It’s my birthday week! Yes, I was a December baby. For some people, December birthdays even closer to Christmas means that your special day gets blended in with the holiday. Some people feel a bit cheated out of their special moment, while others say it means at least their family has come into town for the holiday and can say “happy birthday” while they are there.
So, what do you do for your birthday? Does it feel like a special day to you? I’ve had a great week celebrating my birthday this year. My kids and I had a nice dinner out. We decorated the Christmas tree after dinner. I also had dinner the night before and ate lettuce wraps. They were delicious—one of my favorite appetizers. I had another wonderful birthday lunch midweek with a friend and celebrated with another friend yesterday. I had the best spinach quiche with cranberry salad and poppy seed bread. Celebrating with people I love and enjoy being around has been fun.
If you look up the history of birthday celebrations, you can get several different opinions on when the tradition began. It seems that around the late 1800s, middle-class Americans started celebrating birthdays in their families. We have some journals and letters that include details about a cake being baked or families cooking a special dinner. Friends were invited to festivities at times. Now, birthday celebrations can be quite extravagant, especially for children. You hear of parents renting out a gym or a special location and pay someone to cater the event and entertain the kids.
My new interest has been researching how birthdays are celebrated around the world. I’m not going to talk about that today because I’m just now getting into the research. I don’t want to give out any information that I haven’t verified yet.
I have looked up other historical examples of birthdays being celebrated. Many historians say that Egyptians were the first ones to start the birthday party tradition. Supposedly, though, they weren’t celebrating their actual physical birth. When a Pharoah was crowned, they became a god to their people. Their “birthday” then was a spiritual birth recognizing their new life as a god. Other religious groups also talk about being “born again,” but this rebirth is available to their members, not just a leader. The denominations of the Anabaptist, Moravian, Methodist, Quaker, Baptist, Plymouth Brethren and Pentecostal Churches along with all other evangelical Christian denominations have the doctrine of being born again as one of their core beliefs. Just as with the Pharaohs of Egypt, this is a spiritual rebirth.
Many denominations also have “coming of age” celebrations. Jewish boys and girls celebrate their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs at age 13 and 12 in order to demonstrate their commitment to their faith Rumspringa marks the time when youth in the Amish community turn 16 and are able to enjoy unsupervised weekends away from family. In many parts of Central and South America, young girls celebrate their Quinceanera when they turn 15 years old. American youth celebrate their Sweet 16 birthdays. The Apache Tribe’s coming of age ceremony happens when a young Apache girl hits puberty, in celebration of her transition to womanhood.
Thinking about birthdays and births and rebirths made me think about all of the ways we change in life. I hear people compliment other people and say, “Wow, you haven’t changed at all since high school or college.” Their intention is to comment on our looks and imply that we still have our youthful features.
I’m certainly glad I’ve changed since both high school and college! Sure, I’m greying now and have a few wrinkles popping up, but I’m not worried about that part of aging. What I am thankful for is the emotional and intellectual growth we all go through if we are lifelong learners. I look back on my life and see so many ways I have changed and matured.
I’ve learned better communication skills. I grew up in a family that didn’t communicate emotions in a healthy way. I learned from others to either stuff your emotions inside of you or allow your emotions to take over and cause you to explode in anger at times. Regrets come with both of those choices.
I’ve learned to be more open to diversity. I didn’t grow up thinking about the rights of others. I didn’t grow up thinking about others at all…what someone’s needs might be, what their hopes might be, what their life might be like. I didn’t study other cultures until my social anthropology classes in college. Honestly, I loved those classes so much that I wish I had chosen that as a major. Those classes were the first time that I opened my eyes to the world as a whole and thought about my global community.
I’ve learned how to love and respect myself as I learned to love and respect others. I didn’t grow up liking myself at all. I didn’t care about my life. I didn’t even picture myself living beyond the age of 18 or 21. I just did whatever I needed to do to exist in the moment. I tried to do what was expected of me. I got married to a very abusive person when I was 21. We were engaged when I was 20. I thought he was right when he called me names and ignored my needs or wants. I thought I deserved everything negative that came my way. It took me a long time to understand that I didn’t have to let him define me.
I’ve learned a lot about love and healing. I’ve learned about social justice and fighting for the equality of all people. I’ve learned how to listen to others. I’ve learned about grieving. I’ve learned about joy. I’ve learned more about forgiveness.
If we are lifelong learners and if we examine our lives and grow, we will see times when we change. Maybe we should celebrate these new birth moments in our lives. We should celebrate when we courageously discover who we are and live authentically. We should celebrate when we work to get through a challenging time and arrive fairly safely on the other side of the challenge. We should acknowledge moments of success and moments of healing. Birth of our self and who we are comes in many different moments.
Celebrate who you are. You are loved.