I find birthdays to be the most perplexing of all holidays. For starters, every person in the whole world was born. It seems counterintuitive that this is the accomplishment that we have universally chosen to celebrate. A baby has literally nothing to do with being born, and yet on the day designated for celebrating birth, they reap the rewards. All the while the unsung heroes: broken condoms and wine coolers, are failing to get the recognition that they deserve.
Then the next hurdle: not only must you have a birthday, but it must be happy. It is as integral a part of our culture as baseball and apple pie: Have a Happy Birthday! And just in case they thought that they could get away with having any other sort of birthday, we then accost them with reminders that their birthday must be happy. We plaster it on the walls, litter the heavens with emblazoned balloons, and assault that lucky someone with out of pitch singing. Perhaps you’re thinking: well, it should be no problem to be happy on your birthday- birthdays are inherently happy! But that is where I take issue. When you are little, you have no problem being happy on your birthday. Birthdays are wonderful, colorful celebrations filled with sugar, friends, and fun. That’s because when you are a little kid, the responsibility to create a happy birthday falls to the parents- the kid has nothing to worry about except blowing out all the candles and sticking some bows on their head for cliché photo-ops. At some point in every person’s life though, the responsibility of having a happy birthday shifts. Now the pressure is on. Unfortunately, the issue with a one-person holiday is that the rest of the world typically isn’t on board, and the concept of having a day to celebrate yourself can cause people to feel entitled. The result? I can’t believe I have to go to work on my birthday. I can’t believe I have to do the dishes on my birthday. Going out to dinner and whispering to the waitress: Just so you know- it’s my birthday (read: I want to be the center of attention and eat your food for free). So predictably enough, when people are forced to go about life as usual on their birthday, they feel jipped and are often more grumpy than happy.
Additionally as you get older birthdays are likely to become less blindly happy, and more confusing and stressful. Why? I blame society. Society expects you to have a happy birthday. In fact, it is almost unthinkable that someone should be anything but happy on their birthday. However, society also devalues you as you age. The result is that you are forced to plaster a smile on your face while silently mourning the gradual and ever-impending loss of your youth between bites of cake.
In closing, birthdays are not special in and of themselves: this one day a year is not magically going to be happy if the rest of your life is miserable. A birthday is at its essence, a celebration of your life. So while some people may see remembering to breathe for a year as a reason to celebrate, it seems to me that the best way to celebrate life is by really living, every day.