Why birthdays suck

Victorian-era card showing a kitten in apron carrying a birthday cake
The Victorians pioneered two things I hate: mass-produced birthday cards and LOLcats.

Birthdays are like assholes: everyone has one, and they connect us to unpleasant realities we’d rather not think about. But that’s not why I dislike them. I dislike birthdays because, in our culture, they are a time for those who are already privileged to feel as if they own a goddamn day on the calendar.

In centuries past, only saints had special days; individuals could participate in that specialness with a celebration on the day of the saint who shared their name. So you still got an annual celebration, but it wasn’t all about you — and its significance extended far beyond your own birth and death. And in a largely agricultural society in which the annual cycle of the seasons was of much greater relevance to people’s everyday lives, imagine how simultaneously humbling and exalting it must’ve felt to have been so integrated into the cosmic wheel.

But what do we have? An individualized pseudo-holiday, hyped by the greeting-card industry, whose effect is to simultaneously flatter and insult: it’s your special day in which you are special, but don’t forget that, if you just turned 30 or above, you are now well on your way to becoming old, unattractive and irrelevant. Oh, and here’s another shit-load of stuff you don’t really need.

That said, the blowing-out-the-candles thing is pretty cool. And the chance to make all your friends wear stupid little party hats. But it’s too bad we don’t bake symbolic objects such as coins and thimbles into the cake anymore. It must’ve been a real blast waiting to see which semi-inebriated celebrant would be the first to break a tooth.

(I’m 48. Why do you ask?)

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).


  1. Heh. Our four-year-old really likes the party hats.

    Also the shit-load of stuff, but hey.

    Happy birthday, anyhow.


    1. Thanks. Birthdays are awesome for children, no doubt — each one an exciting milestone on the road to…somewhere. (I was never quite sure of the exact destination, but “death” definitely never crossed my mind.)


  2. My daughter says it’s like shouting and celebrating “You are one day, one year closer to dying!! Yippieeee!!!” Then she says, “Stupid people.”


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