This September has shored up a tidal wave of Virgos in my life. The way they're mushrooming atop my calendar is to the extent that I swear some of them have undergone a sign change--as in, the last time I wished them a happy birthday they were definitely an Aquarius or other. Seriously, it's not like they're all new associations--it's weird.
But one thing this marathon of Virgo birthdays has done is got me thinking about what passes for celebrating a birthday these days. Essentially: not much.
In fact, if it weren't explicitly stated that the reason everyone was congregated at the bar/restaurant/apartment/house was to "celebrate" X's birthday, you'd be none the wiser that this gathering *was* a birthday celebration. Maybe if our guest of honor is lucky there might be some cake or cupcakes floating around (likely in a white pastry box), but aside from the missing tiered showpiece, I'm far more concerned about the absence of something else. Candles. Where are the candles????
And just then, I imagined that I heard someone cynically retort that that candles and the obligatory singing that accompanies them is kid-stuff. That the silly frippery of candles are unnecessary for any self-respecting sophisticate. As if to say, *who* past a certain threshold (say, age 12), needs colourful totems of melting wax drawing attention to this anniversary? Mmmm, hmmm... why don't we tell that to a Menorah.
I'd bet money that anyone who assumes this dismissive "kid-stuff" attitude is preemptively sidestepping the hurt they feel when everyone fails to show up with a box of candles and a match. I blame this now-customary occurrence on on our rampant single-ness and pro-independence society, which has shifted the mantle of birthday planning to the honored guest.
After all, it's one thing to host an event, pick the bar/restaurant and text a guest list, but there are some holy acts left that you simply can't do for yourself, and topping a cake with candles and lighting them smacks a little too much of a forlorn "happy birthday to me."
Even leaving candle obligations to the chosen restaurant restaurant to supply your birthday cheer also doesn't suffice. There's something about a waiter strolling out with a complimentary brownie a la mode stabbed with a sparkler in the moments before the bill arrives that smells too strongly of the synthetic sentiment emitted whenever thoughtfulness gets outsourced to an anonymous middle man. There's a difference.
You think nobody might notice, but they do. I witnessed this first-hand when I visited my sister over her birthday in NYC a couple of years ago. I wanted little moments of celebration tucked around every corner, so I got enough candles to match her age and made her blow them out, one by one, throughout the day's activities. Everything, from the braised greens and pork buns at the swanky Asian fusion restaurant, to the brownie we probably didn't really need to eat when we stumbled into the Sugar Cafe at 5am, got a candle.
I knew she'd secretly love it, even if she self-consciously rolled her eyes a little, but what I hadn't anticipated was that people *noticed.* They noticed and smiled and after we explained, they remarked, with a little bit of awe, how special it was... the fact that regardless of whatever uncool or silly connotation birthday candles supposedly attract when trotted out, someone was doing it anyway--multiple times--insistent that a fixed number of birthday flames must be offered to honor the birthday girl--that a wish--multiple wishes--must be made.
You see, rituals originate from a mysterious and necessary place. And when rituals that we've grown up with and are accustomed to are ignored, skipped, I'm convinced we lose something.
Somehow that spectacle of candles validates us. For a flickering moment, the birthday guy or gal becomes our sole focal point--in that instant, every observer steps aside to give one person something we so rarely give: our full attention--as we hold our breath, witnesses to a wish being made.
So in my own personal overture to reignite this tradition, I've toted candles to every Virgo birthday I've attended this year. As far as gifts go, they've been a hit. Enough so that I quite seriously suggest you vow to be the candle bearer at the next birthday you attend. I promise, even if someone rolls their eyes a little, they'll secretly love it. Maybe you'll even inspire them to follow suit.