Unless you’re a baby genius you will not recall your first birthday party. The only record will be photographs and a home video (if your parents were so inclined that is!) with you either looking picture perfect or disagreeable, as the case maybe. You study them and laugh over an event that officially marked your debut into the world. The other children in attendance, presents, the cake and candles are one for the distant past and brought alive through the narrative of your parents as they remember. The home video gives a nice touch if available and you can see yourself in action on that fateful day!
As the years roll by, the tradition of parties, presents and a fuss over that singular day of yours continues and in fact you come to expect it. In some cases the party is purely family, other times (depending on the great age attained) it’s marked with lots of hue and cry, as your parents so choose. Whatever the case, you unconsciously anticipate or dread (depending on your disposition) the day as the case may be. The best part about the birthdays is usually the presents that come like clockwork each year. You may get the present you’ve begged for all year, or one you were not even expecting, but turns out to be cool all the same. Presents signify that day as special and demonstrate part of the love your parents, extended family and others have for you. As in all young people, you love the fact that you have gotten older, the trappings associated with it give you quite a thrill as well. At times you even increase your age in order to appear more important and also increase your standing among your peers.
Fast forward to secondary school and the picture has changed. The presents may still come, but now these are not compulsory and the party…not necessary in the least! If you happen to have been in a boarding house then you understand that birthdays have now become something you ‘do’ for your friends. You give them a treat of sorts i.e. foot the bill at tuck-shop or dole out titbits of sorts when your parents visit or even if you don’t you must ensure that there’s something for your nearest and dearest that differentiate the day. After a while it was no longer about ensuring good memories or a pleasant day but it became a competition on cruelty to the celebrant. The more popular you were the more public the display of pranks, tricks and anything else people could dream up. If that particular celebrant had jointly annoyed the clique they belonged, the visitation of wrath varied depending on how forgiving the individuals in the group were.
From seizing presents, to confiscating beddings, pouring sand, dirty water or the like on beddings to making the person do as they were bid; this bidding could include jogging insider drains, being bathed in sandy or dirty water and anything else that could be dreamt up…you were at their mercy! If you were ‘lucky’ enough you also wound up with great gifts that were the talk of the entire school and so maybe the day was not entirely lost. Usually a lot of fun went into these unorthodox celebrations and often times the birthday girl or boy had some fun too, malice may also have been involved on the part of some but this was not permitted to overshadow the main objective. The greater the popularity, the more widely spread the celebrations (part of the rites of passage you could say) and so being quiet or unpopular (within the larger fabric of the community) became a blessing if you were not inclined to such public displays of affection.
With adulthood, the celebration or rather marking the day, changed yet again and took on whatever form the celebrant decides. With the various responsibilities attained over the years, some people have been known to forget that auspicious day and were reminded by a phone call from family. Others ignore it, work through it or maybe even celebrate it in a manner they find pleasing and suitable for that year. Quiet, loud, sober, sombre, gay or humdrum I’m sure we’ve all had these over the years. Now we are actually the architect of that day and although we must go about daily or routine activities, we will give time for reflection of the years and hopefully have cause to be grateful…I know I am.