What’s it like sharing your birthday week with Jesus? Zara Wong reflects on being overshadowed by the festive season but also highlights some of the surprising positives of her celebratory day.
It’s that magical period of languid days out in the sun during the holiday season of Christmas and New Year’s Day, where lunchtime drinks turn into evening cocktails, a time without the structure of work that makes weekdays and weekends blur into one, and when we ask ourselves what day it is. It’s that amorphous ‘closed-eyes-smile’ mass of time between public holidays … that’s when my birthday is.
It’s fine. I’m used to it. Really! Well, I haven’t known anything else, have I? I’m not unaccustomed to be met with a sympathetic smile when asked when my birthday is. Look, as I’ll quip afterwards, it’s really difficult when you’re up against Jesus’s birthday and New Year’s Day. Some say that because of this December babies are inherently attention-starved, so how novel that I get to write a whole essay about it now!
People will make some commiserating noise about the irritation of what it must like to receive double presents. My mother even apologises and said she tried to keep me in as long as possible so I could have been born at the start of the new year – where benefits include being the oldest in athletic heats, as my schools would organise it by year of birth, but alas, I came early. A belated Christmas present, as my parents would remind me.
I’m wired to associate anything covered in Christmas wrapping paper as a potential birthday gift, even if the gift-giver provides a half-hearted apology for out-of-seasonality. They think they’re funny when they give you a Christmas card and write inside: “Haha, sorry! This is all I had left at home! Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday!” It’s not amusing: we’ve seen that joke before.
The upside is that it encourages me to be organised and conscientious when giving presents to other December-January friends. And to never buy their presents from Christmas sales. Not to be a scrooge and sound unappreciative, but boxed beauty gift sets are a dead giveaway and we can definitely tell when our gift is a Christmas re-gift.
A study showed that December was the month where most people were “unhappy” to have their birthday, and nearly a third of people with December birthdays (31 per cent) claim their special day frequently gets overlooked because of the festive season, while 27 per cent moan about their presents being wrapped in Christmas paper.
But each month has its downsides. February/March birthdays have to deal with going back to school, then there’s my brother’s birthday in late June during the depths of Australian winter. At least my birthday is when everyone is a cheerful mood, and in Australia, the weather is warm. But abroad too, it’s the time for snow and Christmas pudding and Christmas markets – there’s too much fun to worry about a birthday.
Because December is a month so full of excitement already with the festive season even without my birthday, when planning our wedding I told my now-husband that under no circumstances could anything wedding-related be in that month. As a bit of unconscious now-youcan-see-what-it’s-like-ism, our wedding anniversary is now a week after his own birthday, which he grumbles about.
It is a quieter time, as the really rambunctious parties all happen preChristmas. By the time my birthday rolls around it’s more sedate as the aggressive socialising has come to an end. It’s the time to take stock, to recognise and salute your true friends, the ones standing by.
Restaurants and cake shops are usually closed, so I’ve become adept at hosting my own birthday parties. But a note for those with this in mind: you need to plan in advance before everyone heads out of town. It’s made me a proficient cook because I’ve had to make my own birthday cake more often than not, and at the very least I can choose exactly what I want for it. No, it’s not the Christmas log, it’s the one with candles on it – please remove that holly leaf from my birthday cake. My best friend’s birthday is a week from mine but she is less kitcheninclined, although is a wonderful arranger of the cheese platter, and picks a great champagne to match. We met because we had to line up once in primary school in order of our birthdays, and she came right after me.
Being a December baby has become a way to bond with other people born around that time. You don’t see, say, October babies get together in quite the same way, do you? My father, my closest cousin and a handful of friends all have birthdays within a week of me. We know which few restaurants and bars are open at that time and are quick to suggest a quiet night out, better for long chats and reflection and to look back on the year; nothing too raucous at this time. Around our birthdays that aforementioned best friend and I get together to write down our goals for next year. (It’s a Capricorn thing – other friends have rolled their eyes and walked on by. Being loud and self-centred? Without naming specific astrology categories, we’ll leave to the other star signs.)
Because, ultimately, I’m really, honestly fine about the festive season being bigger than me, because it’s not about competing with it, but going with the flow. Birthdays are never really about the birthday person anyway, they’re about the celebration, so there will never be a better and more meaningful time than December to celebrate. It’s the season to consider others, to bask in the company of friends and family who show up and make it count. And, it gives me the rest of the year to remind everyone else about my birthday!
“I’VE HAD TO MAKE MY OWN BIRTHDAY CAKE MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, AND AT THE VERY LEAST I CAN CHOOSE WHAT I WANT FOR IT. NO, IT’S NOT THE CHRISTMAS LOG, IT’S THE ONE WITH CANDLES”