Birthdays were always an important part of my childhood, probably because my Mom loved hers so much that it would last for the entire month of her birth. When my children were small, I always enjoyed coming up with themes for their birthdays. Superheroes and Teddy Bears, Sesame Street and the Little Mermaid, all played their part as our children’s birthday themes. It was especially fun to make pink cupcakes with the requested purple frosting that came out in a putrid shade of grey, but thrilled our little birthday girl just the same. Wonderful memories of simple birthday parties. This past weekend we celebrated a birthday of a different sort.
I was always taught as a child and continue to learn as an adult, that there is much to be celebrated about culture and its differences. My husband’s family is Chinese in ancestry and though my father-in-law is first generation Chinese, there are a few Chinese traditions that have carried over for us; traditions of Chinese New Year, a particular favorite of mine because of the amount of food involved; First birthdays, a big shindig for all of the family, and Long Life birthdays, which begin when you turn 60 and are celebrated every 10 years. An interesting fun fact, some people in China don’t celebrate any of their birthdays until they turn 60!
There is also the Chinese Zodiac. Though I don’t put much stock in zodiac’s of any kind, the Chinese Zodiac is intriguing because each is an animal and they repeat every 12 years. I am a pig, which in regard to my love of food, is appropriate. My father, who is 24 years older than me, is also a pig. Again, the man loves food, which makes me think there may be something to this thing. My father-in-law and husband are both horses; though my husband’s gets a little wonky since his birthday is in January and he tends to land on the cusp of things. He may be a snake, but he prefers to think of himself as the horse.
This past weekend my father-in-law turned 90, sort of.
The Chinese culture, like many cultures, has its own set of superstitions. My father-in-law was the 5th of 6 children. When my father-in-law (let’s call him Howard because that’s his name and it’s easier to type) was a baby he had pneumonia and was very sick. He was only 6 months old at the time and in order to trick the “evil spirits” into thinking he didn’t exist, his family did not acknowledge his birthday. Howard’s birthday wasn’t celebrated for quite some time, but living in America where birthdays are a thing, eventually they began to celebrate his birthday again on May 31st.
Fast forward 50 plus years. Howard is retiring and has dug his birth certificate out of the archives of his important papers. We were all there. We all witnessed the look of complete and total shock on the face of a man whose usual countenance is extremely placid. Imagine the surprise when he unfolded his birth certificate and discovered that his birthday is not May 31, 1930. His birthday is May 21, 1930. After they were done fooling the “evil spirits” his Mom began celebrating his birthday on the wrong day. In her defense, she did have 6 children. I’m sure it was hard to keep track. But, still kind of funny. He continued and we still continue to celebrate him on May 31st, since that’s the birthday he’s always known, this past weekend included.
This past weekend our home was transformed. My husband had been planning his Dad’s Long Life Party for the past year. He ordered myriads of Chinese food, hung paper lanterns and Chinese dragons, contacted his siblings and gathered videos. He did it all in honor of his Dad. This past weekend, surrounded by his son, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, we celebrated 90 years of Howard’s life. It’s been a wonderful life! In a few weeks we will take Howard to the airport for his annual trip to Montana. The man goes every year to West Yellowstone to escape the Florida summers and to do what he loves best, fly-fishing. He has a townhouse there right outside of Yellowstone National Park. I asked Howard, being 90 now, how much longer he thought he’d want to go to Montana. His reply, “Until it isn’t fun anymore.” A wonderful life, indeed; but to Howard, it’s really not that big a deal!