Special Days

This post is dedicated to the one person outside of me, without whom you definitely wouldn’t be reading anything of this. Now don’t get me wrong, there is certainty on the subject that without a little contribution of the other, this wouldn’t have worked out either; whether the identity of the other is important, that wouldn’t be so certain. This is also completely philosophically and hypothetically speaking.

So, what am I rambling about?

I am talking (writing) about my mom. It’s her birthday today.

I am not returning home to visit for my mom’s birthday. It’s a special day, though next year I will actually go home for my parents’ birthdays, since they are both turning 60 then.

I just had to think of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As far as I know, they don’t celebrate birthdays. I don’t know what their reasons are, since they don’t celebrate a lot of things. I think it has something to do with something sinful this and pride that, or they see celebrating a person as conflicting with the first commandment.

Rambling again. So, why are birthdays so important to us? Or name days, for that matter? This really isn’t an easy topic for me. I just can’t imagine a world without birthdays. Was there a world without birthdays? The earliest H. Sapiens I can think of, paleolithic humans, knew seasons just like we do, and survived in part because of their ability to predict animal movements in relation to the seasons, i.e. time. Cave paintings may just have been a collection of indicators for determining when the main hunting season began for which animal. Anthropologists have found that there are astoundingly precise techniques among primitives to determine their position and the date (navigating a boat in the Micronesians is suicide without that knowledge). Similarly precise techniques must have been known to prehistoric humans. With the technology available to the earliest of human cultures, there remains the question for the need for birthdays, name days and the like.

I can think of a number of functions a birthday has in our era. They can either boost you ego, or make you extremely miserable. On our birthday, you expect your friends to call you, write you a letter, or even visit to celebrate with you. There’s an entire ritual that revolves around the birthday, with the candles and the cake and the wish. This kind of magical ritual gives the birthday another symbolic significance; magic can only be worked at special times. You don’t have to study the occult to feel the implied importance of this fact. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t believe in “magic” in the supernatural, mystical sense. To properly explain my usage of the words “fact” and “magic” in this article would require me to revisit hundreds of hours of anthropological lectures and reading, and what I want to focus on here is the significance of birthdays to the individuals who celebrate them. So, before I digress again, the birthday is also a personal day of respite from our troubles. What’s even greater, we can invite other people to forget their troubles with us; after all, celebrating alone is hardly celebrating at all! And we have so many troubles in our lives. In this manner, birthdays and other celebrations strongly support a dialectic philosophy; no light without dark, no joy without grief, no happiness without worries, no birthdays without un-birthdays.

Back to paleoanthropology: There is a chapter in Marshall Sahlins’ “Stone Age Economy” about the original affluent society, in which there were basically no troubles. Basically meaning that there was disease and death, but no need to plan for the future. Did they have a need for birthdays, or for the measurement of time at all? Were they really just like animals, as the descriptions of Eden in the Bible suggest? I am going to stop right here, because it would be a major digression from birthdays.

To my mom, a very happy birthday, as well as to those whose birthday it happens to be today. To everyone else, a very merry un-birthday!


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