Alden Boon

What’s so Happy about a Birthday Anyway?


This past week alone I celebrated two of my besties’ birthdays, both of which fall on the third week of October. In the common tongue we brand such celebrations as ‘belated’ and apparently they are not encouraged. If you’re superstitious, you would believe that you’d just reduced your friend’s lifespan by the number of days lapsed between his actual birthday and the late celebration. To the jaunty, carefree atheists, you are just being rude.

I do not know why but for me the fanfare surrounding a birthday celebration has long petered out. When I was younger, I used to jump on the opportunity to use a birthday celebration as an ostensible excuse to go somewhere fancy —which was always the nearest Pizza Hut outlet nestled in the neighbourhood shopping mall opposite my school.

It is ironic, seeing how I have much more spending power these days and could get more exquisite gifts. But I am just no longer excited about birthdays.

My fondest memory as the birthday boy came when I turned 15. My friends feted me with a surprise party and gave me a silver watch. I had asked for one. They got me one that had a matte exterior, much to my disappointment. I coveted one that was shiny; one that would glint when shafts of light fell on it. I thought such a watch would signify renown and maturity. When you’re a teenager all you wanted to be was look older.

But of course I masked my true feelings and pretended to love the gift and wore it like a hand cuff for the next 365 days until an indentation formed around my wrist.

That’s the thing about birthday presents. You always have such high hopes that your friends would get them right but they never ever do. And the gifts they get you are very telling of what they think about you.

“We got you the pants in a larger size because we didn’t know your actual measurements, so…”

Translation: You’ve put on so much weight since your last birthday.

As I grow older I have less need to suffer fools and I find myself wanting to sulk and make my displeasure known to the givers. And then they retort because they too have less need to suffer fools and say, “What are you, like EIGHT?”

Sure, rub it in.

Actually, I do know why I no longer jump at the opportunity to celebrate birthdays. They get increasingly depressing with each additional candle.

It used to be that you could get a huge 5kg three-tiered chocolate cake studded with fruits and gold petals because there were so many people in your posse. But as the years go by, you wise up and you begin to filter acquaintances from friends and keep only the keepers. Your party of guests gets smaller and so does the cake.

But the number of candles never dwindles. And now you’re saddled with the insurmountable task of fitting 40 candles on one tiny sliver of cake. Suddenly it’s a flummoxing Physics question. Eventually you end up with a cake with candles jutting out everywhere it resembles a porcupine.

And by the time you’re done blowing out the candles, the cake is just layered with wax. Definitely not what you had in mind when you thought of having an adult-themed celebration.

Perhaps the hardest blow of turning old(er) for me is the realisation that I have yet to achieve a single, noteworthy milestone. Well, sure P!nk has called me awesome but there is plenty I have yet to do. And every “upbeat” or “life-changing” article that people share on social media does nothing but gnaw me.

Have you ever realised how these devilry-masquerading-as-positive-articles are always titled “Things to do/accomplish in your EARLY twenties?”  Oh great, my ship has sailed.  And so I try to pick myself up but it’s a little difficult to do so these days thanks to brittle bones and I start reading the article thinking, “Well maybe I have already done these things.”

Nope. “Date someone completely wrong for you”. Unchecked. “Have an emergency fund”. I have an emergency shopping fund, does that count? “Get that body you have always dreamed of”. Ho, ho, ho, don’t even get me started on that.

By all accounts, I’m doomed.

*I can’t help but scoff at my friends who share such articles. We went to school together and I sat behind you. I know your real age.

Birthdays are even more depressing when you’re still single in your late twenties. When you’re attached, there is the surety that you will get your birthday cake or go on a trip. Everything is up in the air when you’re single. Everyone else is so caught up with his or her own life and so your birthday celebration is put on the back burner. And ever you wait, for that one saviour to make plans with you.

Weeks turn to days and days to hours and resentment festers. Still, you keep holding out thinking that the genius friend of yours —well, not so much a genius but more a friend for whom you threw an elaborate surprise party— would show up at your door with a cake and all would be well again.

Nope. Nothing. It is just a huge slap in the face. I mean, I would call erstwhile friends up circa November or early December and celebrate their birthdays —which are way back in January. They are supposed to remember that I did that for them and reciprocate the gesture!

And so the entire day I spend just tracking the number of people who have wished me a cursory ‘Happy Birthday’ greeting on Facebook. Most of them are boilerplate. Some are abbreviated, reading “HBD!”, like they don’t even have the time —or will— to spend it out. The ones I do enjoy are far and few between; usually they speak of my attractive qualities at length.

They say it is during adversities that you see who your real friends are. Na-uh. Your true friends are the ones who bother to wish you a ‘Happy Birthday’ via text, email, Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, dedicate a blog entry and then post an old photo on Instagram with an accompanying caption that reads: “To the best friend ever, happy birthday!”

It is also on your birthday that you know who in your social circle lacks common courtesy. All year long you have been preparing for your birthday —setting aside time each day just to craft bespoke messages for different people on their birthdays.

And yet they have not the decency to return the favour when it is your big day; which arguably is the most important day of your life because without a Birthday there is no Graduation Day or Wedding Day or First Job Day to speak of!

And it all culminates in this very embarrassing moment where Facebook airs the final count.

“(Only) 27 people (bothered to) wished XY a Happy Birthday.’

I have 464 friends on my list and I am not amused.

Birthdays are the most depressing when you’re still single in your late twenties and you’re habouring a crush on someone who doesn’t even know you exist. Your heartbeat accelerates each time your phone rings or when that red notification pops up. All your excitement becomes dread and anger when you realise the birthday message is from some random acquaintance —your HR personnel.

You begin to curse the living daylights out of him. “Can’t you just get me a normal birthday card like all other annoying HR personnel? Don’t you know I’m waiting for someone special to call me?!”

And then your ex-crush, who stomped all over your heart, drops you a casual text message. That opens a huge can of worms. “OOOOH so NOW you care about me? Whatever. I’m already OVER you.” And to demonstrate your lividness you purposely skip replying to his or her post while liking and commenting on all other posts that come before his/hers.

So birthdays are not very happy I reckon. Much more stressful they are than Christmases and certainly less enjoyable with each year. Because on Christmas, only Jesus gets older and it is his time to experience this gamut of emotions.


Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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