Take it from someone who knows: it sucks to have a mid-to-late December birthday.
Mine happens to fall exactly one week before Christmas.
Three days before Winter Solstice, the shortest, darkest day of the year.
Like many with birthdays so close to Christmas, I grew up hearing, “We got you something really special, so we’re combining your birthday and Christmas gifts. You can open it on Christmas morning.”
Oh. How fun.
Although, the year I was in seventh grade, that combined gift was contact lenses. You can bet I didn’t whine about that.
Grandparents, living in Kansas, would send me a little birthday money each year. What would I do with it? Spend it on Christmas presents for my older brothers. At that time of the year it seemed selfish to keep it for myself.
I don’t remember any birthday parties with friends invited over. I was told people were too busy with the holidays, and often school had already let out by the time of my birthday. Family-only celebrations would have to do.
In an effort to make my day special, my father declared that my birthday was the day we’d go choose and then decorate our Christmas tree.
He meant well.
It could have been worse. I could have been born on December 25th or 31st.
As an introvert, reaching adulthood meant the celebration issue only got worse. It’s “the holidays” and employers, neighbors, family and friends are hosting parties. So many fucking parties. I didn’t learn to say “Thanks, but I’m busy that day” until I was in my fifties, when I fully embraced the fact that I am an introvert.
As I prepared for a party, this is the scene I invariably imagined:
Don’t misunderstand. I almost always enjoyed the parties I attended. But for introverts, so many parties crammed into the space of two-to-three weeks, all of that small talk and noise and being around people, often people you don’t know or really want to get to know, is exhausting.
An exhausted me is a cranky me.
I began hating my birthday because I associated it with all that busy-ness and forced frivolity. I got tired of pretending I was enjoying it all. Boyfriends insisted on taking me out to dinner and/or a (holiday-themed) show on my birthday, adding to the long list of social engagements I felt obligated to participate in because boyfriends would look crushed if I said I’d really rather just stay home. What an ungrateful bitch, eh?
For a few years in my early thirties, I tried disappearing, doing something I enjoyed. I would spend the week of my birthday and Christmas at a little ski resort in British Columbia. It was heaven.
One year I went to Hawaii. That was pretty heavenly as well.
The other reason I’ve always hated my birthday is that, for some reason, really shitting things happen that day. The list is long, but the two most vivid and life-altering examples are (1) my mother kicking my father out of the house, and their marriage, on the eve of my 17th birthday, the night he returned from a business trip, and (2) a friend committed suicide a few hours after she stopped by unannounced to see if I wanted to go to breakfast, but I was loading a sick dog into my car to take to the vet and declined.
Talk about guilt, all associated with my birthday. A dark cloud hangs over the date.
Oh, and I experienced my first hot flash on my 44th birthday, while out to dinner at an expensive restaurant for an office holiday party, and it was a doozy. How fun!
For years, I soldiered on, plastering a fake smile on my face as I attended one holiday and/or birthday event after another.
Ultimately, my solution to all that angst and inability to say no was moving to Idaho. Finally, I was far enough away from family that I could justifiably say I wasn’t going to risk terrible driving conditions to visit over the holidays (which in my family, by definition, included my birthday). I didn’t know a soul when I moved here, so no one knew when my birthday was and I kept mum as I met people. (Facebook has ruined that secret, alerting all my friends when my it’s my birthday, but I love getting that sort of quick and brief birthday greeting, no obligations/expectations, no face time required.) I finally got to celebrate my birthday in peace and quiet, doing what I wanted to do. Or nothing. Lots of nothing.
It was August 2008 when I adopted an Australian shepherd from a rescue. I named him Finn MacCool, after the Irish legendary figure “who ran after adventure with dogged persistence.” Since his actual birth date was unknown, I decided to give Finn mine, as his probable age meant he was born in the winter. Easy to remember, and now I always have something happy to celebrate on December 18th that has nothing to do with me.
Happy 12th birthday, Finn MacCool! You’ve brought sunshine and happiness into my life since the day I met you, and you’ve been a fabulous big brother to Conall.
Ironically, Conall’s birthday was earlier this month, on the fifth. By my fiat, Finn has a December birthday. That makes us a December pack, and that makes me happy.
Happy holidays to y’all. If any of you have December birthdays, well, you have my sympathy and I hope you’ve found ways to make it your day.
Feature image: Winter Solstice sunset at Stonehenge, 1980s.