When I was very young (around the age of 5 or whenever the hell it is you start having actual memories), I liked my December birthday. It’s Christmas Eve. Being close to a holiday that my siblings and friends were excited about made me feel special. My Mom used to jokingly call me ‘Kyle Christmas’ (my middle name is actually Christopher) and say that I was the best Christmas present she ever got (I think that’s still true…).
As I got older, I started to like it less and less. I was an awkward kid and I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. That didn’t change until late middle school, early high school. So, throwing a party during the time of year where everybody goes out of town for the holidays is a bummer. I’d have to have a party two weeks prior to get anyone to attend. It took the death of someone I loved to give me my ‘It’s A Wonderful Life Moment’ appreciation for the birthday I always hated…
My ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ Moment And How It Changed My Life
Sometimes, it would work out and it’d be pretty sweet. Like my 9th birthday where my friends and I went to a Raleigh Icecaps (now Augusta Lynx) game and racked up over 100 penalty minutes against the Richmond Renegades. The Icecaps lost, but we got birthday cake, so we won.
But, most of the time, it’d be like three or four friends and a relatively small affair. In fourth grade, I had three people show up. I got a purple Alonzo Mourning (ZO!) Hornets jersey, though, so it wasn’t a total loss. Most years, it was kind of a bummer. Plus, anyone not my parents did the whole “Here’s your combined birthday and Christmas gift” that anyone with a birthday remotely close to Christmas could tell you about. Or my parents would give me the option of opening my presents on my “party” day or actual birthday, I’d open them earlier because I’m a kid and too curious for my own good and then I’d hate myself for spoiling my own surprise. I started hating my sister because her birthday is in the middle of June, the furthest possible distance from Christmas. Stupid Heather and her dumb birthday.
That changed 11 years ago. By that time, we had established family traditions that had been running for many years: Brunch at some neighbor’s (or we hosted) on Christmas Eve, midday Mass (because I like getting my responsibilities done first and then relaxing), a birthday dinner of my choosing, cake, Die Hard (it’s a Christmas movie to me, damn it), It’s a Wonderful Life, reading the Polar Express, my siblings and I all sleeping in the same room. But, that year was different because my grandfather (‘Papa’, as I called him, my Mom’s dad) passed away on December 7th.
I was really close to him. I felt like we were very similar. Nerdy, full of random facts, extremely loyal to family and friends, students of history. He took me to a lunch, just him and I, the year before he died after my sister’s high school graduation and told me my mom’s family’s history. His passing was tough on me. I didn’t even go to his funeral because it was too difficult to deal with. He and my Nana (his wife, my Mom’s mother) would always call me the morning of my birthday to say happy birthday. It was strange not hearing his voice that morning. It was that birthday, my 21st, that my birthday changed in meaning.
It was less about what I didn’t get to do and/or get and more about what I had. Like George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life” (my second most watched movie behind ‘A League of Their Own’, thanks Mom), it took loss for me to appreciate what I had in my life (but unlike George Bailey, I didn’t owe a ton of money with the police after me). It was the first time I thought differently of my birthday. It was a time to share with my family and friends. Even though I spent six years in Los Angeles, every year I came home for my birthday and Christmas.
So, I guess my birthday being close to Christmas makes it different. And I’m glad it is.