The exquisite pain of a Christmas Birthday

December 25, 1997
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

"You poor thing, your birthday is on Christmas!" If I had a sugarplum for every time someone said this to me, I'd be in business. And I'm here to tell you that having a Christmas birthday is not THAT bad.

First of all, a Christmas birthday sets you apart. There just aren't that many of us around. Consider this roster of Christmas babies: Jesus of Nazareth, Isaac Newton, Pope Pius VI, Clara Barton, Humphrey Bogart, Rod Serling, Conrad Hilton, Maurice Utrillo, Helena Rubinstein, Rebecca West, Sissy Spacek and ... Elisabeth Sherwin.

According to a birth-date study of 700 people in Switzerland, June and July and January had the most births dates with 74, 70 and 66, respectively. December had only 42.

So it's true that December birthdays are special.

I always loved having a Christmas Day birthday. On that day, our family went to my grandmother's house for a big dinner and celebration. I alone of all the many children present was allowed to sit at the head of the adult table. Like a little princess, I accepted homage from the peasants in the form a birthday cake. It felt like everyone in the family gathered not to celebrate Christmas but to celebrate my special day. What kid wouldn't love that?

Former Davis Mayor Maynard Skinner came within a few days of having the best of all birthdays, but he was born a little too early, on Dec. 20. His birthday became the focus of several good-natured family pranks. When Skinner was 10, his older brothers gave him a pair of shoes. He got the right shoe on Dec. 20, his left shoe on Dec. 25.

His birthday fell during the school holidays. In an effort to make sure he got a party with his friends, his mother once played a little trick on him. She gave him a large box, wrapped in gift paper, to take to his teacher at school before Christmas vacation started. Skinner delivered the box, not knowing what was in it. When his teacher unwrapped the box, he found out it was filled with cupcakes for his birthday party.

"I didn't feel deprived," he said.

Lawren Brickey of Winters, whose birthday is Dec. 21, says she suffered no deprivation, either. "I always got to go to `The Nutcracker' on my birthday," she said.

Lynn Gore, UC Davis administrative analyst, has a birthday on Dec. 16.

"I never suffered having a birthday near Christmas because birthdays weren't that big a deal in our family," she said. "In fact, the birthday traditions as I remember them in the 1950s (in a Kansas college town much like Davis) were generally more low key than seems to be the norm today. No child I knew had a birthday party every year. In my family, the birthday person got to choose whatever they wanted for dinner and after dinner we had singing and birthday cake and usually no more than one gift to open. It was a simple, intimate family celebration that always felt very special.. My two favorite aunts also sent me small birthday presents along with their Christmas packages, which was very exciting since I got to open them right way. They rarely sent birthday gifts to my four siblings. My parents said mine was the only one they could remember because it was close to Christmas. However, in my heart I always knew it was because they loved me the best."

Lt. Martin Ruiz of the Davis Police Department has a birthday on Dec. 18. (Psst! This year he turned 50.) He grew up in the Central Mexico town of San Luis Potosi with his grandparents where three special days were celebrated in short order -- Dec. 18, Dec. 25 and Jan. 6. Epiphany is celebrated on Jan. 6 -- that's the day the three wise men brought gifts to the Christ child.

Ruiz says a December birthday is a special birthday.

"I wouldn't trade it," he said. "I've always considered it a good time because people are generally into celebrating the spirit of the season. For my birthday to fall in that month I considered a plus. Also, my mother and I are very close and she always calls me her Christmas present."

Local psychologist Nancy Mercer says it's important to celebrate a child's holiday season birthday.

"It's important for children to get the message that they're special," she said. "A child can get lost in the shuffle if a birthday comes during the holidays. Parents need to say to the child: `You are special to us and this is your special day.' "

She adds that children who feel their birthdays are overshadowed by the holidays should celebrate at a different time of year. Some Christmas babies decide to celebrate their half-birthdays on June 25.

Mercer said one of her sons has a birthday early in January and over the years she's heard grumbling about his day falling too close to Christmas. The early January birthday crowd does seem to have its share of good-natured complainers.

Lee Rae Ulrich of San Diego has a Jan. 4 birthday. By the time her birthday rolls around, she says, everyone is sick of the holidays.

"After-Christmas birthdays are the pits," says Ulrich. "Everyone is fat, broke and tired. We get forgotten a whole lot."

Professor Emeritus Ming Ming Wong of UC Davis celebrates her Jan. 3 birthday with a Chinese meal of egg noodles and chicken, which celebrates the beginning and the end, the mother and child. [Prof. Wong celebrates her 70th birthday on January 3, 1998.]

If you have to have a birthday during the holidays, the two best days are probably Dec. 31 or Jan. 1. Think of it. No matter what, even if you have a dreadful personality and no friends at all, you'll still be able to find a big noisy party to go to and at least half the country will be celebrating right along with you.

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