It’s all Mom’s fault. Every birthday, I woke up to find my bed covered with gifts and cards. I got to wear new clothes to school and eat whatever I wanted for dinner. We had company, cake and singing, and I felt like a princess.
Somehow, now that I’m a grownup, it doesn’t happen quite that way. The plumbing backs up, clients want their work on time and don’t care if it’s my birthday, and most of the family kind of forgets that hey, it’s my special day.
Hello! It’s March 9th. It’s my birthday.
It seems as if once you pass a certain age, you’re not supposed to celebrate birthdays. At least not so that anyone would notice. Just another day, says my brother. Don’t you dare tell anyone it’s my birthday, says a friend at church. One year closer to death, says another gloomy friend. I don’t have birthdays anymore, yet another friend responds when asked if this might possibly be her birthday.
Not me. I want to celebrate. I’m still alive, still healthy, still doing what I want to do. Sure, I’m older, but I don’t feel any older. I think a birthday is an important occasion, time to look at yourself and your life and thank God for the good things and resolve to get rid of the bad things. It’s a time to say, “Hoorah, I have passed another milestone.”
It’s the beginning of a whole new year of life.
I still have fantasies of the family gathered around, torn wrapping paper and presents at my feet, and chocolate cake on a plate in my lap–with big frosting flowers so sugary they make your teeth hurt. I want to see the lit candles in the dark and hear everyone singing to me.
Me, me, me. I recently discovered that large groups of Christians and others don’t approve of birthdays. There’s the “me, me, me,” factor, selfish, spoiled and ungodly. But also, the whole cake-and-candle tradition began as a pagan rite to ward off evil spirits thousands of years ago. Since Jesus never mentioned birthday parties in the Bible, we have no scriptural basis for having them. Furthermore, keeping track of birthdays smacks of astrology, a kissing cousin of witchcraft.
Holy cow, but my saintly Catholic mother started it. If Mom baked the cake with her own hands and lit the candles and sang “Happy Birthday” to me, how could it be bad? She wasn’t singing to chase away evil spirits; she was singing about how she loved me. And maybe celebrating having gotten this accident-prone offspring through another year of life.
In our American culture, kids get birthday parties. We also throw parties for adults celebrating the so-called milestone birthdays: 21, 40, 50, 65, 80, 90, 100. For the years in-between, things sort of fall apart. You don’t get a party, unless you’re like our departed friend Robert who used to throw himself a whopper of a fiesta every year, with tons of food, a huge crowd, and hangovers that lasted for a week.
The rest of us mark our birthdays with sedate lunches, cakes at the office, and a few cards–some of which arrive a week or more after the actual birthday. Now we also get e-mail cards from those family members who will never get their act together enough to actually buy, sign and mail a real card. Last year, I received one with three pigs singing “Happy Birthday” to the tune of “Funiculi Funicula.” I read it, I laughed, it was gone.
Over the years, I have developed certain birthday rituals. My favorite is to run away for the day, then go out for dinner and cake that evening. On a typical birthday when Fred was still here, I drove north up the coast. I did some shopping at the outlet stores in Lincoln City, took myself to lunch, visited the quilt museum in Tillamook and walked on the beach. At Cape Lookout, I stood high over the Pacific Ocean and blew soap bubbles from a red plastic bottle of Mr. Bubble, watching them float into the sky and disappear into the clouds. I thought about my life, counted my blessings, and made some plans. Then I came home and pigged out on chocolate with my faithful husband, whom I had programmed for a month to either honor my birthday or sleep with the dog.
Aside from lunch with friends, I don’t know what I’ll do this year, but I do know that it’s supposed to be a special day. Mom always said so.
Perhaps it’s unseemly to celebrate one’s birthday as if one were still a child. Perhaps it’s even sinful. But I don’t believe it. God gave us this life, and if he grants us another year, I think it would be ungrateful not to celebrate as hard as we can.