There are roughly 3 categories of people in the world when it comes to birthdays: the ones who get excited in advance, the ones to whom it’s not really a big deal and the ones who get actively depressed around that time. I belong to a sub-category in between the first and the second – I pretend like I don’t really care, but secretly, I’m excited. On the actual day, I may inexplicably flit for a while to the third category, but I usually manage to bounce back.
It’s funny how you remember some birthdays so clearly, and how others barely make a blip on your radar. Growing up, I went through several types of birthdays. I had the typical large birthday parties, with decorations and door gifts, fancy cake (I remember one that was themed like a pink sheep farm!), food and lots of friends. Of course, I barely remember those people, even when I look at photos, but I remember enjoying those birthdays. Then adolescence set in, and I remember my mother having to physically drag me away from studying for my exam the next day to change clothes and cut a cake. My birthdays always fell right in the middle of exam period, and the mark of a good birthday in those years was having an easy exam (English!) the day after. Because of exams, being able to wear “colour dress” (as we called non-uniform clothes, and which now strikes me as painting a terribly sad black-and-white picture of school in general) was no big deal because it wasn’t a regular school day, and I couldn’t distribute sweets to my classmates.
On my birthday in my first year of university, I was struck with terrible homesickness. I thought I was going to have to spend the day alone because all my friends were busy, and I was happily proved wrong. That was the start of a good spell. University yielded some very good birthdays. I had a great bunch of friends, and because I was the only one to have a birthday in the second half of the year, I always got the most elaborately planned surprises. That first year was just the start of the ritual “sabos”, and in my third year, my friends went to a whole new level by conspiring with my brother and sister-in-law and tricking me into going to their place for the surprise. I couldn’t have asked for better birthdays those years.
Then it started going downhill. Work took up 90% of my time, and that first year after graduation, I was so tired, I went to sleep without checking email or Facebook for birthday notifications. That was a new experience for me, having only about a quarter of a day to celebrate and being too exhausted to even stay up until midnight to properly “end” my birthday. After the good old university days, this was a bleak reminder of what my life was going to be like for the next God-only-knew-how-many years.
These days, I can’t bring myself to get too excited about birthdays because there’s just not enough time to properly savour them. Once in a while, you get lucky with a weekend birthday, but most of the time, you’re stuck somewhere, spending your day the way you would any of the 364 other days of the year. It’s kind of sad, actually. There’s nothing really overly special about an event that comes every single year, but it’s a good occasion to gather the people you love, enjoy their company and just be thankful for having had another 365 days of experiences, of life. We don’t do that nearly enough. A birthday doesn’t have anything to do with ageing, and you don’t need 437 Facebook friends to wish you; it’s just an excuse to celebrate, to surround yourself with your favourite people and treat yourself. I wish we could all have the mindset and freedom of children when it comes to birthdays, basically.
I’m probably past the age of surprise birthday parties, and amazing birthday gifts are probably a thing of the past (I think we all did more with birthday gifts on a limited budget than we can think to do with money in our pockets), but it would be nice to still have one day in the year that’s guaranteed to make you feel good. A day off from work to enjoy some of your favourite things (maybe a day off for your bestie(s) as well, come to think of it), two nice meals and lots and lots of love showered on you.
It’s not too much to ask, is it?