My birthday is coming, but I haven’t been thinking about presents.
See, I’ve been questioning when birthday celebrations, the way we are accustomed to seeing them today, with parties and gifts and cards and cake, even came into play in America? Why are birthdays supposed to be so fun and exciting?
I think the meaning of birthdays is misconstrued. Sure, the words ‘birth’ and ‘day’ are in ‘birthday.’ So, we celebrate for the person born on the given day.
But what work did the “birthday boy” or “birthday girl” do?
Why celebrate for the person who was born? Why give gifts to them?
“The origins of birthday celebrations in the 19th century were all about changing attitudes of children,” said Temple history professor William Cutler, who teaches the course Growing Up in America. “It’s about the child rising levels of individualism. Celebrating that one person born on that one day.”
But, things began changing.
“Americans, and later Europeans, embraced the birthday celebrations we have today,” Cutler said. “Into the 19th century, birthdays . . . had been about getting families together, but gradually evolved into the commercialized version it is today.
“What started as a family celebration with parents turned into a friendship group,” he added. “By 1910, parties with kids came into play. Now it’s about friends.”
So, a way to make birthdays more meaningful, I would say, is to celebrate for the person who did the hard work. Someone who is part of the immediate family-the mother who suffered the pain of bringing the birthday boy or girl into the world.
Mothers deserve to be celebrated more on their children’s birthdays than they do every second Sunday of May for Mother’s Day.
All in all, birthdays in the U.S. are like an excuse to have everyone be extra nice to you for one day. It’s this simple ride that comes around every year on the same day. A way you can get what someone wouldn’t usually give you, just because it’s your day of birth.
The solution, then, can be this: let birthdays stay the way they are with an important addition.
For the birthday boy or girl, just be sure to thank your mother every one of your birthdays. You could never have made it a day without her, let alone a full year.
And this solution can work for everybody.
Tomorrow’s my birthday. Thanks, mom.
Jeff Appelblatt can be reached at email@example.com.