Some look forward to a raucous 21st birthday party with as many free drinks as friends in attendance. I spent mine with my parents, sipping sherry and watching the nods of motorized deer in glittered cotton fluff at the Madonna Inn.
Because I was born on Christmas Day.
Yes, most people forget my birthday, and yes, the ones who remember give combination presents wrapped in Christmas paper.
I’ve had one birthday party, a magnificent surprise orchestrated by close friends a few weeks before my 16th birthday. I just about salivated at the sight of a table piled with gifts meant just for me. But while 40 kids watched me open an “I Love Lucy” lunchbox filled with Hershey’s Kisses and coo over more kiwi lipgloss than I could use in a lifetime, my face burned hot and my pulse fluttered.
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Was this greed fulfilled? Anxiety over finally being the center of attention? I did nothing to earn this but emerge into the world, like everyone else. Whatever it was, I prefer quiet Christmas mornings with my mother, father and brother. It’s no embarrassment of riches, and they aren’t good about remembering to sing me “Happy Birthday,” but I get sincerely worded birthday notes, and we watch “A Christmas Story” at least twice.
By not expecting a “birthday,” I like to think I save friends a little energy, money and stress. In turn, I shed any guilt about rarely buying presents for others.
But being a Christmas baby does have one privilege, which is evident in a scene so familiar it might as well be scripted.
As we drive to the Christmas tree lot, my dad emptily threatens, “We’re just going to look and see what the prices are. We should get a fake tree anyway.”
At the lot, he grabs the shortest Douglas fir, a fluffy cone of a plant whose brittle needles will sag under an ornament’s weight.
He delivers the lines with a theatrically furrowed brow and outstretched hand: “Look at this one, it’s just fine!”
That’s my cue. In good Christmas baby taste, I lead the family to the aptly named noble fir, a pricier but full and fragrant specimen with deep green needles and well-defined branches.
I pick the tree on which we’ll hang the ornaments my mom made while pregnant with me, that will perfume our home for weeks, and that will twinkle with lights on my birthday morn.
So on this sacred day for millions, when hymns are sung and the traces of Santa’s magic may still linger, I say may each find his own joy. I assure you — I’ll find mine, too.
Julia Hickey, a Tribune newsroom assistant, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.