They Say It’s Your Birthday!

So I was told, I was born on September 19th. Although I was there for the momentous event, I don’t recall any of it. All I did was simply show up, so why the big fuss to honor me on the anniversary of this occurrence every year? At least three other people–my mom, my dad, and the OB–had more to do with my arrival than I did. Where are the kudos for them?

Making an annual big deal about the fact that one exists seems a bit self-centered to me. But this practice has existed for a very long time. The Romans are considered the first to have celebrated birthdays, but they only celebrated men’s birthdays, at least initially. No wonder that civilization crumbled; approximately half of the population was ignored on their big day.

Early Christians opposed birthday celebrations because such a celebration was connected to the pagan culture of the Romans. How is a birthday celebration pagan? Well, the Romans decided to put candles on birthday cakes to honor their moon god. And we thought the candles were merely placed on the top of a cake to show the birthday boy or girl’s age…

Germans popularized the practice of having a cake at a birthday party in the late 18th century. Hard to imagine a birthday party without a birthday cake, isn’t it? The eating part of “eat, drink and be merry” at a birthday party clearly is synonymous with eating cake today.

But what type of cake will be served? Since the birthday boy/girl is being honored, hopefully his/her favorite cake is what is selected for the birthday party menu. To absolutely no one’s surprise, a survey referenced by the Norfolk Daily News revealed that chocolate was the most popular birthday cake flavor. Bunnies will be happy to learn that carrot cake came in seventh. My favorite birthday cake, strawberry, did not even make the top ten, which just goes to show that there is no accounting for taste.

But is the person for whom the birthday cake is prepared (or bought) really all that special? The birthday boy may think of his birthdate as “his” big day, but a whole bunch of other people in this world share the date with him. I, of course, live in the United States. September is the most common month for births in this country. And the most common birthdate for Americans to have been born is either September 9th or September 16th, depending on which study you accept. Regardless, of which of these days is the most popular of all days to be born, clearly mid-December is not only a time for holiday cheer but for conceiving an addition to your family as well. Beware of that mistletoe!

Rather than using a birthday to be the center of attention, maybe the birthday boy should use the event to reflect on what he has been given. Regardless of what presents his friends and loved ones may give him to mark the occasion currently, he received the best gift of all the day he was born, i.e., his life. Reflecting on that enormous blessing and how it is being used is a better use of the event than frivolous (and undoubtedly fattening) merrymaking.

Samuel Longhorn Clemens, better known under his penname of Mark Twain, made a profound observation when he said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” We don’t have anything to say about being given life or when we are born. But once we have life, then the ball is in our court to make the most of what we have been given. We can spend our life merely having a ball and chasing pleasure. Alternatively, we can act with purpose and use the life we have been given to make a difference in the world in which we find ourselves.

I personally don’t believe that I was put here on the earth simply to make a big deal about having lived another year. Rather than just sharing some birthday cake to celebrate my big (getting bigger every year) day, I want to share myself, my talents, and my resources with those around me on a regular basis. Today I am sharing my words with you, and that’s way better than offering you a piece of birthday cake that isn’t healthy for you anyway.

The Beatles had a hit song in “They Say It’s Your Birthday.” When it is your birthday, what will you say? Will it be all about you and “your” big day?

Just WONDER-ing: Is celebrating your birthday self-centered? Have you experienced the day you found out why you were born (other than the obvious biological explanation)? Other than birthday cake, what do you want to share with those around you on your big day?

 

 

 

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Name That Day!

 

Americans may be able to name that tune, but we are behind many countries when it comes to naming the days.  Yes, sure we have names for the days of the week, but we don’t have people’s first names assigned to specific days of the year.  Gasp!  We here in the U.S. have overlooked the name day celebration.

How is this oversight even possible? If we have Hug Your Cat Day (6/4), Sewing Machine Day (6/11), Meteor Watch Day (6/30), Lazy Day (8/10), and Pickle Day (11/14), shouldn’t we observe name days as well?  You’d think retailers would have jumped on another opportunity to empty consumers’ pockets due to crass commercialization.

While Pickle Day may a silly celebration, name day celebrations are respectable and venerated observances in numerous countries including, but not limited to, Germany, Russia, Hungary, Greece, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Spain and France.  The tradition involves having one day of the year  associated with a person’s given name.  Its observance is similar to a birthday, but it has nothing to do with age.

Name day is a custom which developed in the Middle Ages.  It is widely observed in Catholic and Orthodox traditions because it originated with the Christian calendar of saints.  Catholic believers who were named after a saint would celebrate on the saint’s feast day while Orthodox believers would (morbidly) celebrate on the day of the saint’s death.  The church was inclined to celebrate name days over birthdays as the latter was viewed as a pagan tradition.  Although name days are still observed today, there is no longer any direct connection to Christianity.

So, how is a name day celebrated?  The answer depends on the country in which the event is being observed.  In Greece, these days are huge events and are celebrated much more than birthdays.  In most cultures name day celebrations take the form of open house parties.  Of course, there’s no birthday cake.  Doesn’t that take the cake?

In Hungary, women typically receive flowers to mark their name day. Sticking to the name theme, perhaps it would be fitting for Rose to receive roses. Iris to receive irises, and Daisy to receive daisies on their name day.  Men, on the other hand, generally receive a bottle of alcohol as a name day gift.  Jose Cuervo coming up for Jose!  Jim Bean on the way for Jim! Children often take sweets to school to share with fellow students on their name day.  The teacher, however, might not find it so sweet to have her pupils hyped up on sugar.

Name day appears in some literary works such as Anton Checkov’s  play “Three Sisters.”  Act I finds Irina celebrating her name day.  Good move on the playwright’s part to cleverly work in a name day celebration so we know what the character’s called.  Not familiar with Chekhov’s story?  Well, you are in good company as I haven’t read it either.  I’d lose big time on “Jeopardy” if the category was Russian works written in 1900.

Name day was a huge hit with the Russian czars and emperors who typically celebrated the event in a lavish way.  Alexandra Fyodorovna, spouse of Nicholas II, decided to have a sumptuous luncheon on her name day in 1897.  The menu listed four types of wine (including champagne). duck, trout, and mutton chops, but no cake.  The Russian imperial family also followed a tradition of giving name day gifts such as diamonds and pearls.

And how does one know when to plan his big name day celebration?  Official lists are issued with the current assignment of names to days.  These name day calendars vary by country.  Don’t want to spring for a name day calendar?  Not to worry.  In Hungary, at least, the name of the day is identified in the daily paper.  Better read all about it to make sure you aren’t missing your name day or that of someone near and dear to you.  Don’t subscribe to a newspaper?  No problem.  Name day calendars for the country of your choice can be found on line.

Since it is a small world after all, I am considering celebrating my name day on each day it is observed.  Never fear if you missed wishing me “Happy Alice Day” back on June 6th (German calendar) or on June 11th (Austrian calendar).  “Happy Alice Day” will occur again on September 16th in Estonia, on December 16th in France, on January 9th in Italy and on January 15th in the Czech Republic.  In a nod to my name, you may want to give me an arrangement with alyssum, a flowering plant which caterpillars love but bunnies won’t touch, as a name day gift.

While a name day might be fun, I am not sure that such an observance would be easy to establish here in the U.S.  Let’s just say that there are plenty of unusual names out there.  Would an individual be emotionally scarred if forced to celebrate a name day designated for odd names beginning with Q? Moreover, most of us are so busy on a day to day basis that we are doing well to know what day of the week it is much less whose name day it is.  Why don’t we just enjoy each day as it comes and treat all those around us with kindness like it really was their name day?

Just WONDER-ing:  How did you get your first name?  Is that a story worth celebrating? Would you celebrate name day if it was observed here in the U.S.?  If so, how would you celebrate?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Celebration

Christmas.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year and also the most wearing. We’ve done it to ourselves.  The celebration of the birth of a baby in a stable has been turned into an extravaganza complete with parades, pageants, presents, parties and plenty to eat.  But bigger is not always better.  In fact, the bigger we make our Christmas, the less likely it is that we are celebrating the real reason for the season.  Ask yourself which mode truly captures the essence of the first Christmas–a simple celebration or holiday hoopla?

The first Christmas looked absolutely nothing like Christmas today.  There was no Santa looking for chimneys in Bethlehem.  There was no Christmas tree in the lobby of the No Room Inn.  There were no blinking lights shining around the fields where the shepherds were tending their flocks.  There were no presents for Mary and Joseph in the stable–just the presence of their newborn baby boy.

The Christmas for which you and I are preparing is a far cry from what happened a couple of thousand years ago in a small town in another part of the world.  Our Christmas is full of trappings–and that’s the trap.  The trappings are not, as the Grinch found out, what Christmas is really all about. Christmas is the simple (but amazing) story of the birth of a baby, God’s son, in a humble stable.  If the story is simple, why don’t we celebrate it simply then?

I have been challenged by a recent sermon to experience the miracle of simplicity at Christmas this year.  Since failing to plan is planning to fail, the best way to meet this challenge is to devise a concrete plan for a simple celebration.  Scaling back Christmas is no simple task; nevertheless, these are the guidelines I set for myself.

No mass mailing of Christmas cards.  While I love communicating with my friends and family, sending numerous Christmas cards is a time-consuming activity which detracts from the point of the celebration.  I get frazzled in choosing just the right card, getting the cards mailed in a timely fashion and determining whom to include (or delete) from last year’s mailing list.  Moreover, I am tempted to enclose the trendy Christmas newsletter which informs the world of the good news of what is happening in my life.  Wait a minute!  Christmas isn’t my story; it is HIS story.  It’s pretty disrespectful to blather on about my accomplishments and activities when the day belongs to someone else.

Minimal decorations.  If the Whos in Whoville could have a joyous Christmas without any decorations, why do I have to have my house decorated to the max?  Answer?  I don’t.  So far, I have an advent wreath on the entryway table, an Advent calendar hanging in the kitchen, and two small real trees as yet undecorated.  Period.  That’s way more than Mary and Joseph had up in the stable.  I could spend time decorating or I could spend time reading the Christmas story in the Bible and thanking God for all the blessings He’s bestowed upon me.

Purge perfection.  Unless you are Jesus, perfection is simply unattainable.  So why do I still aim for it?  I have to pick out the perfect present for each family member, plan the perfect holiday meal, etc.  Laugh if you will, but tonight I actually spent half on hour on Pinterest looking for a recipe for the perfect finger food to make for a Christmas event–an edible that someone will look at for about 5 seconds and then devour.  Why not focus on the One who is perfect and loved me enough to be born in a stable rather than on making my holiday perfect?

I could go on to make a perfect list of all I need to do to make celebrating Christmas simple this year, but then my focus is not on the simplicity of what (actually WHO) has brought joy to our world.  Yes, the Whos in Whoville got this one right.  Christmas is about WHO and not WHAT (trees, decorations, presents, activities, etc.)  We’ve already received a perfect present in the form of Jesus; the perfect way to celebrate His birth is simply to focus on Him and His love for us.  Don’t get caught up in the holiday hoopla.

Just WONDER-ing:  What could you do to make your celebration of Christmas simpler?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revering The Rodent

Groundhog3

Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s are now behind us and Valentine’s Day is not yet here.  At this point in my life, I am finding a great sense of appreciation for a lesser holiday.  It is one that doesn’t require decorating, present buying, and wearing seasonal clothing; best of all, it isn’t tied to celebrating with food that will expand my waistline.  What holiday is this?  Why it is one where the focus is on nature in general and a rodent specifically.  It is Groundhog Day, celebrated annually on February 2nd.

While groundhogs might be seen as cute by some, these small creatures simply don’t lend themselves to big holiday status.  We don’t decorate for Groundhog Day.  Even if we were supposed to do so, how would that be done?  Gathering around the carcass of a rodent, regardless of how adorable, just isn’t the same as family time around the Christmas tree.  And Groundhog Day activities are not clearly defined beyond watching a celebrity rodent emerge from his burrow.  Since groundhogs hibernate for a few months during winter, perhaps we could pay homage to them by donning a sleep mask and taking a long nap.  Not quite the same as roasting chestnuts on the open fire or creating homemade Valentines but probably much more relaxing.

Food is a hallmark of the big holidays.  We have chocolates at Valentines, eggs at Easter, something grilled on the Fourth, turkey with all the trimmings at Thanksgiving, and cookies at Christmas.  But what do you eat on Groundhog Day?  Certainly not the rodent du jour.  I’d hardly think it a celebration to eat any  dish made with a rodent.  According to my research, groundhogs ARE  edible.  Their meat is reportedly dark but mild-flavored and tender.  Just don’t forget to move the scent glands on their backs and forelegs before cooking your groundhog stew.  YUK!

groundhog stew

While I refuse to eat rodent, I have found some fairly appealing goodies to devour on February 2nd.  One year I made rodent cupcakes, with a miniature candy bar poking out of the cupcake to represent  a groundhog.  This year, I plan to try groundhog pudding.  It is similar to dirt pudding only you have little teddy grahams sticking out of the dirt in place of groundhogs because  cookies in the shape of a groundhog are apparently not available.

groundhog pudding cups

Holiday duds are also a question mark for Groundhog Day.  Other holidays have fairly distinctive clothing–bonnets for Easter (or at least your finest), red clothing for Valentine’s Day, anything red, white and blue for the Fourth,  ugly sweaters for Christmas, and party hats for New Year’s Eve.  Perhaps Groundhog Day should be celebrated in our PJ’s in honor of the rodent’s awakening from hibernation to see if any shadows are about.

groundhog-shadow

Better yet, why don’t we just make Groundhog Day a day to celebrate nature? We can be glad that winter will be behind us at some as yet undetermined point in the near future, and rejoice that spring is ahead of us.  Perhaps we could even learn a little about our rodent friend who serves as the bearer of good or bad tidings depending on what he sees–or doesn’t see.

Wouldn’t it be fun to stock up on information rather than to pile up credit card debt for just one holiday?  I’ll bet it is more fun to learn that a young groundhog is called a chuckling than to look at a hefty bill for holiday purchases.  How about squirreling away the fact that groundhogs are the largest members of the squirrel family rather than having to pack away tons of Christmas decorations?  Instead of decking the halls, dying the eggs, and flying Old Glory, why don’t we marvel at how groundhogs dig complex burrows with several chambers, including a bathroom?

Sometimes simple pleasures are the best.  Holidays can be joyous occasions, but often we don’t get to enjoy them because we are too busy with all the fluff we think must go with them to focus on the reason for the holiday.  I challenge you to sit back, relax, and spend Groundhog Day 2016 merely pondering how much wood the woodchuck (a/k/a a groundhog) would chuck if he could chuck wood. And please–don’t eat the chuckling!