Yesterday, one of our household had a birthday.
A few years back we stopped giving Christmas gifts, but continued to give birthday presents. Then a couple of years ago we began to feel that, too, was something we felt uneasy with – not least because it creates a pressure to reciprocate, which can be difficult for low-income people. So last year, as the birthdays came round, we had a last-birthday-with-a-gift scenario, the birthday presents being very modest but still happening. Now this year we’re on to no-gift birthdays.
However, we do like to celebrate. We talked around the idea of maybe going out for a meal, but decided that would be even more expensive than buying gifts.
Yesterday’s birthday followed what will – loosely – become our tradition, I think.
First, we asked the birthday person what she would like to do on her birthday – and she, like all the rest of us, mainly likes to chill out and have a quiet day, enjoying the company of family; not go anywhere or do anything in particular. That was her idea of a happy day, and it’s certainly mine too. I did have a party one year, but to get round the horrors of socializing, it was a silent party. My birthday is in the summer, so we invited friends to our home and garden within a two-hour time slot, just to be peaceful in the sunshine among the flowers, enjoying the nibbles we provided. It actually didn’t work so well because some unscheduled relatives who had not been invited to my party (so didn’t know it was on) showed up wanting to socialize. I managed to corral them into a separate room where they proceeded to chat loudly for most of the two hours. Sigh. Lord only knows what they made of the silent people dotted around our home.
So anyway, what we do now follows what’s becoming a pattern.
The day generally starts with those who are not the birthday person getting up early to make the birthday altar. Here’s yesterday’s:
It has flowers; cards; chocolates; and little booklets of quotations, pictures, jokes etc, made by those of us who like to do that as a memento of the occasion.
We put on some music, and have our breakfast drinks from pretty china, sit around and chat for a while. Then, yesterday, three of us completed a batch of choux buns they’d made ready the day before. Half were filled with whipped cream and had coffee frosting on the top, the other half the same but with lemon curd folded into the cream and lemon frosting. So at elevenses time we had those. And they were delicious.
Four of my five daughters live in this house, and their fifth, married sister managed to snatch an hour from family responsibilities to come and hang out with us – which made it perfect. Such a happy time. She doesn’t feel quite the same about no-gift birthdays so she brought a most brilliant gift, with the stipulation that the recipient should feel free to get rid of it if ever it just became redundant junk. Her gift – which felt just right for the times we’re in both as our little family and as a global family – was a cream canvas tote bag with hot pink carry straps, bearing the words "nevertheless she persisted".
We had quiche and salad for lunch, and settled down in the afternoon to watch an old movie together – the 1990s version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (the one with Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth).
Having enjoyed each other’s company all day, we began to drift into solitary peace as it came towards evening – and then one of us made everyone a scrumptious supper of sausages and gravy with mashed potato, steamed cabbage and peas; because that’s a favourite.
And that’s our idea of a minimalist no-gift birthday – so happy, so relaxed.