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The far away birthday

A few days ago I had my 7th birthday here in Australia. I’ve celebrated countless birthdays away from what once was my home and I’ve noticed some interesting themes come up. You see, birthdays are some of the most powerful reminders in the world. Of how old we are and at the same time a reminder of the things we have done (or not done) to get to this age. Watching others grow older around us can also be a powerful reminder of where we are at and give us a kick up the bum to get moving on things. It’s also a powerful reminder of who we celebrate it with, who we miss and how much attention we prefer during this celebration.

After many years as an expat I’ve noticed three distinct ways in which people tend to celebrate their far away birthday and I’ve also done some thinking around why this is. Who knows, maybe this resonates with you as well?

Celebration number 1: The Reunion. This is often a ‘big birthday’ as in someone turning 30, 50 or similar. Often this also get’s bundled together with another family members birthday and often celebrated with a big party and/or a big trip. If you live really far away from your family or friends you’re looking to celebrate with, you might meet up somewhere roughly in the middle for a fun holiday with a suitable celebration to follow. Or they might choose to come all the way to see you. The upside of this is that your family and friends rally together and unite to have fun together. I’ve enjoyed a few of these myself and it’s been lots of fun to create new beautiful memories together whilst celebrating. The downside is that people don’t often change much between the times you see them (surprise!) and every now and then old stuff that might have bothered you in the past around certain people comes back up again. Unless the old thing (whatever that is for you) is not dealt with, it’s likely to make an appearance whether it’s party time or not. And in case you wondered – pretending that it’s not there usually just makes it worse.

Celebration number 2: The Silent One. I’ve had a few of these as well. Where you had plenty of time to plan something fun or special, but chose not to. Whether you’re spending it alone or a very selected few people, this birthday tends to be more reflective and quiet. Sometimes maybe a bit of tears or sadness can come up as well, depending on what’s going on in your life around that time. The reflection can also turn unto homesickness for the people you might miss more than you like to admit. The upside of this type for celebration is that it’s usually very grounded and allows you to think and plan for the year ahead and how you might want to plan your next birthday a bit differently around those people you missed this time. It also allows for gratitude of creating space and time for you. The downside is that you might get stuck in sad and/or reflective mode and have one of those birthdays that a few years down the track you’d really like to forget. The lonely birthday pity party is not a great place to be for most of us.

Celebration number 3: The Epic One. It’s not all about volume, but this celebration tends to be loud in every possible aspect. Big party or gesture, lots of people, big investment of time and possibly money to create a ‘big bang’ kind of celebration. I’m sure most of us have had these in some way and they can be so much fun (maybe not for my more introvert readers, but you understand what I mean). The upside of a celebration like this (if you don’t mind the volume and attention) is that it’s most likely going to be the night to remember. All humans need to ‘blow off some steam’ sometimes and this can be a very healthy and playful outlet for this. Quite possibly this is the one birthday you remember when you’re 90 years old and looking back at your favourite birthday. The downside of the epic one can be a few. You might be compensating the fact that you’re really missing some loved ones by turning the volume up. Distractions can be great, but if it starts bordering on denial it can turn downhill pretty quickly. If you’re feeling a tad emotional to start with you’ll really want to avoid the biggest potential downside of this celebration – the crash and burn where you collapse, drink to much, start crying uncontrollably or simply lock yourself in the bathroom to be alone.

All these three have happened for me in different ways through the years and it’s sometimes been a bit of a mix between them as well. I sometimes find as an expat that it’s often a bit like emotions on steroids and milestones such as birthdays can really lift us or sink us depending on our mindset as well as the people we have around us.

Just in case you’re wondering, I had a very nice and quiet celebration 2 this year around my closest expat crew here in Australia, whilst thinking a lot about my loved ones back in Sweden. This year I chose to focus on gratitude, but in previous years I’ve sometimes done the pity party and realised quickly that it’s possibly the least fun celebration out of all the ones I’ve listed.

Now I’m curious – what celebration is your favourite and what’s been your most memorable birthday ever?

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