I caught a radio show last week where a caller mentioned her birthday fell on December 25th. She lamented how, as a kid, she received presents for Christmas and others for her birthday, not knowing which were meant for which. Without missing a beat the radio host goes, “Hey! At least you get to share your birthday with Jesus! I have to share mine with Madonna!”
I decided to play the game myself (and you can too, at the Famous Birthdays website). Type your special day into the box at the top of the screen and up pop all these, uh, interesting people you share something of a kinship with. You’ll see names, ages, and occupations under big, colorful photos. People the website deems famous. But don’t get too excited now. I had to scroll through seventeen before I recognized anyone. Maybe that’s because their occupations are Rapper, YouTube Star, and TikTok Star? For Pete’s sake, can’t they have real jobs?
Mercifully, I find “real” birthday buddies among the self-proclaimed famous. Steve Perry – lead singer for the band Journey – shares my birthday, born eleven years before I was. So does Sam Cooke, whose soulful voice captured hearts in the 1960s. But one birthday buddy stands gracefully above the rest. Diane Lane, exactly three years my younger, is one of my favorite actresses. When Diane turned 14 in 1979, she debuted as the adorable lead in the France/Italy adventure A Little Romance. I’ve been smitten ever since.
Birthdays represent a variety of celebrations as we pass through life, don’t they? As babies, our parents celebrate for us since we have no clue what the fuss is all about. As young children, the celebrations become the most colorful: parties with friends of the same age and activities from amusement parks to backyard bouncy houses. As young adults, birthdays tend to be celebrated at restaurants and bars, with plenty of alcohol flowing. In the decades following we seem to favor SURPRISE! parties.
Now, as my sixtieth birthday looms like the next interstate exit, I’m all about more subdued celebrations. A quiet dinner out with my wife. A trio of phone calls from my kids. A single piece of birthday cake instead of something big enough to hold five dozen candles. Wouldn’t want the day to pass without acknowledgment but the simpler the gesture the better.
Speaking of birthday cake, it’s perhaps the single tie that binds as we celebrate our years young and old. I picture a baby’s birthday cake as small and round, with a big #1 candle on top. Cover your kid in plastic and put the cake close enough so he or she can dig in with both hands. We have these priceless and messy pictures for each one of our kids.
Young children have the most adventurous cakes. I picture a blank rectangle just waiting to be populated with frosting, decorations, and little toys, like an artist’s canvas. Dump trucks working on a cake-top construction site. Animals living in a cake-top jungle. Ballerinas dancing across a cake-top stage. The possibilities are endless.
After childhood, cake designs evolve to the age itself. Whether big wax numbers or individual candles, the focus of the cake becomes the number. After enough of those years, we try to be more subtle (ex. spell out the age with candles) so we don’t set the house on fire. Later in life, we save the biggest celebrations (and cakes) for the round numbers because ages 80, 90, and 100 are achievements in themselves, aren’t they?
There’s evidence to suggest birthdays and cakes have been a combo as far back as ancient Roman times but for me, birthday cake is simply a nod to happy childhood memories. Birthday-cake-flavored ice cream, cookies, and even protein bars are all the rage for this reason. We just want to be kids again, breathlessly anticipating the celebration of our special day.