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?)