Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.
Earlier this month, I celebrated my 20th birthday.
But a kid turning 20, much like turning 19, really isn’t anything special, and it’s not really worthy of any sort of celebration.
One doesn’t feel as if he or she is beginning a new phase of his or her life, or feel as if he or she has achieved something special. To be honest, it just kind of felt as if I officially hit the mark that meant I was about a fifth of the way done with life.
And I’m fine with that.
It might seem slightly macabre, but the usual birthday celebration just did not feel appealing to me. My birthday fell on election night, meaning all of my co-workers were busy at work and would be until about 1 a.m., and one of my roommates would be busy in Detroit celebrating with his campaign co-workers. I had plenty of other friends who wanted to celebrate with me, but I didn’t really feel as if I had any reason to celebrate. We had the typical college celebration, but my birthday just didn’t feel as important to me as it used to.
But rather than seeing this as a result of growing older, I consider my loss in desire for celebrating my birthday to be a result of my feelings toward every holiday changing. It is not that I see my birthday as less important; rather, I prefer different ways of celebrating my special day, and the other special days I get to celebrate every year.
As a kid, my birthday and Christmas Day were holidays celebrated with unlimited presents. The only reason I looked forward to those days each year was because of what I would be receiving from others. It was a materialistic, greedy passion that drove me to run to my Christmas tree every Dec. 25, excited to open the gifts Santa Claus had left for me.
Upon reflection, I really was a brat.
Of course, every kid is excited to open gifts on Christmas morning or for his or her birthday. But I took it to a new level. If I didn’t get every gift I wanted, Christmas morning usually would end in tears, with me disappointed in my parents and Santa for, in my point of view, failing me.
And my poor mother, the sweetest woman on Earth, would work tirelessly to make those days special for me.
In elementary school, my mom would be concocting some sort of delicious treat the night before my birthday so that I received kudos from my classmates for having the best birthday treat. Because, as I’m sure most remember, that is what made you cool in elementary school: being the kid who would feed all of his or her classmates with sweet treats.
My mom spent hours Black Friday shopping and finding deals so that she could provide her kids with the best Christmas morning possible, only to have the long-awaited morning end with her son telling her it wasn’t good enough.
I never appreciated the work and time she put forth to make holidays special not only for our immediate family, but our entire extended family.
Even now, when the holiday season rolls around, she turns off any Christmas music until about Dec. 20 because it reminds her of the old, stressful holidays she used to have to coordinate for us.
But this year, with the holiday season in full swing, I haven’t written my parents a Christmas list, and I never wrote them a list of gifts I wanted for my birthday.
Instead, I spent my birthday weekend with them, celebrating my special day by going out to dinner and seeing the people I care about most. And that’s how I plan on spending Christmas, surrounded by the people whom I want to see most because I see them so little during the school year.
My father, every Christmas season, always says, “Don’t get me a gift. The only gift I need is my family’s health and happiness.” And although we usually cave and buy him a gift he probably doesn’t need, I never understood his sentiments until now.
And I think that’s something many students experience after moving away to college.
Holiday celebrations and birthdays no longer are defined by the gifts I receive, but rather the people with whom I spend them.
Seeing my closest friends and family on my birthday and spending the holiday break at home are the only gifts I truly need this holiday season.
Alex McClung is a guest columnist at The State News and an international relations sophomore. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.