“P.S. Happy Birthday”: Beatin’ the Celebration-cheatin’ Christmas Birthday Blues
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My favorite birthday gift has been the time and attention I finally learned to give myself.
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In 1960, the town of Peekskill, N.Y., gave the first child born on Christmas a year of baby supplies, toys and savings bonds. That year, I was the second child born on Christmas. It was a sign of birthdays to come.
Given the spirit of the holiday you’d think being born on Christmas would be fun. For many years I was of the opinion that it’s not. No one’s around. Nothing’s open. Even my native Manhattan – the city that supposedly never sleeps – turns narcoleptic on Dec. 25.
Friends and family had the tendency to brag about the cleverness of their two-for-one Christmas/birthday gift. Others sent Christmas cards inscribed with the touching, “P.S., happy birthday!” And forget about parties. Those would-be birthday revelers who aren’t still gathering moss at the mall are booked straight through the New Year.
I have no grade-school memories of mini-cupcakes topped with pink spiral candles in accordion-like cups.
No pictures of college buddies pouring beer over my head, celebrating with all-night pizza parties. Why? School’s out for Christmas.
No, I’m not suffering from modern day angst. Robert Louis Stevenson felt that this unique circumstance of having a birthday that many western cultures celebrate for someone else was worthy of documentation.
In 1891, the famed author wrote a letter to the young daughter of an American land commissioner in Samoa, in which he “transfers” his own birthday of November 13th to the young girl because “Miss Annie H. Ide ... in the state of Vermont, United States of America, was born, out of all reason, upon Christmas day, and is therefore out of all justice denied the consolation and profit of a proper birthday...”
The overshadowed birthday resulting from Christmas fallout is so far-reaching that according to my Sagittarian and Aquarian brethren, it extends to those born just after Thanksgiving through mid-January.
Some folks have suggested that I celebrate my birthday a different time of year. Sounds simple enough. If a 79-year old friend can celebrate her “29th” birthday for the last 20 years, I could just as easily be born on, say, Sept. 25.
But I’m not changing my birthday. I’ve been too accommodating for too long.
Birthdays are rites of passage, celebrated all over the world, often in sacred ways. Bar mitzvahs and Sweet Sixteens mark key life stages. What’s wrong with asking to be acknowledged for an event that everyone else takes for granted?
Besides, I was robbed.
Jesus has been stealing birthday thunder for thousands of years. According to the Guinness Book of Christmas, “there can be no shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ was not, in fact, born on December 25, A.D. 1.”
Some of us celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus Christ even though scholars tell us there is no hard evidence indicating on what date Jesus was born. In fact, there is no certainty even about the year.
Here are two examples from the litany of diverse scholarly opinions disputing the time and date of Jesus’ birth: The Gospel of Luke mentions that the shepherds were “out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night,” yet biblical historians tell us that, in winter, due to the threat of cold, rain and slim pasturage, the sheep could no longer be kept outdoors.
Because of this reference in Luke, it is very likely that the traditional date for Christmas is inaccurate. Other scholars point out that the Gospels link the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to two different events spread 10 years apart: The reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C. and a Roman census in 6 A.D.
Works for me.
It’s not often we are recognized and lavished upon just for being, well, us. That's what birthdays are: A celebration of the day our special light came into being.
Scottish tradition tells us that Christmas babies have special powers and can, among other talents, command spirits. Twenty years ago, I conjured the countercultural courage to stop participating in commercial Christmas. Until then my actions had only fostered the birthday obscurity I had experienced over a lifetime.
I announced to friends and family that I was taking back Dec. 25. This was my day. With renewed vigor and a cleared calendar, I created overseas birthday adventures. Comrades were welcomed to tag along, but this was my party.
Over the years, I’ve celebrated while hiking in St. Kitts, trading philosophies outside the west gate of the Taj Mahal and sailing along the greening desert shores of the Nile. This year, I’ll stick closer to home: a walk on Siesta Key Beach on southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast. A scooter ride in the sun.
On December 26, my birthday celebration continues with a two-and-a-half hour massage. Then, once home for a nap, I’ll drift off to sleep, anticipating next year’s celebration.
During these past several years, the birthday cards have become plentiful and the presents specific and imaginative.
But my favorite birthday gift has been the time and attention I finally learned to give myself.
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P.S. Happy Birthday
Beatin’ the Celebration Cheatin’ Christmas Baby Blues
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