Celebrate your birthday with a bang or a whimper? Two Stylist writers spill on their very different approaches.
“I’ve been banging on about my birthday for the past 364 days”
By contributing editor Kate Faithfull-Williams
I had a big birthday this year – didn’t you hear? The only bad thing about milestones, in my view, is that people always ask how you’re feeling about your birthday with a cocked head and concerned tone, as if you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I’m not that old.
We digress. I started planning my party in 2018. I’ve learnt the lonely way that if you want people to get excited about your birthday, you need to get excited yourself. It’s still a day where you need to eat some food and wear some clothes, so why not make them chocolate fudge cake and sequins? Why hide away when you could feel happy to be alive for another year?
The idea of hiring a club with a DJ and 200 close friends gave me palpitations, mostly because I don’t have 200 friends. My idea of fun is having all my nearest and dearest together around a table. So I hired the private dining room at Riding House Café in London for the big day, but not before being whisked off to luxe boutique hotel Thyme, in the Cotswolds, for a romantic weekend. I do a fantastic imitation of someone who is genuinely surprised and hasn’t been banging on about her birthday for the previous 364 days/threatening divorce.
It can be daunting to bring friends together from different parts of your life: school, uni, work, local friends, random ex-flatmates, just plain randoms. But having them all in the same space is exhilarating: they’re all here for me! Friends came from Manchester, Bristol, Brighton, Colchester and beyond. My besties decorated the room, baked my favourite cake, created a playlist which only I could appreciate and made me laugh so hard I had to go to the loo in a hurry.
Even though I had to close my eyes while paying the bill, I felt so lucky to have them. I didn’t feel quite so lucky the following morning when I was mainlining salt and vinegar McCoys. But, hey. Needs must. I had also booked in for a weekend at the Four Seasons in Hampshire with my family. It was unreal: the spa! The water park! The best cheesecake known to womankind!
But wait. There’s more. Because so many friends treated me to experience gifts, I’ve been spreading out my birthday even further with yoga handstand workshops, trapeze lessons and Gingerline immersive theatre dinners. My ridiculously generous in-laws gave me a Montenegro guide book, though it is unclear whether they wanted me to come back after yet another birthday minibreak.
In fact, my friend who gave birth to twins the weekend before my birthday (so inconvenient) has booked us dinner at Sushisamba too, eking the celebrations out a little further. I know it’s a lot but please don’t hate me. Please have a great big, all-singing, all-dancing happy birthday for yourself too: you deserve it.
“No one believed me when I said I wasn’t going to celebrate”
By deputy editor Gemma Crisp
Celebrating other people’s birthdays is fine. No problem whatsoever. It’s just celebrating my own that sends a squirming shudder of dread rippling through my bones.
To be honest, it makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Voluntarily drawing attention to myself just because I was born? Expecting people to buy me presents? Mixing different groups of friends who don’t know each other and then stressing about whether they’ll hate each other (and judge me on my friend choices)? Are you kidding? Where’s the fun in that?
It was different when I was a child – my twin sister and I were allowed to have a party every two years so we would spend 23 months dissecting what to do for the next one. Sleepover? Pool party? Pool party and sleepover?
When we became teenagers, the biannual parties became non-annual. As in they stopped completely. Having changed schools, our new friends lived at least an hour away so logistics were tricky. Birthday celebrations until we were 18 consisted of cards, presents and getting to choose what to have for dinner. So it’s not like I grew up in a household where birthdays were considered to be on par with winning the lottery.
Now I live on the other side of the world to my family and despite having a lot of friends here who celebrate their birthdays with lunches, dinners, weekends away and trips abroad, all of which I participate in enthusiastically because I love socialising (usually I’m the last to go home), it’s not something I feel comfortable doing myself. For my last significant birthday, I flew back to Sydney to be with my sister.
There was no cake but there was a lot of champagne and morning-after paracetamol. My friends here had started to pester me months beforehand: “What are you going to do for your birthday when you get back?” They didn’t believe me when the reply was, “Nothing”. One friend was so insistent, I was petrified that my husband would organise a surprise party just to get him off my back. Two years later, he’s still complaining that I didn’t celebrate my birthday properly.
A therapist would probably have a field day with this attitude. But don’t think I ignore my birthday completely – I do expect to be taken out for a swanky dinner and to receive a present from my husband. I expect cards and phone calls from my family in Australia and texts from my friends in London.
I’m also not an insensitive git – I do understand that there can be quite serious reasons why people would want to toast the passing of another year. But I will never be that person who starts banging on about my birthday months in advance. Or who plans my birthday to be a week-long fiesta where it’s all about me, me, me. Or who christens their party with a festival-style name complete with wristbands and entry fees (true story). And that’s OK. Because I’ll be the first person who RSVPs and the last one to leave.