OP-ED: Here’s to the holiday birthday babies, who get neglected in this busy time of year

Mary Schmich
Chicago Tribune (TNS)
Can you feel it? We’re in the throes of fall. There’s a chill in the air and a knot in our stomachs as we move ever closer to the prospect of sharing a large, uncomfortable meal with people we see only once or twice a year. I am, therefore, pleased as — punch? Pleased as a batch of Kool-Aid spiked with Everclear? — to present to you the truly factual and 100% correct, very special holiday edition of the L.A. Times Thanksgiving Food Power Rankings. For this rankings, I have measured the gamut of classic Thanksgiving dishes by 1) taste and 2) something I call Family Strife. What foods are most likely to cause an argument or evoke a tense discussion: a passive-aggressive talk about politics, whether you come home to visit enough or when you’re finally going to settle down once and for all?

Let’s pause for a moment before the holidays hit high gear to honor a neglected segment of our society: the holiday birthday babies.

We are the people born in the social whirlwind from Thanksgiving week through New Year’s week, those patient souls whose birthdays arrive in the holiday hubbub as an afterthought, an inconvenience, an intrusion.

We are Republicans and Democrats, old and young, people of all creeds and colors united by our birthday’s placement on the most clogged part of the annual calendar.

Year after year, from childhood through senescence, our birthdays are accompanied by turkeys and fruitcake and mistletoe. It is our fate to celebrate our aging process to the strains of “Santa Baby” when all we really want is a sincere chorus of “Happy Birthday.”

But no. A stand-alone birthday celebration is often not the destiny of the holiday baby.

Before you fire off that email — “The country is burning and you’re whining about birthdays?!” — let me assure you I am not whining. My friends and family reliably note my late November birthday, and I would never whine that this year it falls on the day after Thanksgiving when no sane person would want further celebration. I am merely describing a phenomenon that may affect you or someone you love.

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Here is the fate of many holiday birthday babies:

Their potential birthday festivities are often preempted by someone’s holiday party or by Thanksgiving dinner or by the travel needed to get to and from holiday gatherings.

Their holiday presents often double as birthday presents. Ditto for the cards.

Their friends offer to celebrate their birthdays in late January, when everyone is again free and bored, though by then the holiday birthday feels as stale as that uneaten fruitcake.

Consider this testimony from one such man, my colleague Eric Zorn.

“I guess in olden times, the 12th day of Christmas — Jan. 6, my birthday — was a big whoop-dee-doo with drummers drumming, lords leaping and so on,” Eric says. “But in modern times it’s become a shabby day on which everyone is suffering from holiday fatigue. It’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s — and then make it stop! No one really wants another party. Even I don’t want another party.”

As a consequence, Zorn says, he has become a “birthday Scrooge.”

“I project the low expectations for my own birthday onto others,” he says, “and never can seem to generate the appropriate enthusiasm.”

When I ask holiday babies about their experiences, many reply with words like “bummer” or “sigh” or “forgotten.” They dream of a birthday in the open fields of May.

To be fair, however, it should be noted that not all holiday birthday babies mind. Some enjoy the holiday crunch, or at least learn to make do.

Rebecca Loda Fortner of Lombard calls herself a “Christmas baby” and has a son whose birthday sometimes falls on Thanksgiving.

“My husband learned quickly to stay away from the ‘merry birthday’ cards,” she says. “I’m 42 and my mom still makes a point to say ‘happy birthday’ and hand me a card separately.”

Katherine O’Brien of La Grange, born on Dec. 30, enjoys her natal proximity to Christmas.

“As a kid,” she says, “it was nice to know that the holiday excitement wasn’t quite over. A few more presents to unwrap.”

For some, like Mary Anne Brown of River Forest, who was born on Dec. 25, being a holiday baby breeds self-reliance.

“As a child with five siblings,” she says, “I used to wake up and sing happy birthday loudly so everyone would hear.”

Other holiday babies make the best of the seasonal crunch by forgoing birthday celebrations and celebrating their half-birthdays in the quieter times of spring and summer.

Don’t misunderstand. We holiday babies are grateful to be born and glad to be alive. Every birthday is its own gift, a recognition that gets clearer as the years pass.

As my friend Susan Berger, born Jan. 3, puts it:

“I often got one bigger gift for Hanukkah and my birthday and always thought that unfair. As I got older, no one was much up for celebrating following Christmas and New Year’s. That said, I am a 22-year breast cancer survivor and since my diagnosis never complain about my birthday. Very grateful for every one.”

That’s the perfect attitude, but it doesn’t hurt to say to all the neglected holiday babies out there: Happy birthday and jingle all the way.

— Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.