The Birthday Syndrome

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m feeling a little birthday-ed out. On Facebook, Pretty much every day is bound to be someone else’s special day. And darned if you’re going to forget about it.

It’s not just that someone’s birthday is listed under my “Events” most days of the year. Some souls are content to celebrate the online component of their birthday with a single status update late on the hallowed evening: the obligatory and appropriate “Thanks for all the birthday wishes, everyone!” Others take it a step further, not trusting Facebook’s reminder to do its work: “IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!!!!!”

But Facebook is tailor-made for the ranks of others who turn their pages into a sort of stream-of-consciousness birthday bonanza which can go on for a week or more. “It’s my birthday weekend!!” statuses are perhaps acceptable, especially if you’ve booked some kind of special getaway to commemorate your earthly arrival. My husband points out that the festive mood of some birthdays can legitimately stretch over a few days if, say, your birthday is on a Wednesday but you’re not going to celebrate til Friday night. But if you are anywhere close to adulthood, please don’t inform me that it is your “Birthday Week!!!” You are not a 16th-century English monarch. You cannot command multiple days for your personal festivities.  As a child, I always thought the chief difficulty of my own August 7th was that no matter what, it only lasted until I went to bed. There was the delicious anticipation of catching my mother stashing mysterious parcels in a drawer on the night of the 6th (“These are none of your concern!” she said, but of course she meant none of my concern until TOMORROW!!).

But August 8th was like any other day, except that it was further away from my next birthday than any other day of the year. Once, on February 7th, I asked my mother if we could celebrate my half-birthday. The answer: No.

Some Facebook friends begin public birthday musings several days before the event. One speculates on a birthday haircut, keeps us up to date on the packing for birthday travel, and requests a designated driver on the day. The blessed day itself starts off with general satisfaction: “so far, the first hour and a half of my birthday have been f*cking awesome.” Then there’s some reference to a morning glitch in the “birthday schedule”. As the day goes on, a litany of ordinarily mundane events are made into extraordinary injustices through the lens of the Birthday: “running into my most annoying ex on my birthday = not cool” and “who gives someone a ticket for their brake light being out on their birthday?” As a new album of pictures appeared to apprise us of the weekend’s out-of-town birthday celebration, I thought we could finally lay this birthday to rest. But lo and behold, a new invitation appeared on my page: the birthday had apparently been extended into yet another weekend with a “Birthday Picnic”.

Maybe the modern frenzy which makes us hint for a solid week at least of good wishes from our friends (because one day is simply not enough time to unselfconsciously revel in the light we bring to the world) stems from the same syndrome that makes radio stations switch to all Rudolph, all the time as soon as the first leaf turns yellow.  And this makes me remember that I always felt really sorry for the kids whose birthdays were on or near Christmas or other major holidays. It’s not uncommon to share a birthday with an extended family member, and that’s not even unpleasant if the simultaneous celebrant lives far away. But especially if you grew up in a Christian household, the birth of Jesus Christ is pretty much guaranteed to outshine your own. And that’s not even considering the issue of presents. I was pleased to get a round of presents in early August, and then another one in late December – the spacing seemed perfect to me. But if your birthday was on Christmas, would your family be sure to give you birthday presents as well as Christmas presents, or would one stack of presents be made to suffice while your siblings could still look forward to cashing in again at a later date?

Now that I am grown up, these questions don’t worry me quite as much. I actually am more sympathetic to the mothers of the Christmas-born. Who wants to be in labor when you’re supposed to be sitting down to Christmas dinner? And I hope to God I never have to go Christmas shopping in my ninth month of pregnancy.

When I was in high school, I took a comparative religions course which hosted several classroom guests of various denominations. The ones I remember best were the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a contingent of well-scrubbed teens whose frenzied Bible paging could have replaced the classroom’s electric fan. But the thing that stuck most with me about them was the nonchalant declaration that they did not celebrate their birthdays. I could hardly fathom such a flat-lined existence. But now, caught up in an endless digital and real-world parade of birthday wishes, I sometimes wonder if those Jehovah’s Witnesses weren’t on to something.

Guess what. Everyone has a birthday. While the Birthday Weekers are celebrating the 12 Days of My Birthday with more feasting than the Tudor court, believe it or not, several other birthdays have come and gone.  I have 321 friends on Facebook (perhaps less if anyone takes offense at this blog), but that means 320 birthdays a year besides my own and my husband’s, and that doesn’t even include the birthdays of beloved cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and in-laws who are too young, too old or just too un-hip to be on Facebook. Face it: I’m fond of you, but the day you were born is just not that big a deal, since after discharging my duty to you today I’ll still owe birthday wishes to two other people tomorrow.

The visibility of so many birthdays is a phenomenon of the Facebook era. Before I was on Facebook, I certainly was not wishing a happy one to well over 300 people a year. With the beauty and convenience of Facebook events, I have surely been invited to and attended more birthday picnics, parties and happy hours in the past year than I have for all the other years of my life, combined.  And for the first time, I experienced the strange sensation of co-workers I’ve known only a few months asking “how was the birthday?” well into the following week, when I’d almost forgotten which birthday they were referring to. They seemed genuinely interested, and I suddenly realized how fond of them I was. Maybe, when it comes to my most festive birthday friends, I’m just jealous that not enough people like me to justify spinning my birthday out for two weeks. Perhaps I am the Scrooge of birthdays, and there’s really no harm in writing a line of birthday wishes, even if I have to do it three hundred times a year.

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3 Comments

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  1. I do believe you had a birthday “weekend” this year – thus extending the festivities. I, for one, was ecstatic on your BIRTHday and still am ~ every year.

  2. Good piece of writing.

    I tend to just say Happy Birthday (insert name here) and leave it at that. Most of my friends tend not to update their birthday stuff multiple times so I have never really dealt with it. Although judging by my reaction to status updates such as (Insert name here) is in the supermarket I would probably shift to ignore mode very quickly.

  3. Thanks, skyraftwanderer. Sometimes I think status updates about who is in the supermarket are the least of my Facebook worries – there are also the incessant streams of cats’ medical status and teenagers’ bizarre, inscrutable whining. Ignore, ignore, ignore… If your friends don’t make a Facebook bonanza of their birthdays, enjoy it!

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