Battle of the Birthday

Recently, I received a phone call from one of my oldest friends in a desperate state: “What is Julie’s* favorite color? Or her favorite drink? Does she own an umbrella?”
This friend of mine was not filling out a profile, but was suffering from the stressful condition Birthday Shopping-itis, a petrifying disease taking over our country. As a mutual confidant, I too became concerned: Iwas planning on making a cake, buying a card, and mustering up a loud but sincere birthday song.
Apparently, this is not a worthy gift.
After a 45-minute conversation and a trip to three different stores, an acceptable gift was purchased and carefully shoved into glittery gift-wrap. And the stress level was transferred to me, the friend without a “real” gift.
This dramatic phone call incited a frenzy of my own. So out I went to five nearby shops, assembling a comparable gift. Then I went home to make sure the cake was flawless, the apartment looked cleaner than it actually was, and that the card was funny but touching.
After each component was artfully prepared, my stress grew when I debated whether or not it was good enough. Will she just love this or give me a fake smile to mask her disappointment? Expectations for birthday gifts, witty glad-you-lived-another-year cards, and tasty birthday treats are so high that, to some people, flaws can lead to a bad birthday. Or, for true birthday Nazis, question the strength of a friendship.

One of these two women firmly believes that she should be treated like a princess for the entire week of her birthday. It takes a lot of fun out of the celebration, and this seems to be a growing trend in the birthday realm. Between party stores and large, birthday themed sections in every grocery store, people take these events very seriously.
Unfortunately, this royal treatment is becoming more standard than unusual. With shows like My Super Sweet 16, newer generations are convinced that birthdays are times to be worshipped, not to enjoy some sweets and good company. But by the time the party finishes, the gift wrapping is strewn on the floor, and the cake pan is covered in broken crumbs and hardened frosting, did everyone have a good time?
In 2008, CNNbrought attention to a mother who spent $10,000 on a birthday party for her 3-year-old child. I’ll refrain from calculating how many ambiguous charity items could be donated to a non-descript country, but it is ludicrous to spend this amount on such an event. This much stress on the ideal birthday creates Dudley Dursley-like children, counting presents and crying if the cake isn’t perfect.
I can appreciate what these events do for our broken economy, but not what it often does to our relationships. I love this friend very much, but rather than enjoy the celebration of her life, I spend more time resenting her ostentatious desires.
In a country known for its obese population, you’d think a good cake would be enough.
*Name changed for obvious reasons