Birthdays have no trouble in differentiating themselves from myriad other events and special days; they are the undisputed champion of the gift and card industries, the cornerstone of all things celebratory. Birthday excitement, preparations and plans trump all other holidays and events that may have wanted or still want to eventually beat birthdays in the popularity contest.
The glorious singing of a song so incredibly overused that we can somehow feel its pain, the awkward staring down at the cake while being sung to, the copious amounts of alcohol ebbing and flowing around, the perfectly insincere joy on the face of the birthday boy/girl while opening gifts are all things that make birthdays great.
There is nothing unimaginative in the celebration of your coming into this world, the day when you made your first appearance on the theater stage that is life. It is (usually) a day of joy, a day that feels as if it was just yours – that both the Earth itself and everyone around you is somehow yielding to you, somehow recognizing that you are then and there branded with the mark of The Birthday. Of course, there are over 7 billion personalities out there – birthdays are, to some people, their worst nightmares – throngs of people watching them, the fact that they are getting older, that they are slowly… wilting away.
However, those people are in the minority (supposedly).
Humans need special days, holidays.
We have an intrinsic need for celebratory events, for occasions that will effectively break up our everyday humdrum and make our lives just a little more tolerable; and birthdays are a perfect way to let us feel special, to let us be the center of attention for one day.
While it is an occasion of which friends and family are integral parts, it is essentially the ultimate day of “I”.
When did it all start?
The origins of the very first birthday – whether celebrated, recorded or otherwise – are quite uncertain.
Some argue that the Egyptians were the first to record a birthday. Supposedly, the Bible references a Pharaoh’s Birthday some 3000 years BC. Historians refute it. Some say it was the Greeks, the Germanic people, others say it was the Martians and other aliens – everyone claims it here, there and everywhere. However, we are sure of a couple of things.
For example, historians are familiar with why we celebrate birthdays.
Pagans turned out to be quite superstitious.
They figured that evil spirits, the still bitter souls of their most hated aunts and uncles and ex-girlfriends and boyfriends stalked them on the days of important events, just lying in ambush and waiting to strike. Therefore, they decided to keep track of their birthdays, in order to better prepare themselves for the spirit onslaught. No spirits were ever seen.
We also found out why we blow candles (a beloved, but unsanitary practice; although that’s nor here nor there).
The Germans started putting candles on their children’s cakes sometime in the 1700s, to ward off the evil spirits and provide the children with a beacon to guide them, a ‘light in the darkness’ kind of thing.
Throughout modern human history, we have also determined what the most important birthday in a person’s life is – the point at which a male or female human being reaches, supposedly, maturity. Society decided that that point would be the individual’s 18th birthday. While that age is not entirely arbitrary, every day we are witnesses to scores of maturely immature acts committed by adults.
Perhaps the age when one can drink and drive (not at the same time, of course) should be raised to 21. Or 25? Or perhaps 45?
As we are progressing through history and the most important topics and issues of birthdays, let us now please tackle the most burning and pressing issue. Who was—who was the inhuman executioner who composed the banshee-like terrorizing sounds of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song?
And an even more mysterious question, why? Every birthday you attend, every birthday you celebrate, you will zealously be tracked down by the ghoul that is the ‘Happy Birthday’ song. As per the latest WHO information for 2015, average life expectancy for a human being on Earth is 71.4 years. Erring on the side of moderation, you will hear that song at least 70 times in your life. How long does it take a song to emotionally scar a human being? Was that the evil spirit that the pagans feared?
All kidding aside, it is a gorgeous tune – composed by two schoolteachers from Kentucky, Patty and Mildred Hall, in 1893.
There is very little ambiguity when it comes to celebrating birthdays – some people do it simply for the presents, but nowadays, those are fewer and farther between. Birthdays are joyous occasions when we show our love, appreciation, and thanks to the person celebrating – we are glad they are there, we are glad they were born, and we are glad they are part of our lives, however integral. Do not concern yourselves with presents, clothes and fancy decorations.
Your friends and family and co-workers are the reason you are there.
You are the reason they are there.
The Egyptians, the Germans, the Pagans, the ancient Greeks, or whichever country you may be from, dear friend, have all celebrated birthdays at one point. Make each one count (because, you know, they are somewhat limited) and never take your loved one’s birthday for granted – however dumb or useless or tiring you may think the custom of celebrating them is.
And, if all else fails, there is always alcohol.