There is still no cure for the common birthday. — John Glenn
Sunday was my birthday. The day rolled on, with those who mean the world to me, and those who I mean a lot to, wishing me a happy birthday day. The closest to my heart, dedicating time to be with me. They did seem more excited than I was with the idea that I am growing older. Facebook was awash and flooded with HBD, “35 friends posted on your timeline”. It is sweet what technology has done, we don’t have to remember people’s birthdays. And myself, accounting and analyzing how well the last year has been, how well does it compare with the previous ones. You could imagine me with a Cartesian plane, pie-charts, quadratic equations, integrating and differentiating to deduce my growth curve over the years. Maybe making projections too.
When the process seemed futile and the parameters of assessment became vague, it felt easier to shift to another problem: “why do we celebrate birthdays?”
Birthdays are a ritual we have borrowed from our colonial masters, the British, who borrowed from their masters, Romans, and who borrowed from the Egyptian civilization. The Egyptians are known to be the first to have celebrated birthdays, but observed for the Pharaohs. The ‘birthday’, was in real sense, the coronation day since it was considered that once a Pharaoh was crowned, he transformed to a god. The Greeks added the candles and the Romans made the event for the common man. Germans brought in the cake, and an American, Robert Coleman, developed the birthday song. And that’s how birthdays became what they are today.
The history does not offer the significance of holding birthdays. So why is it still important. The birthday is used by the government for registry and individual identification, and pretty much all the institutions (financial, academic etc). But that can’t be it, we don’t keep our birthday just for registration purposes. The day is celebrated, cakes are bought, candles are lighted and blown, family and friends invited, a lot of singing and merry… why then do we do it? Why do we celebrate, knowing very well, or somewhere at the back of our minds that we are nearing the end. Possibly to keep up our spirits up, despite the sad hard facts.
There is fun at the younger ages, as we grow old and cannot wait to be 16, then comes 18, then 21. By 30, we want to shift to a lower gear, a lesser speed.
The answer lies in the fact that we are human, we want to celebrate, we want to be enveloped with others. The need to escape loneliness, the social animals we are, and what is arguably why the human race has been successful.
Birthdays offer the opportunity to stop, escape the wild ride that life is, take a moment, and glance back at the far you’ve come, the bright far you are going, with those who have been there and those who will be there.
Despite the hard truth that the birthday is, or might be, a reminder that we are nearing our demise; it should as well give us the motivation and urgency to conquer what we have not… a reminder… a butler tapping on his watch… telling you, whispering and shouting at the same time, “Remember, you do not have all the time in the world, better get moving”.
And for the young girl, whose birthday is around the corner, turning 5, excited at the cake and candles, with the new set of teeth growing, and friends singing to her… yes, celebrate. Have fun. Be merry. Life is to be enjoyed, life is to be lived.
And a birthday, a reason to celebrate life.