The Good, Bad and Ugh Factor of Sharing the Spotlight with the Holidays

Merry birthday.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Carol Wolper
  • Illustrated by
    Yuiko Sugino

“Having a Christmas birthday is like playing the lounge in Vegas while Sinatra is singing in the  main room.” Jack Nicholson told that me years ago when I was at his house for a holiday gathering and my birthday came up in conversation. The line stuck with me because it’s the perfect description of what it’s like to have a birthday on the biggest holiday of the year.

There’s no way to compete with the season’s star attraction, be that Santa or Jesus. No one wants to watch you blow out candles when more interesting things are going on—from Lakers basketball to dinners with all that rich food you are usually too disciplined to eat to watching the plethora of Oscar hopefuls released that time of year. 

My birthday is actually Christmas Eve, which is slightly better than being born on the 25th. But as a child, I still felt cheated. For me, the combo birthday/Christmas present was an early lesson in the adage that timing is everything.

Eventually I came to see the upside of my holiday birthday. Learning at an early age that it’s not all about you is good training for emotional health. It slams the brakes on any narcissism you might develop. Plus, a Christmas birthday is liberating. No pressure to celebrate. No pressure on friends to organize a celebration.

Still, birthdays do demand some attention. It’s important to indulge in at least one activity that makes you feel special. Rituals matter. Go for the perfectly chilled martini instead of the glass of pinot grigio. Go on an online shopping splurge, buying the ankle boots you love without waiting for the sale. Order takeout from your favorite Mexican restaurant. El Cholo? Casa Vega? 

If you have a friend or family member with a holiday birthday, here’s the good news. Since it’s such a busy time of year, you’ll get points for remembering to extend your good wishes. The downside is you don’t get a lot of wiggle room. No one will believe you forgot your friend’s holiday birthday, because once you hear someone was born on Christmas you don’t forget it. 

I have friends with other holiday birthdays who share my sentiments. Not easy for those born on the 4th of July, or worse, January 1, which might be the worst birthday of all. On the 4th, you have to compete with the beach and fireworks. On the 1st, you’re competing with hangovers.

One problem that came with my Christmas birthday still persists—my name, Carol, given to me for obvious reasons. If I’d only been born two weeks earlier or later, I might have escaped that name. But then I might never have learned the upside of, as Jack put it, “playing the lounge.”

Carol Wolper is the author of the best-selling novel The Cigarette Girl, and a screenwriter. She’s currently working on a memoir about the art and challenges of being a writer in Hollywood.