What does your birthday mean to you? Do you celebrate each year? What about milestone birthdays like 50 or 60 or beyond? Do we start celebrating half decades at say 75? What does a good birthday look like for you? Or is it just another date on the calendar? What’s the happiest birthday you remember? I’ve been thinking about my birthday all year. It’s not that my life is empty nor that my narcissism is out of whack..I just really like birthdays….I always have.
The seeds of celebration are sown in childhood. They are culturally defined and events such as birthdays, Christmas and perhaps Easter stake out the year into its component parts. The seasons wrap around these events and define their shape. The calendar and our lives are shaped by the webs of shared meaning in our community just as the day is defined by hours and minutes. I watch my son and his young family as they create the rituals and events that will define how their family celebrates. For ritual and celebration are important in telling the story of who we are.
Alison Bone writing for SBS Life in July 2016 wrote
How we celebrate is a definition of our values and what we hold dear. Birthdays can cradle the memory that on this particular day you came into the world to be part of a family and a community and you are valued. Friends and family gather, a special cake is made, candles are lit and we sing the most tedious, uninspiring song imaginable… and yet we feel special for it’s OUR day.
In some cultures a Name Day or Saints Day is more important than a birthday. For example in Greece, Italy and some Latin American countries your name has a special day often linked to a Saint
As a young girl, perhaps it was knowing that mum would buy a hazelnut torte from The Polish Deli instead of home baking- now that was a good birthday! This was not the era of jumping castles, Ronald McDonald clowns or a gaggle of school friends herded into the local cinema by a stressed out parent. No the 1950’s version of a Latvian children’s birthday was- book as a gift, hugs and kisses, relatives arrive early afternoon (weekend only Birthdays), vodka served, smoke fills the room, food served, men play chess, women knit, cake and coffee arrive, guests leave..that’s it for another year…and I loved these birthdays!
As I age birthdays have been less spectacular! Having a spring birthday my annual trip to Tasmania was my birthday treat. I’ve been very happy to celebrate birthdays with friends and family – a BBQ or dinner and then my trip to the beautiful island of Tassie. But this year, my 70th year, I’ve decided to celebrate long and well. I started celebrating with a month long trip to the UK and Scotland. Memories that still make me smile. On my actual birthday I’ve booked a wine bar and chosen to have someone else looking after all the detail- no cooking and no cleaning up! Thirty friends and family in a beautiful setting for an afternoon of good food and wine, some music and stories told. It’s money I should probably spend on new guttering or garden maintenance but I’ve decided to splash out. Turning 70 is a milestone, a right of passage. I look at the ups and downs of my life and I’m glad to have made it to 70! I do remember the 1960’s but the 1970’s were one hell of a decade! But it’s not just about me. For one afternoon I want my family and friends to be well looked after in lovely surroundings. It’s my way of thanking them for travelling with me through all those ups and downs. Who knows what the road ahead holds for any of us. Taking the time to stop and celebrate seems an important ritual at this time.
The thing is……. I really like the idea of being seventy. Over the last few years I’ve felt whole, complete and excited about what is to come. Life is really good and I look forward to developing Viva 70, sharing times with friends, seeing my family continue to blossom and watch my grand-daughter grow into an amazing young woman. I enjoy telling people how old I am, not for the ” Oh you don’t look it” response. I find the intention of that comment sweet but the statement itself is a little sad. What if the response to my age was…….”Are you having a good life?”
So with Birthday planning in full swing I think of Alexander Pope
” Pleased to look forward, pleased to look behind and count each birthday with a grateful mind.”