Carol Kaufmann

Writer, Editor, Etc.

Surprise! January 27, 2010

Filed under: Reader's Digest stories — carolkaufmann @ 9:56 pm

December birthdays are tough. Those of us who were born around the busiest, most anxiety-ridden and cash-strapped time of year know.  Everyone who has a December baby in their lives—and given that our conceptions took place in the Spring, this should be about everyone—may also have encountered this non-birthday phenomenon.

But if not, allow me to share. As a child, your BIG DAY comes amid the class holiday party so any recognition is shared with cupcakes with red and green icing. Winter vacation has already begun and many of your friends have “family plans” that prevent them from celebrating your day accordingly after school. High school and college only bring final exams, due theses, or the anxiety that goes with end-of-semester stress. Friends are busy cramming, too, or stuffing their laundry bags for home. Later, in the professional, post-college life, office colleagues focus on the potluck or finding a clever Secret Santa gift. Friends are caught up in the Christmas swirl of events, traveling home for the holidays, or if they’re very glamorous, the Caribbean.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

But from where I have sat for a good thirty-something years–on the calendar square of December 19—I’ve never understood what all the hoopla is about birthdays. Party hats? Streamers? A sugared sheet cake? Whatever! No, I never got it. Until this weekend.

After a tough year that brought my little nuclear family of four loss that we’ve never experienced–the loss of my dad, our jobs, and not to be overlooked, our health insurance,  my sweet husband threw a surprise party for me. A surprise, especially, because it occurred a few weeks before the actual date of a birthday that didn’t end in a five or zero. If he threw a party on the actual date six days before Christmas, he thought, our friends would be too soaked in eggnog, committed to making fruitcake, and unable to add anything else to the holiday plate. This, I thought, was genius.

The move was also brilliant because it gave me the one thing I most needed during a sorrowful time—a circle of friends, in person, at a small creperie on a Saturday night. To top it off, my best friend, who I hadn’t seen in way, way too long, got on a train on a frigid night and hightailed it down from New York. This memory—the sight of people I love around a messy dinner table with savory food, wine and conversation flowing will keep me going until my bad luck lifts. A gathering of old friends does everyone some good. I could see it in their faces.

You never know who you’ll touch by your effort. In this cold, harsh winter, surprising one who leasts expects it can change her—or his—entire outlook in ways you can’t imagine. So go ahead. You don’t really need an excuse. Surprise someone this season.

Especially if they were born in December.

First appeared on, December 9, 2008.


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