How birthday celebrations change through the years

"I'm not five, I'm five-and-a-half!" cry our children as they yearn to be big. Growing older means having more of everything they want—to be heard, valued, and have more independence, all of which means one thing—more fun!

We plan elaborate birthday parties, especially for the milestone ages of 1 (a major milestone for the parents), 16 (driving permit or Sweet 16), 18 (official adulthood), and 21 (drink legally for the first time in the US). By 25, no one says, "My, look how big he's getting!" Why is there no more bragging about your age after your early 20s? What happened to that urgency to be older?

I think it may have something to do with actually living the independent life we so longed for in our youth. Friends, romantic relationships, and employers require your time and attention now and we seem to strike a happy balance in our 20s and 30s earnestly working, having fun, and often starting family life with marriage and children.

 

"I'm not 63, I'm 63-and-a-half!"

That is not a phrase you're likely to hear a 63-year-old say of an upcoming birthday.

However, bragging rights seem to begin again after age 75 when we've outrun the average life expectancy in America. That sense of pride in aging picks up where it left off somewhere in our childhood, but for different reasons. We are sometimes pleased, and often surprised to have survived so many years! I hear people say, "I'm almost 90 you know," and "In a few months I'll be 84." Depending on our mindset we also refer fondly to the group with whom we most closely relate, whether you are 50 or 102, "I'm a Baby Boomer," "I'm a senior," "I'm an older adult," or "I'm an elder."

The decades spanning our 40s, 50s, and 60s can bring with them a sense of weariness and gloom as children and friends have often left us either through a move, illness, change in relationship, or through death. Big birthday celebrations begin to occur once every 10 years instead of holding the annual party which are often accompanied by macabre black streamers and balloons. Why is this? We can still have fun!

Ellen Degeneres said, "When I go hiking and I get over the hill, that means I'm past the hard part and there's a snack in my future. That's a good thing as far as I'm concerned."

Aging through mid-life takes on an urgency as we preserve our right to speak and be heard, continue to live a life of value and worth, and above all, strive to maintain our independence.

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I noticed that families of those who are 80+ years old start to celebrate birthdays annually again, except we tend to hear, "Congratulations on making it another year!" instead of "Happy birthday, and many more to come." We do this because we think we might not live another 365 days, right? When there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren alive to know a grandparent, it becomes more important to really celebrate that person in your family who has lived so many more years on this earth.

I think that we long to hear our elders share experiences, stories, and lessons from their lives because stories connect us across the generations. We value our parents' opinions as we weather life's tougher events that they have successfully endured. Even as elders may grow more dependent for some activities, we strive to accommodate their needs with dignity because we begin to glimpse our our futures in the distance, and wish for such love and care upon ourselves in the years to come.

It is my opinion that birthdays are to be celebrated every year because each day gives us new experiences and therefore more stories to tell.

So, celebrate your years, you've earned the right to tell us about the best parts of every one!