It seems to me that there’s an unspoken cultural code in the American Midwest, which subtly discourages the celebration of one’s own birthday. One can celebrate a friend’s birthday, whole-heartedly and unashamedly; but to celebrate one’s own birthday by throwing oneself a party — or even by simply informing other people, “Today is my birthday” — is considered selfish and uncouth. Back in college, a friend of mine coined the term “Birthday Announcer” to describe the type of person who goes around proudly telling people that it’s his birthday; and I knew exactly what he meant. There’s just a certain perception about these things, back where I come from. Perhaps I’m overstating the American cultural position here, but it definitely seems like birthdays are meant to be held as some kind of loosely-kept secret.
The Dutch, on the other hand, are almost categorically “Birthday Announcers.” Birthday parties are usually organized by the birthday celebrant himself (or herself), and it’s even common for someone to bake or buy their own birthday treats to share with friends at work or in school. There’s no shame in celebrating one’s own birthday. And while it’s taken me awhile to get used to the cultural shift, I have to say that there’s something nice about the Dutch way of doing things. It makes sense, actually — and it helps to alleviate any potential feelings of self-pity or disillusionment. Quite awhile ago, I started admiring the Dutch tradition of unashamedly serving as one’s own “Birthday Announcer.” But I’ve still had a hard time crossing that cultural barrier for myself…
Until this year.
I feel like it’s a sign of my cultural integration that I’m finally going so far as step across the divide and become a “Birthday Announcer” myself. Indeed, I’m not only announcing my birthday (coming up on the 26th of February) — but I’m also throwing my own party, together with two other friends who happen to share birthdays within a week of my own. This week, I sent out the following birthday invitation by e-mail…
Once upon a time, there were three friends living in Amsterdam. They were different in many ways: one coming from the mountains of Colorado; one coming from the farmlands of Ohio; and one coming from the flatlands of Zuid Holland. But in other ways, they were the same: enjoying good food, good music, good stories, and good time together with friends. As fate would have it, their birthdays all fell within nine days of each other. So one day, they decided to celebrate their birthdays together, with a big party. They prepared all kinds of good food, good music, and good stories, and they invited their friends to celebrate with them in the heart of Old Amsterdam. And they lived happily ever after. The End.
OK. So that may not be the best story ever — but it does get the point across that a very special Storytelling Triple-Birthday Extravaganza is being organized for Saturday, the 27th of February, starting at 19:00 at the [e-mail me or send me an e-mail if you really want to know the address, so I don’t have to post it here as a matter of public record]… And you are hereby cordially invited to join us for the celebration! Patricia Flynn, Ariënne van Leussen, and Eric Asp are the hosts / birthday celebrants, and we are really looking forward to a great party. Like most parties, there will be time for simply chatting while sharing in drinks and snacks and birthday cake (remember: this is a party involving the baking talents of both Ariënne van Leussen and Marci Asp!). But in addition to this, we will also share in several rounds of storytelling. Not readings, like you might find at a typical open microphone event, but oral storytelling. Thus: no pre-arranged, carefully worded, written accounts, but rather spontaneous, random storytelling, like you might have heard around the fire 1000 years ago. The idea came from the Mezrab Cultural Café here in Amsterdam — where people regularly gather to share myths, fables, legends, remembrances, and personal anecdotes — and it seemed like a fun idea for a birthday party. Yes, of course, you could choose to share stories that involve the birthday celebrants (i.e. stories about Patricia, Ariënne, and/or Eric). But this is by no means the only type of story allowed. You could share an amusing story about something that happened to you on your way to the supermarket… or make up a legend about how the leopard got his spots… or tell a stylized version of a Bible story… or pass on a treasured family story about how your grandparents got married… The possibilities are nearly endless! The specific form of the evening will be determined by those of you who come to celebrate with us. We just want to spend time enjoying the company of good friends enjoying good stories.
So all that to say this: please mark your calendar for Saturday, the 27th of February, starting at 19:00 and going until late (towards the end of the festivities, there may even be some dancing!). If you wanted to bring a nice card or gift or bottle of something to drink, that would certainly be welcome. But more than anything, we hope that you will be able to come with your stories and be a part of the fun. We’re looking forward to celebrating with you at the end of the month…
And to show just how Dutch (and “Birthday Announcerish”) I’ve become, I thought I might even go so far as to post the invitation (with the exception of the location information, to protect my friends’ privacy) here on my blog, just to make sure that I haven’t forgotten anyone. If you’d like to come and celebrate with us, please let me know and I’ll supply you with the rest of the information. Forgive me, my Midwestern friends, if it seems that I’ve gone astray. I promise that, on this particular point, it’s only one day of the year. 🙂