a lovely message with a glittering array of emojis). To the people who want to make more of a fuss, although your intentions are well-meaning and we love you all the same …  I think I can put it out there and answer for all of us, ‘Please don’t go overboard … at all. We are happy with a message and a bit of cake.’

If we all liked the same thing, celebrated in the same way, the world could potentially be extremely raucous, or incredibly quiet. (Or we could all just send messages and eat cake.)

The mix of ways in which we celebrate is what makes the world sing in harmony.

That being said, don’t try to sing Happy Birthday to me, in harmony or out of tune. I hate it. It’s embarrassing standing there with a smile plastered on your face waiting for the song and the ‘hip hip hoorays’ to end.


One thought on “celebrating birthdays

  1. Love your ‘You don’t get harmony…’ quote. I agree, birthdays are very special and personal. However, sometimes we have to give into pressure and accept various salutations, gifts and celebrations.
    I try to think of birthdays as a chance to say, ‘I have made it another year on this planet’. I have learned to accept the goodwill of people who have been involved in my life’s journey.
    I hope to see you tomorrow, Kellie, unless the sky falls down. I will look upon the festivities as a chance to reflect upon all the ‘stuff’ that has happened in a busy life.
    As Anne Frank said, ‘Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy’.
    May all birthdays be special, happy and reflective events in our lives!


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