Happy Birthday


January is my birth month. For those who know me, know that I love Birthdays. They are the measure of yet another year granted by the grace of God; a timeless privilege too often deprived by many whose breath on this earth has been counted shorter than mine.

When I was younger, having a birthday meant having a day celebrated with a special treat, licking the batter off the whisk from my mom’s homemade cake and getting one present, two if fortunate to have a grandmother nearby. When I was younger, birthday parties were where I invited the entire class because I couldn’t differentiate between friends and classmates.

It was a time when all had a go at pin-the-tail-on-the donkey and played musical chairs, did the hokey pokey and had fun. When I was younger, birthdays were social events of eagerly anticipated games and balloons, accompanied by sandwiches, cake, and ice-cream in the home. That was pretty much it. There wasn’t much emphasis on presents. The greatest joy was lighting the candles and having everyone sing “Happy Birthday.” By the time the 1980’s came along, family entertainment centers — bowling alleys, roller and skating rinks, mini golf courses, arcades, movie theaters — became the trend and multiplied. Parents often threw multiple parties — one with the nuclear family, one at school, and one with friends at an entertainment center. And the most popular song of the twentieth century–“Happy Birthday” was once again sung amid the cacophony of noise, and grew in popularity even more in 2020 as an accompaniment to a hand-washing ritual in the global covid pandemic.

The song “Happy Birthday to You” was first published in 1893 and written by two sisters from Kentucky: Mildred Hill and Patty Hill. Patty served on the faculty of the Columbia University Teachers College for thirty years and invented the “Patty Hill blocks” used in schools nationwide. Mildred, the older sister, who had studied music and taught at the Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School came up with the melody to the song in 1893. Patty added some lyrics, and it became a song called “Good Morning to All,” which was a way for teachers to greet students. By 1933, the song morphed its way to becoming the widely accepted title and melody to “Happy Birthday to You.” Unfortunately, Mildred died in 1916 years before the tune became famous as “Happy Birthday.” Patty, on the hand, lived to 1946 long enough to see that she and her sister had started a worldwide birthday tradition being publicly performed hundreds of millions of times.

Last night, with a family of six members, we once again huddled around a homemade chocolate cake with flames aglow from more candles than in my younger years. And then came that singular moment —who’s it going to be? —who is the one person amongst the people who will make a fateful decision to throw his/her voice to start the first syllable of the song? My four-year-old grandson took the lead with a 3, 2, 1 countdown and belted the first syllable. Soon, he was joined by everyone, raising their voices in a cacophonous chorus of birthday revelers. The feeling of shared positive experience—that everyone is celebrating my special day and symbolically carrying me onto another year, with the ups and downs and moments of blah and beauty that go with it—that supreme moment soars on a cloud until the goofiest of the bunch adds ‘And maaany moooooore.’ I smile from ear to ear. I look around, nod in gratitude, and like a child, I sheepishly focus on the sweet candle-lit cake before my eyes.

No matter where we are in life, birthday celebrations are in order. They acknowledge one’s existence. With life being so difficult and people creating wars and fighting battles, with the number of reckless decisions made in the world and with the amount of everyday stress and pressure, it should be celebrated that we’ve accomplished another 365 days. As an adult I realize that birth is my beginning, and every year is a time reminder for a chance to do something good, to make the world a little better and create a ripple effect that can be passed on. But at present, I am grateful to have made enough of a positive impact in the lives of the people surrounding me that they want to come and celebrate my existence on the earth for another year. Besides, birthday cakes are always a treat. And I get the larger slice!

Happy early/belated birthdays to all!

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2 Responses to Happy Birthday

  1. Yeran says:

    Happy birth month to us!!!!!!
    And many moooooooore …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Annie Balikian says:

    Happy Birthday dear cousin have a wonderful day,

    Like

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