Birthdays — the unholiday everyone celebrates

Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Every person on this planet is at some point born. You can’t argue with that logic. The great thing about our society is that not only are we born, we celebrate that day every year. I’m willing to bet that every person who picks up this paper has had “happy birthday” sang to them every year but, with my luck, you’re all Jehovah’s Witnesses. If that’s the case, you may not be able to relate, but you might be curious as to what exactly goes on at these ceremonies.

Birthdays are steeped in ancient customs. First among these is the lighting of candles that represent the accumulated years of the birthday boy or girl. Next is the ritualistic chant, “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you.” When the chant is complete the subject of these festivities snuffs out the candles. This, as far as I can tell, represents either the erasing of previous years or that they must now end their own life.

Piatas also have been found at many a birthday scene, and while they can be fun, they are without a doubt the most dangerous of these institutions. Imagine what your parents must have thought when your little brother went running for the candy while you, unaware — due to the blindfold — that you had broken the paper goat, continued to swing your baseball bat wildly. That is a funny thought.

Now think about your kids doing it. Suddenly piatas seem a little less like an entertaining game borrowed from our south-of-the-border amigos than a celebration of lacerations and mild concussions.

Then, you guessed it, cake is served. Let’s be honest: birthday cake is terrible. Nobody particularly likes it, which is probably why the honored guest has to take the first bite. Why must we have this mediocre feast of fattening, fructose-infested, frosting filled and, and, and downright flabbergasting (you didn’t see that one coming, did you?) food? The answer is as simple as a nine-letter word: tradition.

If I ever catch anybody refusing birthday cake due to not liking it, being “full,” lactose intolerant, diabetic, or, God forbid, on a diet, I immediately fly off the candle (my puns need no pardon). I don’t force them to eat it, but I do give them a hefty piece of my mind.

The one birthday convention I could do without are the presents. Sure, when you’re young you want a bunch of people to come to the party each bearing a gift. The more friends you have, the more profitable the experience. Giving presents was painless to boot because you were a little kid and had no money, so your parents fronted all the cash.

Suddenly, though, you have job, and every month you have your salary garnished to pay your friend tax. I suppose I could be called a friend tax evader because it seems like the IRS came and repossessed all my friends. Sadly, they can’t repossess my family because I’m over 18, and all three of my immediate family members are Cancers. I call July communism month because all I do is stand in line and share. That is, I stand in store checkout lines and all my money is redistributed equally among the members of my family in the form of flowery gardening hats and high-octane action DVDs. It could be worse, I suppose. It could be real communism.

In the end I must admit that I love the traditions that come with birthdays. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the look on someone’s face when they get a present they genuinely like.

I’d better conclude this before I get too sentimental, so I’ll leave with this: The holidays may be about giving, but birthdays are definitely about receiving — receiving a brain hemorrhage from a flying Sugar Daddy or a dry husk of a cake varnished in Crisco and sugar.

J.R. Cox is a senior at Nikiski High School.



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