How you celebrate your birthday should be a personal thing.

If you want cake, you should have it. (And eat it, too.) If you want the day to pass unnoticed and unremarkably, that wish should also be granted. We all have birthdays and we should mark them in our own way.

As a kid, my birthday tended to fall during the first week of school. In fifth grade, my birthday actually coincided with the first day of class at Washington Grade School. I remember standing on the playground, waiting for the bell to ring and holding a pan of my mother’s chocolate cupcakes. An older girl saw the treats and declared, “What? A party already? Isn’t it a little early?”

I was devastated, and afraid my new teacher, Mrs. Ellenberger, might think I was a frivolous, silly girl more interested in parties than committed to academics. But I was worried over nothing.

The teacher and members of my fifth-grade class were thrilled to have a tasty distraction from the reality of summer’s end. (Mrs. Ellenberger quickly learned I was not a frivolous girl overly interested in parties, but a silly girl who could not grasp the concept of fractions.)

The topic of birthday parties can be a touchy one. We all know someone who absolutely does not want any acknowledgement of their birthday. Don’t send them a text greeting or leave a card on their desk at work. And whatever you do, do not mention the words “cake,” “candles” or “older” in conversation.

We also know people who think you should be as excited about birthdays as they are. My friend Sissy Blissman, the sweetest person you’d ever meet, has invited me to every birthday party, every year, for all her children.

I was stumped. Should I accept the invitations until her youngest reaches the age of majority and potentially end up in bankruptcy after investing thousands of dollars in gifts? Or, should I decline and risk offending her? Would she be suspicious if I declined on account of having my wisdom teeth removed seven times? Turns out, she thought I’d be offended if I wasn’t invited. Go figure.

Our family sometimes hosts a party with guests for big birthdays like Sweet 16, 21, or 50. But for my husband, the policy is no party, ever. He wants no fuss, even on big birthdays ending in a zero. I imagine his reaction to a surprise birthday party would be about the same as telling him the sewer had backed up in the basement.

But what about the poor souls whose birthdays fall on Dec. 24 or Dec. 26? They usually get short-changed in the gift department. What little kid likes to hear, “Here’s your present; it’s a bicycle. The frame is for your birthday and the wheels are for Christmas.”

There is a point in life, however, for some of us, when birthday presents don’t mean as much as birthday cake. Let’s face it; there’s not much better than butter pecan cake with almond frosting.

As an adult, you also know something has fundamentally changed about your birthday when people stop putting individual candles on the cake and switch to using numeric candles. That’s because they don’t want a conflagration of little candles dripping wax on the frosting or they’re afraid of setting off the smoke alarm.

Regardless of candles, gifts or any other traditional trimmings, the best birthdays are those spent with loved ones. The older you get, the more this holds true.

Earlier this week I asked my mom what birthday memory she holds most dear, but her answer had nothing to do with her own January birthday.

“Why, going into labor on Labor Day!” she said.

Thanks, Mom. Now, let’s have some cake.

Contact Susan Hazlett at susanrhazlett@yahoo.com or write to her in care of The Pantagraph, 301 W. Washington St., Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.


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