I’ve spoken previously about how Shannon and I don’t do much for holidays. Valentine’s is a non-event, anniversaries often consist of us working gigs, and the best Christmases are magical times of sleeping in.
We didn’t have much money in the early days of our marriage. We were coasting on credit cards and wasting too much money on going out to eat. We lived hand-to-mouth every paycheck. Because of this we never made gift exchanges very prominent in our displays of affection, and I’m sure this is what had the biggest impact on our not making a huge fuss of holidays. That’s not to say that we didn’t work to make certain days special. Over time, the most important day within the Kropfian calendar has become the birthday.
Life for December Babies
My birthday is December 28. I share the same birthday as Stan Lee, Denzel Washington, Woodrow Wilson, and Seth Myers (who was born in the same year as well!). It’s a unique day in that it’s three days after Christmas and three days before New Year’s. This makes the last couple of weeks of the year pretty exciting for me and there is always something to look forward to.
Having a birthday right around Christmas is simultaneously awesome and sucky. It’s great because everything is festive, the houses are decorated, and there is a magical quality that seems to effervesce in the world. It may be rampant commercialism, but I choose to believe it’s because at least some folks are working towards that whole “peace on earth and good will towards men,” thing.
Also, I was always out of school for my birthday so I never had to whimper “happy birthday to me” into a cupcake in the cafeteria. This manifested later in my working life because whatever employer I was working for usually gave off the week after Christmas. This meant my birthday could almost always be on my own terms and I got to do what I wanted on those days.
The crummy thing about having a birthday so close to the holidays is that Christmas is a vortex that consumes everyone’s attention. And of course, there is the inevitable Christmas/Birthday gift. Honestly, this didn’t happen much growing up, but the few times it did I was not a fan. As an adult, I get why this is a thing: parents want to pull the trigger on a larger gift so they pool the resources together for something grand! I get it. An 8-year-old doesn’t get it. Especially one with a birthday after Christmas which leaves some poor kid three days later with nothing to open since they blew everything out on the 25th. A little kid can’t process that. Add to this the fact that everyone is wrung out and exhausted from having just worked through the Christmas event and this leaves a 28th birthday very much feeling like an afterthought.
Oh, and you know how I talked about how great it was that I never had to be in school for my birthday? This also meant that I never had the experience of a teacher working to make a day special for me with all the other kids in attendance. I never had a whole class sing “Happy Birthday,” nor was a cake ever made in my honor. I seem to remember a “this is for all those with a birthday during Christmas vacation” kind of thing, but we can all admit it’s not the same. So yes, there were trade-offs.
Growing up, my sisters liked to torment me about my birthday. They had me truly convinced that when I turned nine I would be required, by law, to get a nose ring because apparently, that was what children born in Hawaii had to do. I have nothing against nose rings, but an 8-year-old Dave was not having it, and I’m sure my sisters reading this are having a good ol’ laugh about it to this day! My folks always tried to do something special for my birthday, but it was tough because we weren’t that well off and they were pretty spent having just pulled off Christmas for four kids.
Shannon’s birthday is December 13th, a full two weeks before mine. She has some of the same plusses and mines most of us December babies have, but with hers being further ahead of Christmas, she has the benefit of receiving the momentum going into the holidays. People are in the cheery ascent into upcoming festivities and her birthday is more akin to another fun thing to do along with office parties and early gift giving. She has received the combined Christmas/Birthday gifts as well, but she would get to open them on her birthday, and then, of course, she would have to have something to open on Christmas Day, so double prizes! Ok, ok. She grew up in a very similar financial situation as I did, so it wasn’t like she got a saddle for her birthday and a pony on Christmas. I’m just saying that for December birthdays that come before the big 2-5, maybe it can be a bit more magical.
King and Queen for the Day
As I talked about some 800 words ago, Shannon and I never had much money early in our marriage, so physical birthday gifts were usually off the table. We may have done a card, and of course, there was always special birthday sex (no wedding gift candle required), but we never went full into big gestures of gift giving! Side note: Shannon crushed it for my 40th birthday when she surprised me with motorcycle training lessons for my birthday! More on that to come in a future post. So without presents to give, to make birthdays feel as much about the other person as possible, we started a tradition early on called “King/Queen for the Day.”
The concept is simple: whoever’s birthday it is gets to be the ruling monarch for the entire house for the 24 hour period of their birthday. From 12:00 am until 11:59 pm, they make 100% of all the decisions – unquestioned. They get their way for an entire day with no arguing, no sass (did I seriously just write that), and no response other than, “as you wish, your majesty!” Ok, we don’t actually take it that far, but that’s the idea! They could literally ask to do or have anything at all they want. If they want a charcoal grilled steak at 2 am – done. If they want the bathroom painted – done. If they want to do nothing but lay in bed, watch TV, and have Burger King delivered – done. If they want homemade pancakes, or the garden weeded, or a disaster movie marathon, it is so.
We both have different ruling styles, Shannon and I. In the past, Shannon would seize the opportunity to have me do or help her with things she’d wanted to be done for a while. Usually small things, but sometimes larger household projects. She would sometimes relish in delight in having a manservant and have me fetch this or that and would take wicked delight in pulling my puppet strings as I flittered from this or that task. It was a lot of fun, really. I’m not at all complaining, and it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds as I type it out. To be fair, most of her birthdays were one or two large-ish type things and then a lot of relaxing. Over the years, it’s become more and more about easing into the guilt-free nothingness.
Also, Shannon is really bad about not using her queen for the day, often because she has to go into work or a gig on her actual birthday. Because of this, she would bank her birthday of royalty to a subsequent weekend and we would work to make that day all about her. To date, I think she has no less than two or three Queens for the Day stockpiled and I just know she’s going to break them out on me all at once and have me retile the kitchen.
Turnabout is Fair Play
I think one of the things that keeps Shannon from going full-tilt Marie Antoinette is that she knows my birthday is right around the corner and she doesn’t want her own personal Les Misérables. She knows that whatever she dishes out, I’ll get to serve back to her in just two weeks.
That said, I usually end up feeling a little guilty on my King for the Day because I can’t bring myself to boss everyone around, so my king for the day ruling decisions almost always revolve around food – what I want to eat and who is going to go pick it up. As the person in the house most often charged with picking up any takeout, I relish in delight at the idea of someone else bringing me Five Guys or Buffalo Wild Wings (even though I’ve been known to spend a birthday lunch at BWWs).
Because I can’t be too bossy, I end up playing a lot of games and watching a lot of movies on my birthday. I’m relatively hands-off, and enjoy every minute of shameless, non-constructive downtime and am perfectly happy being kind of left alone. Pretty crazy for a self-professing extrovert.
A Binary Star System
As with so many things in our relationship, this tradition was born out of a way to compensate for not having much early on and a way to make something special from very little. Over time, it has become another one of our favorite things, and even though we have the means to go buck wild with gifts now, we still don’t. Easily, the best gift we can give on our birthdays is to make an entire day be unequivocally about the other person and spend that day doing any and everything we can do to make them happy. They become the sun and we become the planets in their orbit.
Because our marriage is rooted in consistent awareness and compassion for one another's needs, what usually happens is we end up doing many of the same things we always do anyway, only with the knowledge that the other person is the single center of the household solar system as opposed to two stars sharing the gravitational pull in the relationship.
Dave was born in Hawaii, grew up in San Diego, and wound up in Orlando, FL by way of both High Point, NC and Memphis, TN.
He is a husband of 24 years to his wife, Shannon, and is a crazy cat dad. When he’s not rambling on about life here, he can be found writing music for film and TV, playing music, or teaching music at Full Sail University.