Merry Birthday Or Something Like That

by Kevin Burton

   What if your big day got overshadowed every year by the biggest day of all?

   What if the season to be jolly also brought your birthday?

   This is probably not just a problem for Christmas Day babies.  I would guess any birthday between about Dec. 22 and 27 or so has a real good chance of being swallowed whole by egg nog, tinsel and reindeer.

   Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone and singers Annie Lennox and Jimmy Buffett are all Christmas Day babies.  But baseball greats Ozzie Smith and Carlton Fisk probably had their Dec. 26 birthdays overshadowed just as much.

   My birthday is tucked safely into a time of year most notable for back-to-school activities. So I was safe from all this. 

   Morgan Ome, an assistant editor for the Atlantic Monthly, is a Christmas baby who wrote about her experiences and those of others.

   “When my mother went into labor on December 24, she begged the doctor to deliver me before midnight. A December baby herself, she knew that being born during the holiday season was difficult, and wanted to spare me from being born on an actual holiday,” Ome wrote.

   “She also wanted to get the labor over with, as she tells it, so she could rush home to prepare Christmas dinner for all of the cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who were gathered at our house. Despite her best intentions, however, I was born on the 25th of December.”

   “Rather than making Christmas doubly exciting, being a Christmas baby put a damper on the holiday,” Ome write. “My birthday felt like an afterthought when millions of other people were celebrating at the same time. But even if my feelings toward the 25th itself were complicated, I still loved the Christmas season.”

   “In the week leading up to Christmas, my parents would buckle me into my car seat one evening, tune into the holiday radio station, and drive through our neighborhood, slowing down in front of the houses with the best decorations. Pressing my face against the glass, I would marvel at the twinkling kaleidoscope of lights, the inflatable snowmen, the wire reindeer on rooftops. How lucky I am to be born at such a magical time of the year, I’d think.”

   “I relished the jaunty carols, the endless supply of sugar cookies, even the red-and-green color scheme, and on Christmas morning, I would wake up elated. But after opening presents, my parents’ attention quickly turned to preparing to host Christmas dinner. I would hope to be excused from cooking or cleaning, lounging around in pajamas for most of the day, but no—I was expected to help. Now I don’t mind this so much, but as a kid, I would spend at least a little bit of my birthday in a sour mood. I spent all year seeing my friends and cousins have special days all to themselves, and I felt cheated out of an experience that everyone else enjoyed.”

   “My parents tried their best to separate my birthday from Christmas (even though they didn’t exempt me from hostess duties). They’ve always had two distinct presents for me to open on Christmas morning—helpfully labeled with “Merry Christmas, Morgan!” and “Happy Birthday, Morgan!”

   “Other Christmas babies shared with me some of the unique ways they’ve tried to harmonize the two celebrations,” Ome wrote. “ Bradley Lawson, a 28-year-old in Wasilla, Alaska, told me that his parents would wake him and his siblings up at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning to open presents, then go back to sleep. After a midday nap, Lawson’s birthday activities would commence. He explained that his parents’ philosophy was “Let’s get everyone taken care of and then you can have your excitement in that second part of the day.” In middle school, he said, his family got creative and decided to celebrate his half-birthday, in June. “None of us liked it,” Lawson said. “It wasn’t what I was used to.”

   “Jennifer Fowlie, a 29-year-old in Geneva, was never bothered by the timing of her birthday when she was a child growing up in Scotland. She got to decide the menu for Christmas dinner—usually pizza—and loved the celebratory mood of the holiday season. However, for the past few years, Fowlie has spent Christmas with her fiancé, who is German, and his family. ‘They celebrate Christmas on the 24th,’ she told me, so ‘the 25th is just my birthday now, which is very weird, actually.’”

   “Anna Marquardt, a 39-year-old Christmas baby living in Washington, D.C., told me that several of her relatives also have birthdays near Christmas. When the extended family gathered for the annual Christmas Day festivities, her youngest sister (born in August) would ask, ‘Why do those guys get a tree at their birthday and I don’t get any tree?’”

   “A few years ago, Marquardt wrote a song called Born on Christmas Day,” which has the hilariously memorable chorus of “Stop stealing my thunder, Jesus,” Ome wrote. “Marquardt explained that ‘the song is really very tongue in cheek, because it makes it seem like I don’t like my birthday, but I actually really do.’”

   “Like Marquardt, I started to embrace my birthday more as I grew older. But I spent years disliking my birthday, especially after my parents separated, when I was 12. After that, the holidays just served as a stressful reminder that our family had split. But on my 17th birthday, a confluence of circumstances meant I finally got to spend the day on my terms.”

   “That year, all I wanted was to sleep in, eat junk food, and watch the Doctor Who Christmas special. But my mom had planned for us to go to Los Angeles to see relatives, so none of those were options.”

   “Then I came down with a terrible cold on Christmas Eve. I spent the day in a cold sweat, swaddled under the covers. On Christmas Day, my fever still hadn’t broken, so I stayed in the hotel while my mom and grandma went to join the rest of our family. I ordered some soup and faded in and out of sleep. In the evening, I turned the TV on and watched Matt Smith in his final Doctor Who appearance.”

   “I’d never been alone on my birthday before. At first, I felt giddy, even though I was sick,” Ome wrote. “This was exactly what I wanted, I thought. But looking around the room, I felt the absence of Christmas: no smell of evergreen, no gaudy yet cheery decorations, no sound of the table being set. I missed my family. By getting what I wanted for my birthday, I was missing out on Christmas. That day I decided I didn’t want to make that trade-off again.”

   If you don’t have such Christmas/birthday complications, count that as one of your many blessings and have a merry Christmas!

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