I am thick into preparing my family’s “birthday month”. When my kids were little, we referred to it as our own private March Madness. Out of the five of us in our nuclear family, only I am born outside the month of March. The girls are spaced three years apart between each (how’s that for timing?!) – too much of an age difference for joint parties. Our kitchen turned into a bona fide bakery every March. And, of course, there were gifts, party invites, streamers, etc. On top of that, my mother’s birthday is smack in the middle of March.
Why do we celebrate birthdays?
Now everyone is older. It is still birthday month in my life but in a very different way. Which gets me thinking: Why are birthdays meaningful? After all, in some cultures, birthdays are not celebrated at all. And for those of us who do celebrate, what do birthdays mean?
A Kid’s-Eye View
Kids seem to enjoy birthday celebrations the most. Of course, there is the material joy of gifts and cakes. This is also the one day each year for the birthday boy or girl to be the center of attention. Family love. A chance to host friends. And also a pride in notching another year onto the belt, another step in becoming “big.”
A Young-Adult-Eye View
My kids are now all in their 20s. The thing for them seems to be destination birthday parties – flexing their newly found financial independence and giving themselves a mini-vacation from the recently-entered world of work!
A Middle-Age-Eye View
At my age, many people don’t actually like to celebrate their birthdays at all. I remember when I turned 50, I hightailed it out of town to avoid any “surprise” parties. My birthday was a stark reminder that I was “heading into the back nine” as they say.
An Elder’s-Eye View
At my parents’ age, my experience is that those who make it that far enjoy celebrating again. It is a time of reflection on a life well lived, a chance to share memories and celebrate deep connection to family and friends.
There is one thing, though, that runs continuously through every birthday. And it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. That is your actual BIRTH day, the day you came into the world. It is a chance to celebrate life itself, with all its various points along the life cycle. A time to engage in the sheer joy of the birthday person’s presence on earth, his or her unique contribution to humanity.
So, a Happy Birthday to all my March people. And, more generally to all: To Life, L’chaim!
Share your favorite birthday stories.