Tolstoy at 80: “No party for me.”

This blog’s regular likely would not expect me saying “no” to a birthday party. So, you can imagine my surprise reading about revered author Leo Tolstoy’s reluctance to be celebrated.

In 1908, as the Russian author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina (and other works) approached his 80th birthday, plans were afoot to organize several big shindigs. There was even talk of erecting a monument, drafting a bill to declare the day a national holiday, and establishing a university in his name to mark the day.

Tolstoy was far from receptive. He wrote to M.A. Stakhovich, a family friend who was spearheading the efforts, rejecting the celebrations. The letter, later published in the “Ogonyok” magazine (1908, No. 14, April 6) and also partly reproduced in many newspapers, stated: “Here is my great request to you…do whatever you can to abolish this jubilee and set me free. I will be very, very grateful to you forever.”

In his diary later that year, he is said to have written, “what must I do? I must go far away from all this, but go where? To God? To death?”

Even though the event was officially cancelled, family members still feared many would come. According to the Tolstoy homestead museum, his daughter offered to hide her father away and “take him to Pirogovo on that day,” while his wife “wanted to block the entrance and have gate wards not to let anyone in on the 28th.”

An 80th to remember

What happened on the actual day varies by the source. A video claiming to show his 1908 birthday sees him in a wagon surrounded by hordes of children. Another source speaks of a brass band and hundreds of people outside his home property until he at least came out to make some grateful remarks.

Yet, the Yasnaya Polyana museum reports there were “not so many people” at the property where Tolstoy lived: “only a few reporters and photographers” and “only family members and friends in the house.” Apparently, the recently ill didn’t even leave the house and worked as usual.

One wonders how much he could have accomplished, though, with the interruption of receiving six hundred telegrams and about one hundred letters. Within a week of the August 28 birthday, several hundred letters and two thousand telegrams signed by fifty thousand people were received.

There were gifts too:

  • a samovar (so very Russian) inscribed with signatures of many admirers
  • 21 pounds of bread
  • one hundred scythes, which were given to local peasants (all except the one he kept for himself in his study)
  • A box of chocolates from St. Petersburg, picturing views of Yasnaya Polyana, for each of the peasant children.

Despite his disinterest in celebrating, Tolstoy was grateful for the outpouring of affection. In a letter in the newspapers he said, “… I ask you to accept this statement of mine as the expression of my sincere gratitude to all the people who expressed their kind feelings to me, for the joy they gave me.”

See, even authors who would rather their big day go unnoticed are moved by the kind feelings that come with birthdays!

Birthday Cake Ban – Seriously?

Birthday cake debate

Photo credit: mandarinaAsesina via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Another birthday tradition is poised to bite the dust.  In the midst of the current dietary campaign against sugar, birthday cakes are facing ban from the school classroom.

Yes, I’ve written before about school’s banning the practice of sharing birthdays at school due to concerns about time taken from classwork or worries about creating an expectation of providing snacks for the entire class. But today’s blog is inspired by a Daily Mail story about a Mom’s complaint that 85% of the families in her child’s kindergarten class voted against bringing cake to school on the special day.

The mother didn’t want her child having sugar overload either. Yet, doing the math, she noted that with 20 kids in the class it would work out to a cupcake every two weeks — at most.

“Why can’t we just let kids live?” the mother wrote.

Another parent commenting on the post added: “The world has officially gone nuts.”
So long as those nuts aren’t in a cake being handed out to a small child in school!
The kindergarten in question wasn’t going to stop celebrating student birthdays — thank goodness — but planned to do so with sugar-free snacks.
Yes, there are plenty of fun, healthy alternatives to make a child feel special on their big day. I’m not opposed to a school taking a vote and ridding a classroom of sugared sweets, as long as they don’t do away with the celebrating all together.
Yet, the Mom’s words “can’t we just let kids live” resonate with me. Are we parents or police? I worry sometimes that the advice we get about how to insure our kids will be healthy and successful is taking the parenting thing too far. I am trying to go with moderation as my mantra (although anyone who saw me actually slicing my own piece of a birthday cake would be welcome to remind me of those words before I dig in!).

Reactions to Singing the Birthday Song

Birthday song

Photo credit: mag3737 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

What do you do when someone sings you the “Happy Birthday” song?

The last time I heard it directed at me, I danced and sang along. But, I am seldom afraid to make a fool of myself if it earns laughs, and I love being celebrated on my birthday.

Recently, though, I was part of a group of women singing out loud to a friend. She had told us in advance that this group meeting would coincide with her birthday. She had reminded us the week of when we were planning the buffet contributions. She had welcomed the cake bought in her honor. Yet, when the singing started, she became completely embarrassed. Head in her heads, she tried to make herself small, as we sang around her. Please note: this was not in public and we weren’t that off key!

She said, blushingly after, she didn’t know what do when people sang to her. Other women suggested singing along. Sometimes you’ll see a person fixate on the cake as if she could cut it with the force of her stare. But, what do you do? What’s your reaction to the attention? Is it different if you’re home, among family and friends, or out in a public space celebrating?

The question intrigues me because I’ve recently encountered a psychological study on birthdays that talked about narcissists and their birthdays. This article made me question my own mental health a little — is my love for birthdays a sign that I have a narcissistic personality disorder? Here I am, after all, sharing my thoughts about birthdays with the world via this blog as if my ideas matter…

Oh well, in the meantime, I will continue to comfort myself with the knowledge that I love not only my birthday but those of others too. I enjoy the opportunity to share the joy of birthdays with my friends, family members and co-workers and doing what I can to make them feel special. Yes, even if that means singing while they hide behind their hands in embarrassment!

 

 

 

The Fury over a Forgotten Birthday

I shared my shameful secret a few weeks ago that I once forgot to call my brother on his birthday. Me, a birthday blogger! The disgrace! The ignominy! The humiliation!

Writing about the topic of making up for a forgotten birthday, I came across many funny memes the angry, ignored birthday celebrant might share if his or her birthday was overlooked. Here are some of the ones I liked best.

Many take the guilt trip humor option:

 

 

Others look to invoke fear:

This one is also pretty great:

Still, my personal favorite is this one:

Tips for Handling Tandem Birthdays Tips

Brits Christine and David Lilley, turned 75 in 2016 within three days of one another. To celebrate, they did a tandem jump from an airplane. What an impressive way to shuck off the “getting old” blues!

The news of their brave leap, though, put me in mind of another aspect of planning a special birthday — handling the tandem birthday. Perhaps this is spouse’s having birthdays within days of one another (as with the Lilley’s). Or, the more likely fraught (unless you are the spouse of someone as obsessed with birthdays as me) shared birthday day or week of young siblings.

In my neighborhood there is a family of five with four birthdays all in December. Another neighbor’s two kids are both January born. So, what’s to be done to be sure each birthday gets the ba-ba-boom it deserves?

One Mom’s group considered the question for its community suggested separate parties will help each child feel special. Yet, they did caution that it was a good idea to weigh the financial considerations and gauge the ages of the celebrants in making the choice. Other advice was to ask the children what they want — maybe sharing sounds good to them. But definitely let them each make their own guest list.

 

In a WhatToExpect.com forum on the topic, people suggested that the kids share their birthday parties until they are old enough to complain. Others added that giving each child a separate cake and avoiding joint gifts help. One respondent posted a pic of a 25-year-old and a 1-year-old both getting their own smash cakes!

Another post in a different parenting discussion thread on the issue offered great advice: “Long story short: be open to any/all ideas, including your children’s.”

By the way, while searching the web for shared birthday tidbits, I came across this jaw-dropping world record. According to Guinness, “the only verified example of a family producing five single children with coincident birthdays is that of Catherine (1952), Carol (1953), Charles (1956), Claudia (1961) and Cecilia (1966), born to Carolyn and Ralph Cummins (USA) all on 20 February. The random odds against five single siblings sharing a birthdate are one in 17,797,577,730 – almost 4 times the world’s population.”

Tweet: The random odds
against five single siblings sharing a birthdate are one in
17,797,577,730 – almost 4 times the world’s population.

4 Tips to Make Forgetting Birthdays Better

My big brother’s birthday is tomorrow. His gift should already have arrived. I am writing about him in this blog. I am clearly aware that the big day is January 28th. He’s my brother. How could I forget?

Only one year I did. Almost. I only remembered that I had not yet called in to wish him “Happy Birthday” as midnight encroached. I was, as you can easily imagine considering the fact that I blog about birthdays, absolutely mortified. Who knows what various work and life timing had interfered with my calling earlier in the day — surely, I meant to. Yet, I’d forgotten. And now it was too late to call…

So, my brother woke up the next day to a flurry of late night communications from me via email and on his work voice mail. When I reached him in person the next day to apologize in earnest he laughed heartily. He’d fully enjoyed my self-flagellation in my several “appalled at myself” messages — as any one would revel in the rare repentance of a sibling.

Thinking about this shameful slip-up years later, it occurred to me that I ought to offer some helpful tips to make forgetting a birthday go better. Learning from experience is part of how we grow, right?

4 Tips to Make Forgetting a Birthday Better

  1. Apologize. Pretending it didn’t happen is not going to make up for the oversight. Instead, be upfront about your mistake and your regrets that you didn’t fully fete the friend, family member, or colleague celebrating his or her special day.
  2. Employ humor. Wander down the card aisles and you’ll see many options for “belated birthday” greetings. You’ll be hard pressed, though, to find one that is sappy about the gaffe. Instead, these cards tend to be hilariously penitent while still reminding the celebrant how much you love and appreciate them.
  3. Get creative. There is actually a thorough wikiHow devoted to this topic. Among its creative suggestions are:
    • make a jigsaw puzzle apology
    • offer I’m sorry coupons
    • develop a scavenger hunt
    • go on the air to apologize (for those of use who have a radio show or the patience to dial and dial again until the radio station takes our call).
  4. Be there in person. Sharing your time with the birthday individual, even after the fact, can quickly turn the tide. After all, if you take the person for coffee (and cake) or a birthday lunch, you’re likely to spend more time together than you might have on the actual day.

In looking online to see what people are saying about this topic, I also came across a lot of hilarious memes that the person whose birthday is forgotten can use. I’ll share those with you in another blog next month….that is, unless I forget.

 

4 Latin American Ways to Honor Birthdays

Thanks to an article in Latina magazine, I can now share with you some of the unique ways in which those of Latin American heritage celebrate birthdays. Or, as someone would say in Portuguese, aniversário. 

Peru is on my list of places to go for birthday celebrations. Apparently the birthday celebrant gets to indulge in un torta de chocolate (chocolate cake). Others might eat pastel peruviano, a crusty bread filled with raisins. However, just as at home I prefer my pie and cake without ice cream, I’d probably defer from an accompanying scoop of helado lucuma, an ice cream made with the lucuma fruit, native to Peru and Ecuador.

I could handle Colombia — as long as the typical egg was cracked over my head early in the day, before I was dolled up for a night out of festivities.

I’ll steer clear of Mexico, though. Apparently they like to sing LAS MAÑANITAS and then push the person’s face into the cake. What a waste of a perfectly good cake! Sounds a little like the smash cakes I wrote about for one-year-old’s birthdays here in North America. On the flip side, I wouldn’t have minded going when I was 15 — having a Quinceañera Celebration would have been fun! Although it looks as if you still get your face smashed into the cake:

Latin Birthday traditions

Photo credit: amslerPIX via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

I’m also going to give Argentina and Brazil a miss on my birthday. I don’t have any interest in having my ears pulled, thank you very much. This also means I’ll be steering clear of Hungary (where they also have this tradition).

Interestingly, there was no mention of the piñata though! Maybe it’s like spaghetti (which we associate with Italy, but isn’t actually from there?).

What country would you want to travel to for your birthday? Imagine you could go anywhere in the world…