This past Saturday marked the passing of my 21st birthday. Late that day twenty-one years ago, my mom brought me into the world, the first of her and my father’s three children.
It was an important Saturday for me, for two reasons. The first one is obvious: I have all the rights and responsibilities of any adult. I can cast my vote, enlist in the military, buy and drink alcoholic beverages, sign legal contracts and all that fun, grown-up stuff.
The second reason Saturday was important is that it was only the third birthday I’ve ever celebrated.
My parents, loving people who did the best they could raising me, are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of very few modern Christian religions that prohibit the celebration of birthdays.
Along with the Sacred Name branch of the Church of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible places a negative light on birthday celebrations. My parents always told me the story of the beheading of John the Baptist at the hands of the ruler Herod, who had John killed because that was the redeemed wish he offered to the dancer Salome on his birthday.
Even as a child, I understood the reasoning presented by my parents for the prohibition and never felt like I was missing out on anything: birthdays put too much attention on one person, and could lead to un-Christian excess.
I also never felt like my parents didn’t care about my birthday, because it was a day they noticed and marked—just not with a cake or party.
Even after I’d moved out of their house and stopped following their faith, I didn’t plan on celebrating birthdays. That all changed when I came home from work one day to find that my roommate and his girlfriend had baked me a Batman-themed cake for my nineteenth birthday.
They’d bought me a few video games and wrapped them up in birthday present-wrapping paper, too. It was a small gesture, but it was touching to know that my friends cared enough to celebrate my birthday.
This past Saturday was no different. Kara, who is as true and loyal a friend as I’ve ever had, baked me a “funfetti” cake with fudge icing and 21 candles on Friday. Childhood friends I don’t get to see very often drove up to Anniston from Pell City to be at the party on Saturday.
It was a great birthday, the best I’ve had so far, although it was only the third of what will be many more. Being at the center of my friends’ attentions made me feel like a king, but it also made me realize how much I have to be thankful for.
Looking around at all of my closest friends on Saturday night made me realize that birthdays are about recognizing the importance of friends and family in your life. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve made some great friends over the past four years at JSU, I wouldn’t have had much of a birthday.
The next time you wake up and realize you’ve made it through another year of this crazy life—the next time you find yourself anticipating another birthday party—make sure you take a second to think about how much you mean to the people around you. Be the most thankful for them, and not for the birthday money.