Pretend Not to Have a Birthday

Turning 2--so exciting! 31? Not so much.

Turning 2–so exciting! 31? Not so much.

Birthdays: we all have ’em. They’re the best day of the year when you’re a kid, but the excitement drops off rapidly after age 21.

Perhaps adults try to artificially recreate that childhood joy with lots of birthday festivities extending far beyond one day. Hence the oxymoron “birthday week” entered common parlance. You know, you go out with your friends the Friday before your birthday. Then your spouse takes you on a special birthday date, or perhaps throws you a party (good spouse!). Then your parents take you out to lunch, or invite you over for dinner. Then the in-laws want in on the birthday action. At each point, gifts and food are lavished on you and countless hours are spent celebrating your mere existence.

I’m all for celebrations and even gifts. But what if you just pretended not to have a birthday? After all, birthdays are about growing up, and growing up is largely about realizing life is not about me.

Downplay the B-day

Let me confess I was a bit spoiled in the birthday department while growing up. Of the five kids in my family, I was the only one who got to celebrate my birthday with a full-on birthday party every year. I attribute this not to favoritism, but because my grandparents had a pool. And who doesn’t want to close out summer with another pool party?

My son was born 10 days after my birthday. His impending arrival overshadowed my day somewhat that year. The next year his first birthday did the overshadowing. Last year it was my trip to India.

And you know what? I really liked it.

Sure, family and friends wished me well and I received some gifts. But there was no drawn-out festival surrounding what amounted to just another day of my life.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful for all the birthday wishes, calls, gifts, or parties I’ve received over the years. And I’m no humbug about other people’s birthdays. I’ve thrown parties and baked cakes and all that. I’m just not going to make much of my own anymore. If only this could slow down the aging process as well 🙂

Don’t Pretend Others Don’t Have Birthdays

If you want to celebrate with someone close to you, here are some ideas for keeping it special, yet simple. Just pick one or two!

  1. A call or card. Call, ask about birthday plans, but don’t keep the person on the phone too long. Or get a simple card and write an encouraging, meaningful message about what he or she means to you.
  2. Make them a cake. I inadvertently brought a friend to tears one year simply by making her a cake. My husband doesn’t like cake, so I’ll make him a favorite food. One year I prepared an epic nacho bar for him & his friends.
  3. A small, thoughtful gift.  I don’t believe in buying birthday gifts just to buy them. You will not see me stocking up on Bath & Body Works stuff to hand out to random friends throughout the year. If I have a great idea or know they need something, I’m more likely to spring for a present. Neil and I do exchange gifts, especially since we don’t shop much for ourselves.
  1. An outing together. To avoid birthday week, this should be reserved for the SO or BFF. Some of my favorites have been going for ice cream, a free concert in the park, going to a beach, or watching the Perseides Meteor shower. My condolences if your birthday doesn’t fall during this awesome spectacle. Oh, and when my friend took me to see A Midsummer’s Night Dream at a gorgeous outdoor venue! That was fancy.
  2. Leave them alone. When Neil asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I might have accidentally said this. For the introverts in your life, alone time could be the best gift of all, especially if they have kids.
  3. Babysit. We were so grateful to have a babysitter so we could eat delicious Nepali food in peace. Free babysitting is one of the best gifts you can give a parent.

In summary, I try not to make a big to-do about my own birthday, and try to make a small to-do about others’ birthdays.

How do you celebrate your birthday? What do you do for others’ birthdays?


32 Responses to “Pretend Not to Have a Birthday”

  1. Matt says :

    My friend had his first child on his birthday about a year and a half ago…you can bet that his birthday has been quite overshadowed for the past two years.

    I also tend to be very low key on my birthdays. My next birthday will be the first that I will actually be on vacation out of the country, so we’ll see if I like it as much as you did.

  2. Holly says :

    I turn 37 this year, so I’m pretty much over birthdays. My birthday is on January 6th, and it is almost always unbearably cold and miserable out. One year we had a blizzard on my birthday and the closing on our new home was cancelled. I’m fine skipping my birthday as long as we don’t skip other people’s!

    • Kalie says :

      I do love that my birthday is in the summer and feel a little bad for the winter babies. Your birthday is one day before our anniversary 🙂

  3. Brian says :

    That’s a great photo of your son. Happy birth to both of you!

    We usually celebrate with a birthday weekend. Now that doesn’t mean non-stop partying and cake. It just means the Birthday person gets a little pampering. Gets to take it easy on chores, gets to sleep in, picks a favorite meal, etc.

    • Kalie says :

      Less chores, sleeping in, and choosing a homemade meal sounds AWESOME! I think I need to start celebrating my birthday more with those ideas.

  4. Tonya says :

    The only birthday where I wanted a bash was when I turned 40. Now just having a glass of wine with friends is good enough for me. I once had the attitude that I don’t want to celebrate my birthday after 40, but after hearing a letter penned by Sheryl Sandberg a month after her husband died, she mentioned that she no longer takes birthdays for granted, and that each year of life should be celebrated. It made me re-think ignoring my own. Happy Birthday!

    • Kalie says :

      A glass of wine with friends sounds like a lovely way to celebrate. Great point about celebrating each year of life. I do enjoy reflecting on the past year when my birthday comes around and being grateful for life!

  5. Diana says :

    You could also say “Happy Birthday!!” to your friend on their blog! 🙂 Happy Birthday!!

  6. Amanda says :

    I think I was over my birthdays after I had kids. Their birthdays are much more of a cause for celebration for me (I mean, those are two days in my life I’ll never forget!). I just had a birthday two weeks ago (41) – my parents, kids, hubby and I went to a favorite restaurant and had cake at home afterwards (two gifts: mixed nuts and some much needed sandals).

    Happy Birthday to you, Kalie! 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      I feel exactly the same way about my children’s birthdays. Happy birthday to you! That sounds like the perfect way to celebrate with your family.

  7. The Green Swan says :

    We are pretty light on the birthday celebrations for my wife and I. On my 30th though, she took me out to a very nice dinner date. The place was a bit too fancy for my liking, but it was my 30th so I thought it was great she made that special. In return, she just turned 30 and I threw her a surprise party. We just happened to be back home for my brother’s wedding, so it was easy and convenient to get family and close friends together for it.

    Other than those special circumstances, we try to just give each other a little break from chores, similar to Brian’s comment above. I try to give my wife a “birthday week” and ask for a “birthday month” in return :).

    • Kalie says :

      It makes sense to have a memorable celebration for special years like 30 or 40. That’s sweet you did that for each other.

      A break from chores is a great idea. Birthday month–your wife must really love you!

  8. Apathy Ends says :

    Never been much of a birthday celebrator, mine or anyone else’s. I am terrible at remembering this type of tuff. I have Mrs. AEs and my parents in my phone to remind me.

    I would take a straight up trade, you forget my birthday and Ill forget yours!

    I am only 29 and forgot how old I was last year……

  9. Dividends Down Under says :

    I’m getting to that age where people don’t really make much of a deal about my birthday any more (except my wife, Jasmin and vice versa). We don’t mind that, we’re introverted people anyway.

    My birthday is at the start of the Australian spring (aka soon), spring is my favourite time of year as everything is getting brighter & warmer.

    I like doing something that I enjoy on my birthday, with good food but nothing crazy. Our family gets together for all the kids’ birthdays though – that’s fun. We all exchange little presents, nothing major 🙂


    • Kalie says :

      I love the time of year when my birthday falls, too. Good food is always a great way to celebrate! And yes, kids birthdays are a bigger deal for us too.

  10. Emily says :

    Happy birthday!
    The hubby and I do relaxed birthdays with a family dinner and maybe a movie. Part of that is because mine is just after Thanksgiving and Jon’s is just after Christmas. The only time we’ve done “big birthday” was for Jon’s 50th. I took him to a Redskins game because he’d never been to one in a lifetime of being a fan, and I was pregnant and knew our activities would be more restricted for a while.
    A couple of times I bought flowers for my mom on my birthday, just to say thanks. It was one of the best ways I know to celebrate it.

    • Kalie says :

      Relaxed birthday sounds awesome–relaxing on my birthday is what I really want the most. What a thoughtful way to celebrate your spouse’s milestone bday! Just in time before a baby, too.

      Showing appreciation for your mother on your birthday makes so much sense now that I’m a mom!

  11. Harmony says :

    Happy Birthday!

    This year I was happy with breakfast in bed and some homemade cards from the kids.

    I am looking forward to celebrating the year that my husband and I turn 40, because that is when we will semi-retire from our jobs and go on our cross-county roadtrip. The plan is to make turning 40 an awesome thing!

  12. Hannah says :

    Happy Birthday!

    I’ve never much liked birthday celebrations, but I try my best. I usually make Rob Steak, mushrooms and beer, and Kenny got loads of popsicles and a trip to the pool (and two weeks later, he even got the present that we forgot to give to him).

    If somebody mentions that they’re birthday is coming up, I always try to invite them over for dinner. I’m not the type of person who thinks about birthdays though, so unless someone brings it up, I won’t even think to notice it. Maybe I should try to change that this year.

    • Kalie says :

      We have a Google Calendar just to remind us of the birthdays for close friends and family. I am pretty good at remembering them but I seem to have maxed out and am not so good at adding new friends’ birthdays to the mental Rolodex. Having someone for dinner is a great idea. You have to eat dinner anyway!

  13. Prudence Debtfree says :

    I was not aware of the phenomenon of a “birthday week”. Yikes! I think that for adults, a kind gesture is enough. Something that says, “I know it’s your birthday, and I’m glad you were born.” I think it’s also important not to go too crazy with kids. We always held big birthday parties at home, and they were so much fun – as well as frugal. I was always floored by parents who would have their kids’ parties at expensive venues.

    • Kalie says :

      A nice gesture is perfect for adults. For our kids’ birthdays, we like family parties with maybe one or two of their friends. They are so excited to play together and eat cake, it doesn’t require much else. At least so far!

  14. Josh says :

    I turned 30 in July. Apparently, that’s a big deal. So my wife surprised with a “Christmas in July” party, otherwise my wife & I normally just make a special meal for each other. Our daughter turned 1 in June & had a big party. Honestly, that was more fun my own party.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s nice your wife threw a surprise party. But I agree that kids’ birthdays are more fun–it’s fun as a parent to see them so excited.

  15. Andrew Findlaytor says :

    Happy Birthday!
    My family taught me a little bit of a different views for birthdays then the typical america. Rather then it being focused on me, it was an opportunity to reflect on where I was a year ago, and be thankful for all that I have. We would have people over to spend time together while I celebrated all the good I had in my life. Sounds like you are a forward thinking individual, and don’t want to dwell on tradition for traditions sake, which is great!

    • Kalie says :

      I definitely find my birthday is a time to reflect on the past year and the growth it has brought. That’s great your family taught that reflection and gratitude. Another year of life is certainly something to be grateful for.

  16. Amy says :

    Wait until you’re over 40! 🙂

    We don’t make much ofa big deal out of adult birthdays in our family, but we do enjoy a few special things. We love Carvel ice cream cake, so we always get each other one of those. (Truth be told, since I’m the one who does the grocery shopping, I’ve picked up my own Carvel cake the last few years.) And we get to have the dinner of our choice, which is usually sushi for me, and BBQ for my husband. For me, a night off from cooking is a wonderful gift!

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