I don’t know my grandfather’s birthday, but I’m confident that his birth certificate or other official data would say January 1st. I have noticed that most people over 40 years old in Bhutan have that day as their ‘birthday’.
Celebrating birthdays were not typical until recently. Western culture has merged with the traditional culture to form an unfamiliar yet familiar society. We cut cakes and celebrate with friends and family, yet we also visit temples, light butter lamps and make offerings on our birthdays.
Birthdays come with a lot of privileges. Many anticipate gifts and money; wishes do not mean much if they do not come with an object. Days when we waited by the telephone to hear well wishes from loved ones are long gone. Now, we click, click, click, and buy, buy, buy.
Being able to think about one’s birthday itself is a privilege.
Dates of birth always existed, but birthdays did not. One’s date of birth was a number to be printed on legal documents. Often, that date was not even the date one was born on; one could assume that noting the date was hardly a priority when someone was giving birth. If it was, then I guess many babies liked coming out on New Year’s Day to celebrate with the family.
Today, regardless of its veracity, we celebrate the date on our birth certificates.
Why? The standard explanation is that we celebrate a person’s life and show our love and appreciation. So, out of 365 days in a year, only a day is dedicated to making a person feel special? Well, no wonder so many people are depressed and lonely.
Also, were people in Bhutan not loved and appreciated in the pre-modern period?
Hah! Maybe they had better fish to fry.