Our birthday comes around once a year. Our birthday, that one day usually reminding us of another year gone by. Not all of us are keen on celebrating this so-called ‘special day‘.
I’m one of these people. Never have been keen on celebrating my birthday, which is coming up next week. Every year I try to keep this day as quiet as possible, going about the day as per normal and sort of forgetting that it’s my birthday.
It’s not that I have anything against celebrating birthdays. Last year I wrote a post on 7 Unforgettable Ways To Celebrate Your Birthday. I’m all up for celebrating other’s birthdays. Just not mine.
A birthday is significant in that it symbolises life: it signifies the day we came to life and became a part of this world. It signifies another year of ups and downs behind us. It’s about celebrating being human, a milestone which some of us are inclined to celebrate. However, some of us have our reasons for keeping our birthday a low-key affair – some reasons personal, some reasons tied to our personality, and some reasons down to what we believe in.
Reasons to not celebrate birthdays
1. We don’t want a fuss
Birthdays can be a time where the spotlight is on us. Some of us simply don’t like attention on us. We might be shy. We might have anxiety and birthday surprises might not sit well with us. We could be introverted and birthday attention from a big group might heighten our socialising phobia.
Birthday blues or birthday anxiety disorder can be a very real thing. According to psychologist Debra Kissen, anytime that you are supposed to be happy can be a setup for disappointment; birthdays can be setups for anxiety as there is the pressure to have a memorable birthday in this comparative world.
As someone with anxiety, birthday surprises don’t make me feel good. Even a I-know-planned-before-hand birthday celebration makes me jittery. The worst is when people sing Happy Birthday to me – these situations I don’t know what to do and feel too embarrassed to smile down at a candle-lit cake. Over the years I’ve gotten better at hanging out with close friends for a meal or catch-up around my birthday; they’d most definitely say, ‘Happy Birthday’ and I go along with it.
2. Comparative competition
Following on from the first point, there often is the pressure to make a birthday a fun one. In general, society sees birthdays as rolling good times, a time where we do what we want and get what we want. Have a good celebration one year, there could be the expectation to have an equally enjoyable or lavish one the following year – and all birthday hype can leave one disappointed if birthday plans don’t go according to plan or no one shows up if anyone was invited. It’s important to remember that no two moments are the same, no two years are the same and usually no two birthdays are the same.
3. Spending money
Depending on how we choose to spend our birthday, we might shell out a fair bit for the occasion and feel poorer after that. For instance, we might go all out extravagant and lavish celebrating our birthday: renting a jumping castle, going on a cruise, spending a night at a penthouse suite, going on an all-night pub-hopping bender or all of that. If we have lots of friends, there might be numerous birthday catch-ups and unless our friends pay for our share, this hurts the wallet.
I’m quite the frugal person and see myself as simple and pretty low maintenance, and don’t like spending unless it’s absolutely necessary. A simple meal out is already a nice treat to me just as hanging out with someone at the shopping mall. That said, spending and doing something can create memories for a long time to come and memories that we want to remember.
4. Negative experiences
For some of us, our past birthdays might have coincided with moments we’d rather forget or a sensitive time. Having a celebratory time let alone putting on a brave face as others sing Happy Birthday to us could be rather inappropriate; sometimes the past hurts too much and is unforgettable. That said, choosing to view birthdays as a positive occasion – another year, still here, much achieved – can be a way of moving on.
5. This day isn’t just about me
Some things need more attention and are more important than the fact that it is our birthday. This could be showing up for work and keeping our pay check, walking the dog, cooking for the kids or just being there for someone. In other words, the world doesn’t stop or revolve around us all the time, on our birthday inclusive. Some of us might recognise this, and so see our birthdays as a good time to raise awareness for a certain cause, rallying others to join in the good fights to help make the world a better place.
6. It’s just another day
No reason why we can’t celebrate our birthday on any other day. No reason why we can’t celebrate our achievements, milestones, our existence and be thankful for life on any other day. No reason why we can’t have birthday cake any other day.
When I grew up in Singapore and Malaysia, my birthday fell on a public holiday. That meant each year annoyingly enough my birthday wasn’t an ordinary day: I didn’t have to go to school and my friends would use this as the perfect excuse to drag me out and hang out. This was also the time before Facebook and social media, and at night my house phone would ring incessantly because my friends called to say Happy Birthday.
7. More than a celebration
The important things in life are usually more than a day of one-off celebrations. For those of us who value trust, loyal relationships and meaningful time spent, chances are we’d rather have people who’d be there for us anytime, any day as opposed to half a day of attention from others and not hearing back from them until next year. Sure, all of us lead busy lives and our birthday is probably one of the only times others might be willing to make some time for us – which is nice. But there’s nothing like having others be there for us when we need it.
It’s no surprise then that there can be a sort of unwanted fakery that comes along with celebrating birthdays. These days social media has a habit of ‘reminding’ each other of our birthdays and without this digital reminder we may never wish someone Happy Birthday. And so sometimes one can’t help but feel birthday wishes are insincere.
As someone who isn’t into social media that much, I turn off my Facebook wall on my birthday. Instead of an all-out, all night long birthday celebration, I’d rather have one of my friends randomly call me for a good long chat right about when I get home after a long day and ready to eat a hot pizza, which I will eventually eat cold. Or a one-second hello each day from someone who means it well. Or just having a good sleep and nice snacks to eat.
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There are also other reasons to not celebrate our birthday, albeit trivial reasons that make us want to avoid the fact our birthday is our birthday. If we openly acknowledge or celebrate our birthday we could get people pestering us how old we are (age is a personal thing), people telling us how young we look (body image is also a personal thing), receiving unwanted presents, having to smile when someone wishes us Happy Birthday in person and we aren’t in a great mood, or just putting up with all day obligatory ‘Happy Birthdays’ online and offline. Consequently, no reason why some of us would rather spend our birthdays alone and not mention it.
What we do for our birthday or how we think about our birthday can change as we get older or go through different phases in life. At different times of our lives different things will be important to us.
Research suggests that young children believe birthday parties cause ageing; the more birthday parties one has, the older they seem. Other research shows that the year before milestone birthdays could be the hardest for some, experiencing a ‘crisis of meaning’ – and some might be more prone to extra-marital affairs or signing up to run a marathon. Thus at one point in our lives our birthdays could be innocent celebrations and motivating occasions, other times simply reflective times or a fleeting thought we’d rather not entertain.
Birthdays are almost always occasions where relationships collide. Birthdays come around once a year and it’s not usually easy remembering someone’s birthday. As such, even if we don’t celebrate, birthdays can be a time where we see who will show up or wish us well and figure out who is likely to be there for us when we need it. However, whether someone remembers our birthday or not doesn’t entirely define our relationship with them as a friendship or any kind of relationship is built up over time and countless moments in between.
That said, it is nice (or creepy) when someone thinks of us on our birthday no matter how much we avoid celebrating or acknowledging it, and thinking of us any other time really. It’s a sign that someone appreciates our existence even for just one day, acknowledging our presence. At the end of the day, most of us want to belong at least for a moment, even the birthday Grinchs among us. That’s when we realise who and what we’ve got. On self-realisation, host and Youtuber Chris Burkmenn said:
‘We often lose ourselves to where we think we should be, rather than celebrate where we already are.’
I really do like a quiet birthday. Being the practical person that I am, no one owes me their time unless they absolutely want to be around me and persist with wanting to be around me – and when that happens I will show them a good time…even on my birthday. Looking at the bigger picture, there’s much to be thankful for every other day, and maybe our birthdays are really a reminder of that.
Do you avoid celebrating your birthday?