Yesterday was my 16th birthday, and, in the afternoon, it suddenly occurred to me: why do we celebrate birthdays? More importantly, why do we celebrate milestones of any kind? Why do we mark 5 years since an occasion or event. Why do we mark 100 years?
100 years ago, World War 1 was fully raging. There had just been the battle for Gallipoli, and the American entry into the war was imminent. But why is it important that that happened 100 years ago? If you had a relative who had been killed in 1915, would you have remembered them more than usual today: remembrance day, because they died 100 years ago compared to last year when they died 99 years ago? Are we more sad when its the 10th anniversary of the death of a relative than the 1st anniversary? The London 2012 Olympics happened 3 years ago, and I believe it was one of our countries finest moments: I’m extremely proud that we hosted them so well. But will this pride become temporarily more extreme in 2017, the 5th anniversary of the games? If there is something to be sad, happy, proud or even patriotic about, that doesn’t suddenly increase temporarily because you remember it happened a certain amount of time ago. If someone I loved died 364 days ago, I would be extremely sad. But I don’t think I would be any more sad tomorrow, the day marking a year since their death. They died 365 days ago, whys that anymore significant than when they died 364 days ago? Now don’t get me wrong, the current period that we are in, marking 100 years since World War 1 is brilliant. There is emphasis on those who made the ultimate sacrifice; we do not forget them. There is something in us humans that prompts us to remember and reflect more during periods that mark a certain amount of time since the event and although I really don’t know why this is, it is without a doubt a good thing.
So on to birthdays; why do we celebrate 365 days since the last time you got a full year older? Why do we celebrate getting older? Well up until such a time when you start lying about your age, as I’m sure many do, getting older is good. I’m 16 and I want to be older. Every birthday I get older and I see that as a good thing. People can tell me to enjoy being a child and that being an adult isn’t fun, but children don’t listen. Aside from the fact that we get presents, children generally like their birthdays because its one year closer to being something else. Perhaps there’s that one person who does great things; who you aspire to be like but you can’t because you are too young. Perhaps you really want to go to university, and your birthday marks one year closer to doing so. I used to study Latin (I gave it up for GCSE) and I had female teacher. One morning, we all came into her class (we were 12 at the time) and we wished her happy birthday. I didn’t know what birthday it was for her but she was perhaps late 20s. She turned round to us and said “why are you celebrating? My birthday is depressing: it marks one year closer to dying”. Those comments, as a 12 year old boy went through one ear and out the other. As children we just don’t think like that. We look forward to being able to answer the question “how old are you” with an answer that’s one year older than we currently are. And perhaps that’s one of the big areas in which children/teenagers and adults differ: our attitude to aging.