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As one gets older, birthday bashes become more important. A 40-something mother shares why she decided to stop bemoaning the passing of time. 

For many years (bar my 30th – where the happiest of happy birthday memories still linger – and a one-off birthday treasure hunt as a student), I have spent far too much time bemoaning the passing of time, insistent on ignoring the relevance of my birthday in some vague hope that time would become irrelevant, leaving me to live in peace without dastardly awful mile-markers making me feel like a shadow of my former self. Then I had a child, and my world turned on its head. Hello? What’s not to celebrate? Who cares how old I am? Who gives a flying jot what the damn year is? Let’s celebrate!

But how? I left my love of loud music, booze and late nights long ago. A dinner perhaps? Nope, been there; done that. And anyway, this year I was turning 40, something had to be different. A weekend away with fine friends and fine wine is what I decided on. I am a lover of fast and slick single track mountain bike trails and I have a mixture of hiking, kayaking, reading and sleeping-late friends, so I searched long and hard for a one-place-suits-all venue – and found it.

Everyone invited came, bar one friend who went into early labour and had to bail. We each had our own cottages and came together on Saturday evening for a birthday feast and then connected for child-friendly hikes or teenage-friendly mountaineering routes or lazy, mid-morning coffees. It was sheer bliss (despite me neglecting to organise a cake). My partner happens to be a French pastry chef who has outdone himself on the cake-making side of things on many previous occasions. This year, when I told him he was off the hook, he looked truly relieved. But then, my lovely friend Lynn arrived with four-year-old Rachel in tow whose sole focus was: “So where’s the cake people? You can’t have a birthday without a cake!” When we whipped out a half-eaten apple crumble from the fridge and sang Happy Birthday, she looked less-than-convinced but tucked into the makeshift cake, nevertheless. Lesson learnt!
On my actual birthday the following week, I drowned my mouse and headed off to the local spa for a day of treatments and indulgences – my perfect weekend away still fresh in my memory. It was there in the warmth of the steam room that I started wondering if I was alone in my birthday quest for something different? So I asked around and learnt of some novel celebratory ideas – so many, in fact, that I now have my birthday bashes sorted for many years to come.

Bashes to Avoid

After all the asking, there was one seemingly popular “party” that I will steer well clear of – the hiking party. To make this a success, you need to know your chain gang very well, as there will inevitably be a fire-lighting shirker, as well as the wet, cold and just plain pissed-off people. More than one person tells me of birthday hikes where the birthday boy charged ahead leaving the unfit and infirm to sit down and weep. There’s nothing worse than a mismatched bunch of hikers, half of whom have eaten and washed and are deep in sanctimonious slumber when the last of the frail and fragile friends finally makes camp. And unless you confine all your friendships to the local hiking club, this is going to happen, like it or not.

Bowling Green Birthday Bashes

So what else is there that’s novel and will have tongues wagging for years to come? One idea I’m definitely going to try out is the bowling green party. Picture it – clipped emerald-green grass, everyone wearing white frocks and white suits, knocking about with some balls before enjoying dirt cheap drinks at the bowling club bar. Plus there’s the two-birds-with-one-stone take on it – everyone gets to find out if bowling is something they want to take up in retirement.
Read more for ideas on birthday traditions for any age

Milestone Bashes

And then there are the milestone years that inevitably come with more considered celebrations. A friend tells me of someone in his life who turned 70. In the year leading up to the event he sat down and made a list of all the people that mattered to him. If they were in the same town he arranged to have lunch with them. If they weren’t, he sent them a letter detailing his appreciation for their role in his life. 
Another novel celebration is a 50th, where the birthday gent celebrated for 50 days prior to the day. He spent the time doing things he’d never got around to, from wine tasting to skydiving. The event ended with 50 selected guests gathering for the 50th birthday party. Since 50 is the new 40, I am already planning my own ‘50 days’. But in the meantime I think that next year I will make my birthday not about me. I get this inspiration from someone who invited guests to her birthday party held at a nearby children’s home. Everyone spent the day painting and fixing things. Instead of bringing the birthday girl gifts, the guests were asked to bring things that the children’s home really needed. 

Treasure Hunt Bashes

Then there’s the treasure-hunt birthday. This is a memory as rich and as vivid as if it happened yesterday. In my wayward student days, I awoke one morning to find a clue attached to my front gate: “Go to the corner store.” I did, but there was nothing there bar the bored old corner store owner. However, outside and nestled in the bough of a tree, way up high, I spied a piece of paper. I scrambled up and fell back down clutching my clue.
“Go to PEP stores and search through their entire blanket stock” was the gist of the second, not-so-cryptic clue. After some shameless rearrangement of the blanket piles, I headed towards another clue. And it led me to the empty garage of our digs. Could it be? Might my fellow cash-strapped students have found a way to be so generous? Nope, April Fool’s Day can be a nasty day to be born. Swept up in the frenzy of finding my treasure, I had forgotten the day. They gave me my “real gift” moments later, which for the life of me now goes unremembered. What I do recall is the treasure hunt and my memories of what wonderful friends these were. They had put so much thought and effort into making my birthday special.

Donna Cobban