…taking a nostalgia-filled look at the celebration of birthdays
A birthday party I attended while I was in primary school remains forever etched in my mind.
It was a small parlour party: the celebrant wore a blue short-sleeved safari suit with matching belt (you shall hear from my lawyers if you dare call this a conductor suit). Anyway, the funny thing was that the celebrant sat through most of the party. He did not dance, neither did he even attempt to shake his body while sitting down. He only got up to cut the cake and then take pictures. I remember all the adults cajoling him to dance, but he would not budge.
I remember that party so well because I was the celebrant. As a very reserved child, all I wanted was to be by myself. I found parties and the attention from guests too demanding. On the other hand, my brother and cousins were having the time of their lives on the dance floor but I could not care less.
In a few days, by God’s grace, I will have another opportunity to celebrate a rotation around the sun. As I reflect on this, I am conscious of how I have lived my life and how I will live the rest of it. My mortality appears to have become more evident in the last few years. I often wonder if everyone experiences this at some point.
As an August-born child, I never celebrated my birthday in school as we would usually be on holiday. However, every June, I would watch my mum diligently arrange party packs for my brother’s birthday and then the next morning, I would watch him dress up in his birthday clothes as we prepared for school. I probably felt bad that I couldn’t have that experience. I remembered my mum offering to host a class party for me when school resumed but I knew it would not feel the same.
I did not miss much though. My mum threw a small party on my thirteenth birthday: I remember being so excited about it. I can never forget that day because I woke up around midnight after the party, snuck into the kitchen, and ate some of the remaining cake. When I woke up the next morning, I had developed a whitlow on my left pinky finger. It was so bad that I had to get injections and I eventually lost the entire fingernail (it grew back). For a long time, I believed that was my punishment for stealing MY OWN birthday cake!!!
As I grew older, the excitement began to wane. I still felt birthdays were important but I didn’t see the need for throwing parties, big or small. I remember having another small party the year after secondary school. And when I was in university and turned twenty-one, it didn’t even occur to me to have a party but I did have one the following year.
I have come full circle regarding my view on birthdays. From being unexcited to being ambivalent. From seeking reasons to celebrate to being joyous about another chance to be alive. From wondering if I am doing this thing called life properly to desiring to live a life of impact. I am sure I am not the only one who has experienced this range of emotions with each passing birthday.
I love a good birthday party. Every time I attend one, aside from looking forward to the small chops and cake, I am eager to relive those childhood party experiences. Remember dancing competitions and musical chairs? All the fun games we used to play? And all the children shouting “aunty I, aunty I” as the ever-ubiquitous aunty went around distributing party packs to the kids? I got the chance to MC a friend’s party last year and I made sure we included musical chairs: it was hilarious! We had such a fun time dancing, kicking, and shoving people off seats!
Aaaah, dancing is always another major highlight at any party. When I find myself on the dance floor, I find it hard to believe I was the same child who refused to dance at his party years ago. I wouldn’t say that I am the best dancer but I can move several muscles, just don’t ask if my steps match the music!
Last year, with the pandemic, many people had to be creative about celebrating, and that was how the zoom parties became all the rage. I attended a few and they made me think how important it is for us to celebrate life irrespective of the curveballs it throws at us. That’s what birthdays are really about, right? And we never know how many we have left.
Not everyone chooses to have a party but that does not mean they don’t find a reason to celebrate. I believe the more important thing is to create new experiences with each birthday. You can do something new, go somewhere new, or even wear something new (even if it is underwear) which is one thing I learnt from my Aunty Tola. I can’t remember when she mentioned it but I have taken that advice for as long as I can remember.
And what is a birthday if no one sends you a greeting? Once upon a time, it was the Hallmark cards, then as the internet gained waves, we moved to e-cards. With the advent of social media came messages on walls, chats, and DMs. And as social messaging apps became more commonplace, we have taken to sending messages directly and in groups. By the way, if there is one thing I definitely can’t stand about birthday greetings, it’s when people decide to send abbreviated messages (HBD, GGMUB) or make inane statements such as “happy womb escape”.
Miss me with all of that, please.
I am still undecided about “age with grace” but I would like to meet the person who started it.
As I countdown excitedly, I remain grateful for all of my life’s experiences and I am eager for all that lies ahead. I wish I could go bungee jumping this year, alas I will have to do that some other time.
Finally, in the words of Yvonne Chaka Chaka, I would like to thank Mr. DJ, the Almighty, for playing my song because I have been waiting so long. Remaining thankful always is important and this is the way I see things today.