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Birthdays, Graduations and Other Celebrations:

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Well, it’s that time of year again. Yes, tomorrow is my birthday. For the 66th time we are going to celebrate my birthday. Then, in November, we are going to celebrate my wife’s birthday. In June, we celebrate the birth of our twin daughters who are fully adult. In fact, we are all adult. So, why do we continue to celebrate these things? After all, isn’t it all just for kids?

I have friends who are college graduates with under graduate and graduate degrees that range from BA’s to PhD’s and others in between. A few of them do not hang their diplomas on the wall. Others, like me, proudly display them for all to see. Isn’t that childish?

Perhaps you can see where I am going with this! In my opinion, as a therapist, mental health worker and human being, these things are not only not childish, but are actually extremely important. These celebrations are markers of achievements in our lives and the celebrations to recognize or remember these events help to reinforce to each of us our significance as unique individuals. Perhaps the most important celebration of all is the birthday because it demarcates our arrival on this earth.

Of course, perhaps the second most important celebration is the one that marks our deaths. The first anniversary of a death in a family is usually marked by some type of memorial service. Many cultures continue to mark that day by visiting the cemetery of the dearly departed family member.

Most families and cultures around the world have systematized sets of rituals designed to memorialize or celebrate these important dates. In some cases, these happen on a national level. Therefore, as Americans, we celebrate the birthdays of George Washington, one of the founders of our democracy, and Abraham Lincoln, the president who freed the slaves and pulled the union back together. We also celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his role in civil rights on behalf of African Americans and all Americans.

Families from all types of religious and ethnic backgrounds have ways of celebrating important events on a family level. For example, people of the Jewish faith have a variety of rituals that welcome newborns into the world. Later, they and other religions, have ceremonies that recognize the growth, development and maturity of the child. In the Catholic and various Christian religion rituals include such things as Baptism at birth( or during adulthood depending on the denomination), Confirmation, Receiving the Sacraments, Marriage, and, in the Jewish faith, Bar Mitzvah for boys of thirteen years of age and Bat Mitzvah for girls of the same age.

Other non religious ceremonies include College Graduation usually followed by some type of family dinner or festival, other types of graduations such as from Medical School, Law School, PhDs and etc.

By the way, in the Non Western World there are equivalent and interesting forms of ritual and celebratory types of practice.

That is why I never scoff at those who want to attend their graduations or other ceremonies. Some people want a big wedding when they marry, others want very small weddings and only a relatively few want no wedding part at all. In fact, there are some who live together without marrying. That is there right and there is nothing wrong with that.

However, celebration ceremonies, mourning ceremonies and everything in between is a world wide phenomenon that cuts across all national, religious, ethnic, racial and cultural lines. The practices may vary, but there is a fundamental human need to mark all of these occasions.

That is why tomorrow we will celebrate my birthday and, frankly, I plan on enjoying the occasion. In November, we will celebrate my wife’s birthday, and so on, as the year progresses.

My message to everyone is to enjoy your birthday and refrain from looking at the actual age. After all, regardless of how old you get, aging sure beats the alternative.

Your comments are welcome.

Dr. Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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