I've always hated Christmas, but I'm getting better at hiding it as the years go on.
I'm one of those people who get harassed when they have to disclose their date of birth: the 25th of December.
"Oh you're a Christmas baby!" people exclaim. I secretly seethe inside. All I want to do is finish filling in whatever form I've had to provide my ID and date of birth for; instead, I have to answer a raft of questions.
Yes, I often only get one present.
Yes, I did find it hard as a child, seeing everyone else open gifts on my birthday.
No, I've never had a birthday party on my birthday.
And yes, I did grow up with a deep jealousy of other people who had a special day just for them, and who didn't have to share their celebrations with the entire Christian population of the world.
We did try alternatives. One year my mother nominated a birthday date in the middle of the year for my one and only party, but it felt fake and hollow, and everybody knew it wasn't really my birthday. It didn't go well at all.
As the baby in a family of six kids, my mum and dad were stretched financially during December, and the gifts and fuss I received certainly didn't compare to what some friends got for their birthday or even Christmas. It was hard to understand how I was expected to enjoy my combined celebration books and hula-hoop when Santa had brought the kid nextdoor a bike. I thought that as part of his cost saving, Santa had figured out that I didn't need much as I'd get otherwise. Santa sucked.
As I got older I learned not to be too hopeful about my special day. If I knew in advance I would be jealous and upset, then it didn't hurt so much.
Thus my "grinchiness" emerged.
Having children shifted the focus - it's much easier to grit your teeth when your kids are happy. As a single mum I ignored my birthday and focused on showing the kids and extended family a good time. Of course that involved cooking and hosting visitors and running around organising things, but hey, people shouldn't miss out on their celebrations just because I got a year older, should they?
Then a couple of years ago I married my Mr Right, and for my birthday he organised the most amazing experience. We ran away camping, far from the decorations and lights and advertising, and pretended it wasn't Christmas. It was my first real birthday and I loved it. But with five kids between us we can't do that every year.
Now that we have our first grandchild, the fun in the planning is reappearing. I can focus on her and ignore the fact that my birthday gifts (if I get any) will be wrapped in Christmas paper, that I'm not likely to get any cards, and some family members will be so distracted they won't remember to say happy birthday until mid-afternoon.
I admit I have a terrible hang-up about the whole ordeal. I've spent my lifetime feeling cheated and sad every time I see a garland of tinsel.
I also know that I'm only speculating about what birthdays are like for others. Maybe I have it all wrong and everybody's birthday feels like just another day? Maybe it doesn't feel special and unique and just for them?
I have a dream that one day I will go to a restaurant on my birthday for the very first time, and the menu won't contain ham or turkey or brandy snaps. There will be a cake with candles and friends with gifts who won't have anywhere to rush off to. And the only decoration in the place will be a banner that reads 'happy birthday'.
Until then, I'll enjoy the good food I prepare, and relish not having to go to work on my birthday. But please, when you pull a cracker this year, spare a thought for all the Christmas babies doing dishes, or cooking a BBQ, and just wishing they were somewhere else.
- © Fairfax NZ