This week, the writers explore previous birthday experiences as well as what the yearly celebration means to them.
By: Austina Xu
It was my fifth birthday. I had invited a few family friends over: a neighbor around the same age as me as well as a couple of students in my kindergarten class. Together, we enjoyed the usual birthday festivities: eating cake, playing games, and disobeying our parents’ pleads to leave. Once the begging and hide-and-seek games with our exasperated parents had ceased, it was finally time for my guests to depart. My mother, in typical East-Asian fashion, strictly denied any presents, though inevitably acquiesced in the offers. My eyes glistened in a childlike hunger at the sight of those colorful boxes and bags; this was where the true fun began.
After around twenty minutes or so of my pulling off ribbons and my mother frantically trying to preserve any remaining bits of wrapping paper, I beamed at the array of presents that lay before me: a life-size belle doll (38.7 inches to be exact), monopoly, Gap socks, and a Crayola Marker Airbrush set. So far, the gift game was going strong. I continued to sort through the remaining contestants before finally laying my hands on the final present. It was roughly the size of a shoebox with a white wrapping paper adorned with silver birthday balloons, a more minimalist appearance compared to the others. As my fingers peeled apart the taped sides, my curiosity began to bubble. Perhaps it was a makeup set? New color pencils? An American Girl doll? A bracelet making kit? All my questions would soon be answered.
To my disappointment, it met none of my fantasies. The box was not pink and red with “American Girl” written in white font, nor did it smell of strawberry lip gloss. Instead, it was a pasty cream color with maroon flowers running along the sides and the words “Broadway Collection” chestnut-colored cursive. I recalled how my mother had always noted how Fifi, the friend who had given me the gift, had always worn high-quality clothing, her mother being a fashion aficionado of sorts. My immediate guess was a nice pair of shoes; after all, I could use some new ones. However, as I lifted the cover, my eyes were met by a creation much more horrifying than I could ever imagine.
She had pale porcelain skin with slight pinkish undertones, and her auburn hair fell down in lifeless locks on top of her gown. On her ghastly white feet were a pair of maroon mary janes with small bows attached to the tips. As for her outfit, she dawned what seemed to be a plaid dress and petticoat, as well as a beige bonnet that had white lace ruched along its edges. But it was not the outdated attire that caught my attention, something entirely different had beguiled me: her eyes. They were not hazel or blue nor did they resemble the beady black eyes I was accustomed to. They were red. Wine red. With small webs of marigold and deep crimson intertwined with another flooding out of her pupils. I felt my tongue go dry as I slowly set the box down and watched her eyelashes descend in slumber. My focus slowly shifted from the resin-glazed orbs down to her rouge lips, the corners just turned up ever so slightly. I traced out the gold etching on her wooden stand. Rosemary.
“What do you think?” My mother’s gaze ran over the doll, marveling at the craftsmanship. Before I could stop myself, the words escaped from my mouth: “Is she dead?” I watched my mother’s eyes widen before chuckling softly as she gently swatted me across the shoulder. “No silly.” I listened as her laugh slowly abated, secretly wondering if I had just broken a taboo. As if to make matters worse, my mother held her up once more so I could witness Rosemary in her full glory. “Isn’t she gorgeous?” Now propped up, her lashes flickered open to reveal her arid gaze. Wine red, I thought to myself, wine red, wine red. I turned away. “She is.”
Numbers and years
by: Ava Arasan
They all exclaim
And while all should feel different
On this day,
Most years I feel
I only hit another milestone
as I speed on my way
a new page in my
Now turning away,
And while I wait to feel
My mind remains largely
I guess birthdays have no purpose
But to tally
We don’t sprout
From the ground up in a day
For instead we all grow slowly
Develop in many ways,
Our lives are not measured
But by everything
By: Sawyer Lai
I complacently swirl my paintbrush around in the water as I reach over to grab my paper towel. Swinging my hand back around, I feel it connect with something hard. I freeze. What was that?? I hear a crash, and my heart begins to pound in my chest. Cautiously peering underneath the table, I look down in dismay at a once beautiful work of art, now reduced to a sad heap of colorful glass shards. Without thinking, I reach out a shaking hand to pick them up, to salvage what’s left of my carefully painted mermaid figurine—
“Wait! Don’t touch it!” I look up, tearing away my hand, seconds away from being slashed by the small but sharp glass fragments. The Color Me Mine instructor is waving her hands frantically at me from the other side of the room, weaving through the tables packed full of kids to come to help me: “Excuse me…. Sorry…. Coming through….” My body is numb. I can’t move. I can’t hear anything over the thumping in my ears. I can’t believe that just happened. The world comes back to life as in the background, my ears make out the jarring sound of people scraping their chairs against the floor, scooting towards their tables in an attempt to make room for the instructor. Tears begin to fill my eyes as frustration takes over. I’d spent so long mixing the perfect colors before filling in each surface, each crevice of that gosh-darn mermaid. The instructor finally stops in front of me, and I look up and catch sight of her nametag through my tears. Isabella. “Hey, don’t worry,” she tells me, “Let me clean that up and I’ll get a new one for you.”
“Really?” I ask, not entirely sure if I want to start over.
“Yeah, of course, anything for the birthday girl,” she responds, already turning around to find a new, unpainted mermaid figurine for me.
“It’s ok, I don’t really want a new mermaid,” I say, resigned, “I’ll just watch my friends paint theirs.” We only have 5 more minutes for painting, and I don’t want to waste them on another mermaid I can break just as easily….
Though I’m still mad at myself for ruining my mermaid, I cheer up considerably throughout the rest of the party. Once all the guests have left, however, my four-year-old sister surprises me. She walks up and taps me on the shoulder: “This is for you. Happy birthday big sis,” she says, holding out the mermaid she’d painted.
Breaking Down A birthday Party
By: Laurie Jin
Birthdays, an annual tradition of celebrating your date of birth with junk food, friends, and most importantly: gifts, are overrated. When actually taking the word “birthday” under the microscope, it says “birth” and “day,” implying the day of your birth. Now you (and many others I’m sure) may be thinking ‘what kind of idiocy is this?’ but did you know the day of your birth involves a month, day, and year. Unless you find out how to travel back in time (a feat I personally believe to be impossible), the word “birthday” should be meant for the one specific day in which one enters the world screaming out of the womb. The next “birthdays” should instead be properly named the “anniversary of birth” or some other reasonable term. While changing what we call “birthday” probably won't happen because of how trivial this matter is, I merely suggest that humans become more competent while forming the English language. Besides the stupidity of making words such as “yeet” or changing the meaning of “mood,” I hope that as you read this piece, you become enlightened on how strange the modern concept of birthday parties actually are.
Birthdays celebrate the birth of a person and the fact that they’ve survived another year. However, why is it that when you celebrate your birthday, you must pay and plan for the party? This strenuous venture can take up to a month of vigorous work depending on the party’s greatness.
The start of any party planning involves deciding on the venue. Having a designated party location guarantees the stress of other groups at the location. While the probability of other birthday parties happening varies depending on location, if there happens to be another celebration happening, there tends to be a subconscious competition about whose party is better. Do you have bigger balloons? More people? Better food? More fun? The comparisons are endless, but this also relates to how competitive you are. However, if you throw the party at home, you must prepare to clean before and after the guests arrive. While the cost would drastically decrease, having people over at your house near your personal belongings is undeniably frightening.
After deciding on the place, you must now choose the perfect dishes to serve at your party. Again, having to pay for everyone’s food on a day that celebrates you bewilders me. The promise of oily pizza or (if you’re really that extra and committed:) a five-course dish at a Michelin starred restaurant doesn’t really make a difference: it’s all free food for your guests.
While you might be relieved by the fact that you won’t have a depressing one-person party as more invitees check “Yes” on your Evite, the expectation for the whole party quality increases. Will everybody like the oily, uneven slices of pizza from Chuck-E-Cheese? Moreover, do they mind the clashing of sweaty bodies in Laserquest? Or what about the millions of boogers flung in Pump It Up? Not to mention, the fear of killing someone due to allergies- but killing someone is probably the least of your worries when throwing a party.
The most awkward part of any birthday celebration is undeniably the birthday song. Your guests gather around you crooning, “Happy birthday to you… Happy birthday to you…” And as you look around the table, not wanting to maintain eye contact with anyone for too long, the wax on the candles drip onto your precious cake. After the last “Happy birthday to you,” you can close your eyes and blow out the candles, unless someone blows them out for you- ensuring that they won’t get an invitation to your next party and also getting more spit on your cake. PSA: during the coronavirus pandemic, the action of blowing out birthday candles is not recommended due to your own spit particles getting onto the cake. Alternatives include a leaf blower, a small vacuum, or just not having candles.
Receiving gifts is obviously one of the best parts of the party. But surprise surprise- you have to do it right. (Originally, giving gifts to the birthday person was to ward off evil spirits, but with the devastation that the human species has reigned on earth, I’m almost positive that these so-called evil spirits won’t be scared of a few presents.) The cards hold wonderful messages from your loved ones, but let’s be real: the curiosity about what’s under the wrapping paper outshines the card. If the card holds the gift- like birthday money or a gift card, the “correct response” is to ignore the cash and read the message instead. Whether or not the message touches the depths of your heart doesn’t matter as much as your reaction to it and the present. You could receive a roll of toilet paper (which would normally be a gag gift, but now that I think of it- TP would be pretty useful in times like these) or some ugly socks. But unless it’s obviously stupid, common curtesy commands you to act like you absolutely love it and will cherish it forever. Still, it’s the thought that counts- and it’s free stuff (ignoring the fact that you had to pay for food and maybe a venue). If you’re someone who stresses a lot, you may concede that another factor to gift receiving is remembering who got you what so you can give them an equally nice present (or maybe better if you’re feeling generous) if you’re invited to their party. However, that’s all materialistic and I don’t think anyone really cares.
In conclusion, birthday planning takes a lot of work- hence why I don’t throw a lot of parties, but friends form the best memories together. Also- there’s cake.