David Hegg: Why do we celebrate birthdays?

David Hegg
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. "Ethically Speaking" runs Saturdays in The Signal.

Those close to me know I can be a bit of a smart aleck. Yes, it’s true, and I admit it, and at times, find it just too much fun to give up.

One of my favorite comments is to remind those celebrating birthdays they really aren’t celebrating their birthday, but only a particular anniversary of their actual birthday.

Yes, I know … only a strange person would try to undermine another’s celebration with such a stupid comment.

But that brings up a very real question. Why do we celebrate birthdays, anyway? Why do we make a fuss about someone on the anniversary of his or her birth (had to sneak that in)?

Why is it a great achievement to have muddled through yet another year?

As you might guess, this weekend marks the 61st anniversary of the day on which I was born. Given that, my present to myself is a simple explanation of why every society – as far as I know – takes time to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. I can come up with five reasons, but I’m sure there are more.

First, life is an amazing miracle and worthy of celebration. Consider how something alive comes to be. From the joining of two microscopic organisms, coming from two different people, of two different genders, emerges a fully-formed human being.

Conception occurs, and then, in only nine months, a process takes place in which the complexity of both eyes is fully achieved, organs take shape, intellect, emotion, will, and a host of other capacities unique in creation are fully formed, and then … wham! … they all start working at just the right moment to bring about physical life and an immaterial consciousness.

And it continues, in most cases, for years and years.

Second, the whole birthing event itself is the result of an incredible process. Mom provide everything her conceived child needs, sacrificing her own interests, energy, shape and emotional control to enhance her baby’s life.

And then comes the birthing ordeal itself. Talk to any mom and she will tell you the process of bringing another life into this world is both the greatest horror and the greatest honor she has ever had.

Yet she perseveres through the pain knowing this whole delivery is a privilege given uniquely to the feminine wing of humanity. When you think of all that moms do in giving birth, maybe we should be celebrating them on their children’s birthdays!

Third, as the Psalmist tells us in Psalm 127, “Children are a gift from the Lord.” And while too many in our day disagree, it doesn’t change the truth.

Though I have no research to back this up, I’m going out on a sturdy limb to say well over 90 percent of new mothers are incredibly thankful for the newborns they hold in their arms. We celebrate birthdays because the children God has “gifted” to us are truly precious.

Fourth, with all life challenges in this broken world, growing older is a big deal. Successful maturity physically, emotionally, intellectually and especially spiritually is what every parent prays for for his or her child.

Face it, when a child is given to us we start holding our breath, realizing the great risks every day will bring to our precious son or daughter. We have high hopes, and deep fears, and every year marks another milestone in that precious child’s life journey … and that’s worth celebrating.

Lastly, each person is an indescribably complex and unique bundle of genes, cells and physical systems. Each child is also endowed with immaterial traits, ideas, human consciousness, a soul, and his or her own abilities and potential.

Each life is its own signature piece of engineering genius, and in celebrating the person, we also pause to celebrate the Engineer. We celebrate the miracle of life, growth, and the exceptional nature of humanity.

We celebrate birthdays because, regardless of our culture’s advancing drift toward the devaluation of pregnancy, birth, and life, deep down in our spiritual DNA we know life is sacred.

That’s why we cry tears of joy in the birthing rooms, and tears of sadness at the cemetery. Life is precious, and precarious, and we must stop thinking of it as a commodity to be treated selfishly.

So let’s celebrate birthdays, as well as the lives of all who continue to walk the journey of life with us. And let’s protect the realities that have come together to produce our families, our neighborhoods, our city, and our world.

Life is a gift we share, and we are morally bound to protect it together.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find the surprise party I’m sure is planned to celebrate this latest anniversary of my birth.


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