Ode to the Personal Holiday
The end of November is full of birthdays. My father, several friends, and myself were all born in November. It is strange to think that there are people out there who don’t even know how old they are. How do people in these societies know who to sell cigarettes to? What do they use for computer passwords?
For those of us that are fortunate to live in a culture that values things like logistics and memory, a birthday is like a personal holiday. Everyone gets one. When you say, “I splurged on dinner, but it was my birthday,” or, “I got super wasted, but it was my birthday,” you might get some disapproving glances from some, but everyone will understand.
If your birthday falls on a weekend, a regular holiday, or you are unemployed, then it is a day when you can do whatever you want. It is up to each individual to determine what is worth doing on their birthday. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any pressure to make the correct determination. After all, you never know which birthday will be your last, and you want to make it count.
Many people use their birthday as a chance to go on an adventure. Maybe they go to another country, or participate in an extreme activity.
What better way to celebrate your life than by doing something that proves you are alive? Who needs cake when you can scale a cliff? Who needs gifts when you have a mission? For those who get their kick from toil and tribulation, anything less than an adventure is a sub-par way to spend their personal holiday. But you won’t see me crossing continents or climbing volcanoes on my birthday. I’d be too mad or stressed out to hear all the well-wishers.
For others, it is more important how they remember their birthday than exactly what they do. They could go on an adventure, sure, but would be just as happy going to the art gallery or amusement park. It doesn’t matter what they do, as long as they do something special.
Special is a subjective thing. What is special to one might be normal, or even stupid, to another.
The point of doing a special activity is to remember it fondly later. This often means that the people you do things with are more important than the things themselves. If you see a bad movie all alone, you are disappointed. When you see a bad movie with your friends it’s a little better. When you see a bad movie, with your friends, on your birthday, then you have a memory to cherish forever.
An adventure can be a special activity, while not all special activities are adventures. But what if, on your birthday, you don’t feel like venturing forth or doing something special? There can be a lot of pressure to have a perfect birthday. Fortunately, it is the kind of pressure that can be completely ignored. Like the atmosphere.
On your birthday you can do anything you want. Even if that means doing nothing. You can stay completely safe and warm in your house. You can sleep through the entire day, and not even remember a bit of it.
Birthdays are interesting because they demonstrate two life lessons. First, they make us face our mortality. The fact that life is limited makes us want to go out and enjoy as much as we can. Second, the concept of a personal holiday reminds us that every individual is in charge of their own life. And while life is indeed limited, it is at the same time abundant. Most of us get a lot of birthdays, so there is not so much pressure to spend each one in perfection. Just two or three of them.
We get a lot of birthdays, and there is pressure to celebrate each and every one. Yet, we get only one death day, and nobody wants to celebrate that at all.