Only Celebrate A Few Select Birthdays

by Paul Michael on 8 February 2010 35 comments
Photo: Amazon

What if we suddenly stopped celebrating every single birthday in our lives, and instead concentrated on just the important ones? Would you care? Would you support it? I’ll tell you one thing…we’d all save a bunch of money.

The idea comes from one of my favorite comedians, Patton Oswalt. If you don’t know the name, you’ll certainly know the voice; he played Remy in Ratatouille. He was also Spence Olchrin in The King Of Queens, and he’s an exceptional comedian.

On his CD Werewolves And Lollipops he outlines a plan to stop the celebration of most birthdays, saying that there’s nothing special about most of them. And, he’s right. What’s so special about hitting 36 (my next birthday)? Or 42? Or even 14? They’re not landmark dates in your existence. They’re just another year.

The full list is printed below, and you can also listen to Patton (be warned, Patton uses language that is NSFW).

Birthdays you can and cannot celebrate.

1 thru 9 — YES. You’re a little kid, and kids should get to celebrate birthdays.

10 — YES. You’ve entered the double digits. Something different has happened, you get a birthday.

11-12 — NO. Nothing special about those years.

13 — YES. Now you’re a teenager, and that’s worth celebrating.

14-15 — NO. Again, nothing special here.

16 — YES. The laws have changed. Now you can drive, that’s worth celebrating.

17 — NO. What’s special about being 17? Exactly.

18 — YES. Awesome birthday. You can vote and own a gun. This is all worth celebrating (and if you’re in other countries including England, you can drink alcohol). Now that is worth a party.

19 — YES. It’s your last year as a teenager.

20 — YES. You’ve entered your twenties.

21 — YES. Awesome birthday, you’re as adult as you can get. Hit the bars.

And then…only one birthday every 10 years (30, 40, 50, 60 and so on) until you hit 90. After 90, you get a birthday every year because one law no longer applies to you!

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Now, as 90 is a rare age for most of us to reach, I’d say most of us are in for 22-23 birthday celebrations in our lifetime. That’s a lot less than 70-80. And think of all the money that we wouldn’t have to spend. At Hallmark, they’d see their profits go down the toilet, but personally I wouldn’t shed a tear. Charging an average of $5 for a piece of card you read once and throw away is something of an extravagance anyway. And think of all the trees and resources we’d save!

Not only that, but once you reach the adult years, you usually don’t want for that much anyway. As a kid, you have no income. Your birthdays are what you rely on for toys, clothes, games, and candy. But as a 36 year old, I’ll be getting stuff for my birthday that I could afford anyway. I usually have to search my brain for days to come with ideas for people. And they’re the same. My dad’s birthday is in a few weeks. He had no idea what he wanted, so I bought him some DVDs. He’s probably seen them, he may even have them, and who knows if he even wants them.

Now I’m not saying we should treat the day like any other. By all means, go have a few drinks after work or take a trip to the movies. Have a good meal. But do we really need to continue spending all of this money on each other, buying junk we don’t need for people who don’t want anything, just because we’ve reached the grand old age of 27 or 43? Many people in this world would be thankful for a healthy meal and sanitary water every day, and the money we throw at each other on gifts, cards, and endless wrapping could more than pay for that.

This idea may have started as a joke, but I think it’s far from just a bit of comic relief. Think it over.

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Guest's picture
Stacey07

Good timing. Headed to a 63-year-old's party today. Personally, I will NOT want to celebrate the fact that I'm a year older once I reach my 60's. Or my 30's, to be honest. My parties stopped when I graduated from high school.

Most people will think that this post is a joke, but why not celebrate the people you love year-round - instead of spending time and resources on one day a year?

It's nice to mark the ocassion, but must we really go all out with cake, balloons, and gifts that the birthday boy/girl doesn't really want? Yes, the 63-year-old will have balloons. His mother and wife insist on it.

Guest's picture
Bellen

Last birthday celebrated was in college when I turned 21. Hubby and I have 4 days between birthdays so we just try to do something different than our regular schedule, like having a picnic or going to a museum. Friends are kept unaware of our birthdays and only our kids send cards. Do we feel unloved or forgotten? Not in the least as it is our choice.

Now in our sixties birthdays aren't important - every day is important.

Guest's picture

taking all the emotions involved in birthdays, there is actually a lot of sense in what you say. But the thing is that these thing is very hard to put in practice because most people feel unwanted when their birthdays are not acknowledged. By the way this post has just reminded me that there is a birthday in my family to be remembered!!!!!

Guest's picture
chriss

I think you're missing the distinction between "celebrating" and "gifting". : ) In my circle of friends, we haven't given each other formal gifts for birthdays in about 8 years (unless you count baking someone a cake).

My husband and I have that PO album (we got through a LOT of comedy) and while I agree that it's not necessary to throw a party (complete with rabid gift-wrap-tearing and candles) every year, everyone likes feeling special on their birthday -- even if they're turning an "unspecial" age.

And while I agree with the other commenters that every day should be special (unbirthdays too!), it's likely that most folk won't take the time to slow down and appreciate your average day. On their *birthday* however, it's usually easier to convince someone to take a little extra time for a nicer homemade meal, or a round of drinks, or just a night playing board games instead of cleaning out gutters, or whatever.

So I'm with you on the gifts are unnecessary front, but I'm definitely still pro-celebration.

Andrea Karim's picture

Actually, I'm not even sure about the whole years 1-9 thing. It might be just because I don't have kids, but it seems kind of ridiculous, the way birthdays are celebrated.

And no, not everyone likes to feel special on their birthday - I, for one, would like my birthday to pass unacknowledged.

Guest's picture
Guest

Don't even get me STARTED!!!!
I sooooooo hate birthdays! (actually, I've been lucky, and the people I hang around hate them too, so we NEVER have to endure adult birthdays anymore! Yesssss!)

But the kid's parties are KILLING ME!!!!!!!!!

I have two kids. Age 10 and 7.
I had a party for their first year. That's a biggie. Some kids don't even make it to that, so....it's a celebration. There's no more SIDS risk for me to worry about at night!!
After that.....age 5 I had parties for. And age 10.

Now, when I say parties, I mean, the relatives and friends all come. LOTS of people. Big expenses. Lots of toys we don't need.
Games, prizes, scrounging up enough chairs to fit most everyone...that's a "party" to me.

But sometimes, I let the kids have their own "kiddie" party.
There's been a few sleepovers, with just a SELECT FEW KIDS, which works out VERY WELL. The kids still feel celebrated and get to have their fun, and I only had to pay for a few cupcakes and a few dollar store prizes for a few games. The rest of the night, entertainment was up to them!! Just be laying in your sleeping bags by 11pm, please! And put on a movie till you fall asleep in 20 minutes. Sweet success!

Other than that, we don't bother everyone EVERY stinkin' 6 months, for a party. "Come celebrate my kids. AGAIN. Buy them something." Nope. Can't stand that.
(they were born in December and June, so EVERY 6 months is birthdays for us!)

My cousin has 3 kids. They were all born from November to January. And so far, she has had a MAJOR party for EVER SINGLE BIRTHDAY.
It's SUCH a pain!!! I dread it!! Let alone, it's Christmas time, and after Christmas/recovery time....and I gotta buy MORE crap for her kids!
EVERY YEAR. THREE TIMES.
She has a HUGE family, lots of aunts, step people, etc.....
So it's a major deal everytime. Crowds in her house, don't get up cause you won't get your seat back, or going to a "bouncy place" to watch the kids sweat all over eachother for 2 hours....

And for MOST birthdays I've been to in the past 10 years, no one ever opens their gifts AT THE PARTY anymore!!!
WTH??? I want to SEE the look on their face when they open it! If I'm gonna go to the expense and time of thinking up the perfect thing (in the clearance section! Lol) and putting the money I really don't have, out, to get a gift...I want to KNOW they opened it.
I hate that!!!

I've tried over and over again, hinting, obvious hinting, etc....to STOP my cousin from having all these damn birthdays every year, but she just won't.
I don't understand it.
It's to the point of ridiculous now.
Luckily, recently I've been busy for a few of the parties. WHEW!!

Ok....sorry....I got started! See? I told you not to get me started!!

Oh, I did want to say, that for the years we do NOT have a major celebration for, I buy a SMALL pack of cupcakes, or a tiny cake at Walmart, and on their birthday night, my family of four sings Happy Bday after dinner, and give the birthday kid one present.
Nothing wrong with acknowledging the birthday. It just doesn't have to get crazy. And they are completely happy with that, too.
As long as there's candles. (as per my 7 year old daughter!)

Guest's picture

But can we add 65? Medicare is a wondrous thing!

Guest's picture
Carrie

When you have more than one or two, celebrating every birthday can get more expensive but it also becomes more important, in my opinion. My middle child turned 3 yesterday, and you better believe we had a party. Her older sister and the baby already dominate so much of family life, despite my best efforts, and it was quite a delight to little Pebbles to dictate where we went out for breakfast, where we had her party and what kind of cake we made.
Even though I'm a frugalista, I tend to overspend on kids' birthdays simply because I get carried away with themes and goody bags. But it's certainly not necessary to do so. A cake mix and frosting can cost $2 between them, and having some friends or cousins over for a playdate costs nothing.
Yes, there is excessive spending and competition in some families with children's parties, but saying you're just not going to celebrate is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. These days are a REALLY big deal to children, and I would argue that it's still a big deal to an 11 or 12-year-old even if they don't let on.

Guest's picture
Amy

While we always had family birthday parties as children (aunts, uncles, grandmas, cousins only, very low key gatherings), parties with friends were rare. For two birthdays each (mine were 11 and 16) my parents threw us a surprise party where friends from school were invited. Having two siblings, it would have been crazy for my parents to give us big parties every year, especially because my brother's birthday is exactly 3 weeks after mine.

I don't recall ever being bummed about not having "friends attending" parties all the time and honestly it made the two surprise parties extra special. Cake and ice cream is good no matter who you're with.

Nowadays, just taking it easy for a day is enough for me.

Guest's picture
jill

seriously. give me a break. we are so money obsesssed that we cant even celebrate birthdays anymore. how sad are all of you. we are celebrating life (not turning another year older). you dont need to spend a fortune but every person at every age deserves a party and celebrations!

Paul Michael's picture

Why? Why does every person at every age deserve to be given gifts and cards? And why can't you celebrate life on other days? As a society, we're all so obsessed with getting stuff and being the center of attention.

Guest's picture
gt0163c

I disagree about not celebrating all of the teenage birthdays (so, I guess everything under 18...probably everything under 21).

I'm a volunteer youth leader with my church and spend a lot of time around teenagers. Birthdays are important for the kids, especially the kids who are more of the geeks/quiet kids/on the fringes. It's a day when they can feel special and specifically loved without it seeming like someone is just doing it to help them feel included and not on the edges (kids can tell this stuff, even the younger teens. And for the more perceptive ones it's worse than pity.).

That said, birthday celebrations don't have to be huge ordeals. Going out to lunch and a movie with a few friends is really about all that most of "my kids" really want. Just some time to spend with their friends, maybe with a cool adult along to drive (chaperone) or a less cool parent who keeps an appropriate distance.

I have friends who, for their kids' birthdays (kids are 1-13 years old currently) give that kid a bag of candy, the choice of the dinner menu and then the opportunity to stay up late with Mom and Dad and watch a movie of their choice (big family so alone time with Mom AND Dad is a big thing).

Now that I'm old (ancient according to some of "my kids"...34), I still like to celebrate my birthday. My parents send me a box with little random toys. My sister buys me a book or something off my Amazon wish list. Some friends usually either treat me to dinner or get a group together for a meal and to play some games. It's not a whole lot different than what I would do on a normal time together with friends, but it's nice to have that special recognition once a year or so. One of "my kids" made me a little pillow out of fabric scraps one year. Another bought me a chocolate bar. All these are great, little, heartfelt gestures and mean the world to me. It really is (or it really should be) the thought that counts.

Guest's picture
Guest

Not getting another year older - man what a bunch of scrooges people are. There's nothing wrong with giving someone a card on their birthday to remind them that you're thinking of them. You don't have to go crazy on presents, or over the top on parties but what's wrong with cake and a nice meal together? My husband and I (we're 40) give each other cards, plan a lovely meal and recently have given gifts like bare root trees. Something that will remind us in the years to come of our birthdays. We're expecting a baby in a month and you can be darn sure that he will have a birthday party every year because we will be celebrating our absolute joy at his birth. Doesn't mean it has to be OTT but it will be special and full of love and happiness. And cake.

Guest's picture
Kate

Great idea! The thought of turning 34 next month really doesn't excite me so I think I will wait until 40 to celebrate! Unless people want to give me gifts of course!

Guest's picture
Q

I just had my birthday, and it was terrible. I didn't care, a whole bunch of well-meaning people made a big fuss and it just made it worse. An office "party" turned into 45 minutes of awkward silence, punctuated by That Guy making fun of me, which made me and everyone in the room uncomfortable. I got a million cards that literally went from envelope to recycle bin.

Please, if we could just do the decades from 30 - 60 or so? I'm not just talking skip the gifts - skip the concept entirely!! It would make the years we celebrated that much more special.

Guest's picture
Becky N

I love birthdays - mine and everyone's that I know about. We keep a huge calendar on my husband's closet door where we mark everyone's birthdays as we find out about them - even people we don't know well. And when we look at it, we think of them and send them a birthday wish - either for real, or in our thoughts. I love keeping people I like in my mind - and at this age, that's no easy task!

When I turned 60 my husband offered to have a party - I could invite anyone I wanted, he'd do the barbecue and cake, they could bring a dish or drink of some sort instead of gifts. And the surprise was the doo - wop group who were FABULOUS! I'd taken a doo-wop class a couple of times at the local community college and love singing like that - and got to jump in on a couple of numbers. I had a blast. And we danced. Everyone danced! People still talk about that part as the best they ever went to. YOu have to realize my husband is not a party person - so arranging this was really something special for him, and it was wonderful.

We don't do a lot of gifts for birthdays or fancy stuff. We like to celebrate with our kids, grandchildren, friends - but it can be simple - even the kids don't need a lot of stuff. And we do like to send that money to where it is really needed. We do this at Christmas, too.

So I agree with this column a lot in terms of not spending a lot of money, necessarily; and not even having parties all the time. But I like to sing happy birthday to people, I like them to wish me a happy birthday. It just kind of says, I'm glad you're here.

Paul Michael's picture

was a bad choice of words on my part. I do say that you should go out and spend the day/evening having some fun, but all the gifts and cards and BS was what I was arguing against. My bad. Apologies for all you folks wanting to shoot me for saying you can't have any fun any more.

 

Max Wong's picture
Max Wong

Once you hit thirty the rule is: you get to celebrate your birthday for the same number of days as you are old. For example, if you are turning 35 you get to celebrate your birthday for 35 days. If you are turning 67 you get to celebrate for 67 days.

I don't know what all you guys are doing for your birthdays, but I'm 9 days into my birthday and it's been awesome.

Guest's picture
Christie

you have to spend a bundle to celebrate a birthday? We celebrate every single birthday in our house--in fact, we even celebrate half-birthdays!! (half a birthday cake and a dinner at home of their choice!) You don't have to go all out and spend a ton of money to have a great birthday. In fact, my son's favorite birthday party, when he turned 4, was awesome! We set up the house as different play zones using his own toys. Dining room was football with tape for lines (we did move the furniture out for that one) and then a wooden train room, and a Hot Wheels room. The 6 boys played for hours! And his friends each brought him a new Hot Wheels car--$1 to $3 each. Awesome. We don't do this every year, but a few times during childhood and they get to pick their cake and dinner at home as well. We have a set limit on how much we spend for birthdays and for Christmas--you get creative when you only have $20 - $25 to spend on a person for Christmas! Are we overloaded? No. Are we breaking the bank? No. We save ahead of time and have fun celebrating!!

Guest's picture

Might I suggest that if you don't want to spend $5 on a birthday card then don't, Dollar Stores and Liquidators have cards for $1 each and often 2 for $1. Write something nice inside, share a joke or a memory or an old photograph. With adults it's about connecting with people and a birthday is a great time to do that. If you feel obliged to give them something monetary and they have everything then donate the money in their name to a cause that will bring food or clean drinking water to someplace that needs it.

Don't you remember being a kid and having that exciting feeling that your birthday was coming up? For children every year is a milestone, at 11 they might be going through the awkwardness of getting their braces, at 14 they might be feeling the joy of getting their first part time job. You don't have to be spending huge amounts of money on teens but the teens in your life need the acknowledgment that they are another year older and that they matter to you. Get them a really interesting magazine or book, start looking at them as an individual.

And really... how much money are you going to save by not buying balloons? $2? Is it really that you don't think these birthdays are important or that you just don't want to go through the bother.

Guest's picture
Q

Honestly, all you people who just LOVE LOVE LOVE to celebrate birthdays need to be a bit more sensitive to those who wish to ignore their own. Reading half these posts makes my skin crawl.

Guest's picture
vga

Seriously, how cheap and/or lazy are you? Is it too much to ask that you should spend a few hours to make someone feel special on one day out of the year. One measly day. One day of being the center of attention is all some people ever get. And heaven forbid you should *gasp* buy them a gift or take them out to dinner. That would be totally un-frugal of you.

You should remember that not everyone is living in an eternal party. Not everyone is not surrounded by tons of awesome friends and family who make them feel great 24/7/365; thus negating the need for any additional celebration.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

hahaha I like this post.  My husband recently turned 27, and his relatives all came over and brought him a cake and pizza.  The funny thing is that they NEVER came by to celebrate his birthdays before, but this year we have a baby so their ulterior motive was really to see the baby.  I thought that was funny. 

Guest's picture
Guest

Quick Question writes:

"As a society, we're all so obsessed with getting stuff and being the center of attention."

Wow. That's what you think celebrating birthdays (not gifting or partying) is all about? Sad. Birthdays IMHO are a way to remind someone of how important/special they are to us. You have a problem with that? Wow. It's not about stuff and it's not about being the center of attention. It's about being acknowledged. NOT the same thing.

To "What an awful suggestion" who wrote:
"You should remember that not everyone is living in an eternal party. Not everyone is not surrounded by tons of awesome friends and family who make them feel great 24/7/365; thus negating the need for any additional celebration."

Agreed. Excellent point. Not everyone comes from a loving, attentive family that treats them well.

If someone doesn't want their birthday acknowledged, that is THEIR choice. However, if you have friends and family who believe it is important to have their birthday acknowledged, if you love them and care about them, you will find a way to do it without going into debt. If you don't care about how they feel about this, no matter your own feelings, then basically you are dissing them.

Birthdays, to me, are important. Yes, you should treat folks great everyday and acknowledge them. But most people don't, no matter how loving.

To me, a birthday is the chance for someone to stop and remember and let you know how great it is that you are here on the planet with them. Doing it on the birthday is a way of saying: This is when you came and I honor it as I honor you and love you in my life right now.

You don't need a party every year, but yes, big birthdays are opportunities for special events.

Why is it folks can spend thousands on other personal activities, special events, boozing, every year but then begrudge someone they supposedly care about a gift, card, dinner out?

How cheap and thoughtless can you be? I mean, seriously. We're not talking about doing this for hundreds of people. Most of us have just a handful. And if you have a big family, you can find ways to split costs.

Frankly, I'm always suspicious of people who don't like celebrating birthdays. Dig deep and you'll often find people who issues with their family and others. Not saying everyone, but a lot.

You don't like your birthday to be celebrated, great. We won't. But don't ignore others who want it acknowledged. And don't put them down.

Guest's picture
Q

"Frankly, I'm always suspicious of people who don't like celebrating birthdays. "

So let me ask you, do YOU care what matters to those you love? Seems like you care as long as what matters to them is the same thing that matters to you. If they happen to disagree, however, they are subject to armchair-Oprah-psychology. Because there must be something wrong with someone who doesn't like a big fuss on their birthday! Of course!

Guest's picture
vga

If you want to ignore your own birthday, go for it. Others might be a bit baffled but they won't take it as a personal offense.

Personally, I'll drop everything to make my friends, family and even minor acquaintances feel special on their birthdays. Because I know how important it is to be considerate of those around you and to reach out to people on their birthdays to try to make them feel special.

How about that person who moved across country to get a job or go to school. They left their friends and family behind and started over. Maybe they've struggled to fit in or make friends. Maybe the town doesn't agree with them or they're a bit introverted. Take them out for some drinks. Get them a gift card. Show them that you give a damn.

How about people with hectic jobs or lives. Get a babysitter, make sure they get off of work on time, whatever. Give them an evening to breath and to relax. Again, show them that you care.

How about significant others and best friends? Just because these people are important to you doesn't mean that you spend every moment of your life making them feel great. That's impossible. But spending a day or an evening focusing on making them feel good is a great way to show how important they are to you.

Get the common theme I'm trying to build? Birthdays are about showing people you actually care about them.

Celebrating a birthday does not require a parade, petting zoo, hundreds of guests, lavish gifts, strippers, fireworks, the flying Elvi, a celebrity guest appearance, and a dance number.

But it does require a few hours of your time and at least a couple of bucks for a beer or dinner. That's all it takes to make someone feel special. If you are too cheap or lazy to do that, then there is something seriously wrong with you.

And what exactly is so wrong with spending money on someone you care about? A $3 card? A $25 gift certificate? Even a $150 necklace? Unless you're living hand-to-mouth is this really a great financial burden? And guess what, if you are in a financial hole, no one is going to fault you for not getting a gift for them.

Personally it sounds like anti-consumerism taken to a level of absurdity. Believe it or not, there is a huge difference between mortgaging your house to buy a Lexus for yourself and dropping a bills for gift card for someone else.

Guest's picture
Kevin

Only thing I hate more than having to cook up a gift for every odd-number birthday is that horrible, insipid song that you have to sing. Gawd I hate the Happy Birthday song.

I've always promoted a similar scheme to this, although I can't convince anyone to go along with it.

I say, you should get the first 20 and the last ten. In between you can make a fuss if it ends in a zero or (maybe) a five. The last ten can start at 90 or whenever seems appropriate based on your health. I'm not worried about the 21st because the drinking age is 19 where I live. 21st birthday is a nothing birthday.

Guest's picture

u r alive, u r blessed that u r not struggling for basic needs, go and celebrate ur bday.. please.. this idea is bad miser idea

Guest's picture
Guest

At 35 you are eligible to be President of the United States.

Guest's picture
whitewolf

most people don't celebrate there b-day after they turn 18 exception to turning 21.

http://whitewolfinvestigations.org/

Guest's picture
RUMBLEDOLL

Some people, meaning family, expect money. And ask for it specifically. For Christmas too. It sickens me.

Guest's picture
Molly

Last birthday celebrated was 22 in college. (But, college birthdays are so much fun!) I still go out for dinner or drinks with my family/close friends. Generally, it's a rule in my circle of friends that we split the cost for the birthday girl/boy's dinner- no present needed.

Guest's picture
Molly

My birthday and my partner's birthday are my favorite days of the year. I always take mine off, and I ENJOY the day - which means sleeping late, having a good workout, and going to a coffee shop. I agree with previous posters that "celebrating" is different from "gifting", and I certainly want to celebrate mine.

Guest's picture
Celebrate

All of you people need to get a life. Life in of itself is a celebration, sorry all your lives are so sad you don't feel it's worth celebrating or even more so, you don't value the lives of others to the point you see the value in celebrating. I wonder if you either any of you, or someone close to you either had the life cut short by an illness or accident or it happens to you, you might feel a little differently. So sad.

Guest's picture
Guest

So many people die early.

They would love to celebrate another year older, but can't as they're gone.

Don't be so miserable - celebrate every birthday.