Editorial 02/17/23: Birthdays and the Happy Birthday Song
Why do people feel the sudden need to bust into song when they discover that today is your birthday? Is there some primal and powerful need to serenade a person once they reveal that they were born today? As someone whose birthday is today, please refrain. I am not Nick Carroway: I know that today is my birthday. In fact, I like wearing cute little “It’s My Birthday” pins. My parents and I have figured out the best way to spend my birthday. My mom makes chocolate cake and pizza. Then, we pick a day, and I go shopping. We sing “Happy Birthday” with the candles lit, I take a picture, then blow out the candles with a wish secure in my head.
Also, as someone who celebrates after Valentine’s Day, I am always excited to go shopping and get some discount stuff from stores. Behind Halloween and Christmas, this is why Valentine’s Day is very special. As an Apple Music subscriber since 2018, I have my *own* tunes for my big day. The playlist consists of my favorite songs of the last twelve months because my taste will change drastically from year to year.
This piece may sound like it’s anti-“Happy Birthday” song, and that is partly intentional. Outside of close friends and family, I will hide on my birthday to avoid hearing someone sing about it. Sometimes I purposely neglect to tell people that it is my day in order to avoid the song. The best way to describe how I feel is to explain that any time I reveal that today is my birthday, I feel like I am being hunted, then captured, and forced to hear people sing the song. And there is nothing to do when people sing it to me! I would prefer it if people just sent me the link to one of those “It's Your Birthday Today… (your name)” videos. The YouTuber “EpicHappyBirthdays” has almost every name possible, and receiving one of those videos is an immediate day brightener.
The “Happy Birthday” song can be the most torturous thing on a birthday. It is especially torturous for those receiving the song, particularly when we must go through it before cutting the cake. Why must we always make people wait to cut the cake? I am old enough that I already have a backlog of wishes and no longer need the full song to blow out my candles. As someone being forced to sing it, it feels like someone keeps adding verses. How long is this song? (Oh, right, it depends on the speed.) If the intended effect is clearly to be funny, then sometimes the song can be stomached.
Clarification feels necessary: the song is usually sung with no emotion, and the droning is what makes the song painful.
The framework of the “Happy Birthday” song is also problematic. For those non-musical, hold tight. The song has an octave jump, which means the note you start on is seven notes lower that the highest note. That is the equivalent of trying to walk up four steps in Old Main at the same time, for people that do not usually sing. So what can a person that is fighting the mightiest of urges to not sing “Happy Birthday” to someone? Make a card.
Things last longer if they are written down. So… make a card. If you do not want to make a card, buy one! Print one off of the internet! No ideas? There is a Pinterest board waiting for your viewership. Even an elaborately decorated sticky note is better than the dread-inducing “HAAAPPPYY BIIRRTHHDAAY.”
Birthdays happen, and — yes — they should be celebrated. However, let the person whose big day it is dictate what they want. Even if they have been fine with singing in the past, just make sure. People’s preferences change. Do not ridicule a person for their choice, because, as Lesley Gore says, “It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to.”