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Why Do We Celebrate Birthdays

Birthday Celebrations

Birthday Celebrations

Do you ever stop and ask yourself why you do things? For instance, why do we celebrate birthdays? What makes that one day of the year different from every other day? NOTHING! Maybe it is just that I’m getting old and they seem to be coming around so much faster these days but I’m sure I would feel “better” if you didn’t notice… It is great for children (and grandchildren) but??? Except that now everybody knows and therefore will make a point of reminding me! I can’t win! So let’s be rational and look at some of the reasons we recognise birthdays:


  • Birthdays are a great excuse for a party! But I hate parties so that doesn’t encourage me to admit to another birthday – especially if you are going to embarrass me in front of a group! Birthday cake… I may be able to cope with.
  • Birthdays mean presents! We all like to give and receive presents! But if we have all we need, why do we want more stuff? One place where I worked the person whose birthday it was had to supply morning tea for everyone – to give and not receive – I like that!
  • Birthdays remind us of our own mortality! Each birthday should give us cause to stop and reflect on what we have achieved in the last year and prompt us to plan for the year ahead, because none of us know how many more we have.
  • Birthdays are a healthy ritual! They are a great excuse to celebrate as a family and in wider social groups. This is an appropriate time to informally affirm people and express what they mean to us and celebrate our shared life. But just doing the “ritual” without really meaning it, undermines the whole experience and leaves people sad rather than happy.


Henri Nouwen puts it like this:

“On birthdays we celebrate the present.

We do not complain about what happened or speculate on what will happen,

but we lift someone up and let everyone say: “We love you.”

Mornings With Henri J.M. Nouwen: Readings and Reflections


If you, or someone close to you is having a birthday, don’t just go through the motions, think about what it really means, and the best way to express it!


Padre Ian Whitley AM



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