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Another complete tangent, but hey, it is January 13 where I am and it’s my birthday and my blog, so…
Did I mention it’s my birthday? Well, I’m the type of person who loves to be wished “Happy Birthday!”, so I even go out of my way tell people that today is the day. And as my Facebook shows, people very kindly respond with greetings and best wishes. Thanks!
But since I broached the subject , I’ve had interesting conversations yesterday and today with people who take a dim view of birthdays. No, it’s not for the reason you might think (i.e., growing older and more clearly one day, month, year closer to death). They put it down to modesty, even culture.
One friend I talked to today never advertises his birthday because he’s afraid that doing so will invite somebody to give him a present. Then he’d feel obligated to give something back and that causes him stress. He prefers his birthdays and his celebrations be immediate family affairs celebrated only by the people who care enough to remember it’s his birthday without being told. Telling other people kinda spoils something. He’d rather enjoy fruit fallen from a tree due to a windfall, not because he deliberately shook the tree.
Another friend talked about how birthdays are to him an artificial Western invention — who celebrated birthdays in days of yore, and in his Eastern culture? He also feels that a celebration of oneself on one day is silly, when every day that one is alive should be a cause for celebration. Why focus in on one day?
To them I said that we celebrate birthdays because in days of yore we had no birth certificates, thus most knew not exactly when they were born (making hard to celebrate).
More important to me is that birthdays are an unusual type of celebration. Holidays or festivals celebrate, for example, a significant community event (e.g., an independence or foundation day, a notable person’s birth or death, a historical remembrance of ancestors and what they did or went through), the advent of a season, a person’s specific position in our lives (a parent or child), or other things cultural or temporal that the individual has no real control over.
A birthday, on the other hand, celebrates the individual. It is the only event of the year that allows the individual to claiim his or her own special day, and allows said birthday person to bathe in Lake You and feel appreciated for being alive and part of other people’s lives.
And unlike festivals where people feel obligated to carry a large palanquin, stand in a parade, throw coins in a box, deck the halls, or engage in some cultural festivities that the individual has little control over, birthdays are nearly completely up to the individual. Hell, as argued above, the individual can choose NOT to celebrate himself at all by just keeping schtum about his DOB.
But to me, the birthday is the most important day in the calendar year in terms of psychological recharging because it heralds the triumph of the individual, and the things that make her or him special, over the larger impersonality of culture. I instinctively support that, because individuals generally get subsumed in the maintenance of the imagined community. The national holiday can happen without you. Your birthday cannot.
And why not celebrate every day you’re alive, not focus on one day? What other day but a birthday will most well wishers be on board to wish you well?
What do other Debito.org Readers think? Turning the discussion over to you. Enjoy the tangent. Dr. Debito