Another year has begun, and with it another round of birthdays. And another round of deciding which birthdays will I acknowledge, and which will I ignore.
Kids get recognized—that’s a given. (Or it should be.) My younger nieces and nephews will get a card and a gift. The recognition may come late, but until they’re in their teens somewhere, they’ll receive some form of acknowledgment from me that they are growing up. One group of youngsters has a cluster of birthdays—they’ll all get their presents in the same mailing. Another niece has a birthday right after Christmas. She’s the only one guaranteed to get an early gift—I put in it the Christmas box. But they all get something.
And until they’re of the age of reason, they’ll probably get a token gift when their siblings have birthdays also. If only to minimize the squabbles their parents have to deal with.
Adults are another matter. I have a list of family birthdays, and my siblings and their spouses get cards. Ditto on my husband’s side of the family. Grown-up nieces and nephews probably get cards. Most years. When I remember. I do get laxer as people age and family ties weaken.
But what do I do about friends?
My mother was very good about sending all her friends birthday cards. She was a more regular customer of Hallmark than I was—and I worked for the greeting card company and got my cards at a discount. She shopped at least once a month for cards for the next few weeks, wrote a long newsy letter to each person, and got the cards to her friends and relations on time.
One of the worst symptoms of her Alzheimer’s for me was when she started forgetting to send cards. My father tried to take over for family birthdays, but among my saddest birthdays was the year neither of them remembered the occasion.
Weeks later, my father said to me, “I forgot your birthday, didn’t I?”
Yes, he had.
And then a year or two later, he wasn’t there to remember it at all. A sadder birthday yet.
When I worked in Human Resources at Hallmark, I sent many, many birthday cards. And company anniversary cards.
I hadn’t realized that recognizing such occasions was one of the obligations of Human Resources managers, but I quickly embraced the habit. My administrative assistants kept lists of employees with upcoming celebrations, and I sent cards to the people I knew. They deserved that recognition—an opportunity to say congratulations and to thank them for the work they did. I enjoyed writing those cards.
Now I am retired. No more lists of colleagues’ birthdays and anniversaries. No more stock of note cards in the supply cabinet.
What should I do?
Somehow, it feels disloyal to Hallmark to simply type “Happy Birthday” on someone’s social media wall. If I don’t go to the effort of finding an appropriate card, writing a personal message, addressing the card and mailing it, does it really count?
So I usually choose to ignore the reminder from Facebook. And to ignore all the other birthday wishes my friends are receiving. I don’t post my own birthday, so my friends won’t be placed in a similar quandary.
If Facebook is the only way I have of contacting someone, then I might chime in. I rationalize that if that is the only method I have of recognizing the occasion, the convenience and minimal thought it takes is acceptable. But otherwise, it feels too trite.
So don’t take it personally if I ignore you. In my own way, I am preserving tradition.
Yet many of my Hallmark friends appear to disagree with me. I see them commenting on birthdays left and right, regardless of the impact to Hallmark’s bottom line when they do not send cards. Or maybe they’re sending cards also.
Of course, my position is somewhat silly. I’m not sending cards or writing on Facebook walls—I’m ignoring the occasion altogether. Right or wrong, that’s the position I’ve taken. At least I recognize my hypocrisy.
What do you think? Would you rather have me type Happy Birthday so you know I’m thinking of you? Or shall I continue to ignore Facebook and preserve a tradition I generally do not follow?