November and December are big months in the Prather clan. I have five grandchildren, and all of them celebrate birthdays in a two-month span.
Harper recently turned 8. Harry just turned 2. Hadley will be 7 shortly. Next month, Hagan will turn 4 and Hudson 6.
The youngest, Harry, is too young to understand what the fuss is about, but the rest of them look forward to their birthdays far in advance.
“How many days now?” they ask over and over.
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I remember those longings from my own childhood — and yes, skeptics, I was once a child.
I mean, what kid wouldn’t be agog at the prospect of receiving a scrumptious cake decorated just for you, with candles and ice cream? And you get to be the center of attention all day. And you get presents.
People have celebrated birthdays since at least 3,000 B.C.E, according to a 2013 article by Huffington Post writer Todd Van Luling.
The Egyptians began the practice as an annual tribute to their Pharaoh’s coronation date, when, under their religious beliefs, he was “birthed” as a god. It wasn’t the date of his physical birth that mattered, but this spiritual transformation.
Later, the Greeks continued and expanded on this tradition by offering moon-shaped cakes to their lunar goddess, Artemis. They decorated the cakes with lighted candles to honor her glowing beauty.
Romans took the practice a step further by celebrating the birthdays of friends, family and important citizens — but only men. (Women, sad to say, wouldn’t get their own cakes until the 1100s.)
For a long time, early Christians frowned on such frivolities, which they regarded as pagan. Finally, in the 300s, they or less decided that if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them, and they started celebrating Christmas as the birthday of Jesus.
So whether you’re a Christian or a pagan, when you celebrate your birthday and blow out the candles and bite into that luscious icing, you might think of yourself as being just a little bit divine, at least for that day.
Divine or not, when I was a kid, birthdays were definitely milestones. In between, I’d try to stretch my age.
“I’m not 9,” I’d insist. “I’m 9 and a half.”
It always seemed as if it took an eon for another year to roll around.
Oh my gosh, I’d think: How come time moves so slowly?
I longed to turn 13, so I could say I was a teenager.
Then I watched the calendar until I finally reached 16 and could get my driver’s license.
No sooner did I start driving than I wanted to be 18 and a genuine adult. Why, at that age, I’d be able to vote or rent an apartment or enlist in the Navy, if I so chose.
Next, of course, I wanted to be 21. Legal alcohol!
And on it went.
Except something changed. I think I was in my late 30s or early 40s. That’s when it dawned on me I didn’t have to wait long for birthdays anymore, because some anonymous intruder had mysteriously sped up my clock.
For reasons unknown, birthdays now seemed to roll around every few months. I’d just turned 40 when, bam, in about five or six months, I was celebrating my 41st birthday.
In my 50s, that accelerated to about a birthday every three months.
At 60, I have a birthday once a month, I’m pretty sure.
And I not only don’t look forward to them, I dread them. At my age, the only advantage to having another birthday is that — well, I suppose it beats the alternative.
It’s not as if I’m going to get any stronger, handsomer, richer, smarter or more independent. There aren’t too many glowing milestones to look forward to, unless you consider hip replacement surgery a glowing milestone.
My wife, Liz, will turn 50 next spring.
“Wow, time goes so fast anymore,” she said recently.
“Just wait,” I told her. “You haven’t hit warp speed yet.”
The theory of relativity showed the world that time is malleable. Time can speed up, slow down, vibrate and spiral back on itself.
I think most of us experience some version of that in our lives.
When we’re kids and want time to go faster, it meanders along at a numbing crawl.
And when we grow older and wish time might reverse itself, or at least slow down for a while, it shoots past us like a falling star flashing across the night sky into oblivion.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.