I had a birthday this week - no, this isn't a plea for cake (oh well, go on then, just a small slice); but rather an opportunity to reflect on birthdays in general, and why they matter.
In our western culture, birthdays are an opportunity to remind people that they're important - simply because they are alive, have a space in the world, and people around to care enough to buy a card and sing a song (and eat cake together). It's a day we don't share with anyone else (except for twins, who may see things very differently), but to stand on our own little dais, say, 'Hello world, I'm still here - taking up my own little person-space, with my own ideas and dreams, my joys and struggles.'
But - a question here - how much is this a western-centric celebration, based on a notion of the right of individuals to self-expression and self-determination. Our focus of interest is the individual - competition (even if it's only fighting for the last slice of cake) is based on one person's claim or ability over another's.
Not every culture organises itself as we do. Some Asian families regard the focus of interest as the family unit - so an individual who travels to distant parts, works their socks off in cockle-fields or bean-picking or care homes, shares an attic with six others, and sends all his or her money home to feed parents or children, or pays for a sister's education - is working for the family, not for personal gain. The woman who works in the fields while her husband hunts in the jungle, the children who cannot go to school as they are needed to help herd the goats - they all assume that the survival of the family takes precedence over individual needs or feelings.
But does that mean that they have no occasion to celebrate their own unique place in the world? No one will sing to them, make them a cake, remind them that they matter just for being who they are.
From my perspective, it feels essential that we all have birthdays, a day just for us. But maybe I'm blinkered by my western upbringing. Does anyone else see it differently?