Birthday celebrations are events that take place daily and in all corners of the globe. This time-long tradition has a rich history behind it, beginning with the Egyptians of more than 3000BC who would be celebrating the birth of a new pharaoh.
A few hundred years later came the Greeks of ancient times who would offer up moon-shaped cakes adorned with lit candles to honour their deities.
With the Romans who followed came some of the practices that have survived the centuries. They would hold lavish parties where they would shower the birthday boy with gifts, thus starting the tradition of birthday presents.
Centuries later, birthdays became commonplace both for men and women, pretty much all around the world and another adornment to the birthday event came in the form of the birthday cake, the icing-topped colourful cakes that we celebrate with today.
We must thank the Germans from the late 18th century for that as they would hold Kinder Feste parties which closely resembled birthday parties as we know and love them today. Each child would be given a cake with a candle on the top for each year of their life.
The world kept silent
Now what birthday would be complete without the traditional birthday song? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the ‘Happy Birthday To You’ song is the most recognisable song in the English language.
It is said that in 1893, two schoolteachers from Kentucky wrote the song ‘Good Morning To All’ with that very familiar tune, a tune whose words were later modified to the birthday song as we know it today.
So, when last week rolled around, as a November baby, my birthday was marked on the calendar for my daughter who unbeknown to me had been planning a lavish surprise party and calling members of the family to join in to celebrate my special day. In past years we always did have the cakes, candles and gifts that came with the occasion.
My wife let it slip that I should not make any plans for that day as my daughter was planning something special. That is when I told her to call my daughter back and cancel the event. I explained to my wife that I was in no mood to celebrate.
It was a time when I was looking through the glass darkly. How could I contemplate any form of celebration after reading the tragic story of Um Hamza, a Palestinian woman in Gaza who only a few days ago had to pull the burnt and mangled bodies of her two young girls, ages 5 and 7 from under the rubble when Israeli bombs exploded by their homes. These children were just starting their lives when it was so quickly and meaninglessly snuffed away.
How could I celebrate any occasion when I read of the hospitals that had been denied basic services, an action that led to the deaths of many patients badly in need of urgent medical care?
How could I even think of eating a cake when I hear of babies left to suffocate in their incubators, or when a hospital was bombed into oblivion by Israeli aircraft under the pretext that Hamas was hiding there while the world kept silent.
Alleviating a little pain
And what about the 76 year old grandfather, who had reportedly built his home brick by brick to shelter his growing family only to watch it reduced to rubble in this conflict?
So many such tragic real events that will never make the front headlines of the Western media, but the reality lies in the innocent blood that flows on the streets and alleys of Gaza.
Indeed, there has been no mood for any form of celebration while this unwarranted and collective punishment against the hapless civilians of Palestine continues. As of this writing, more than 4000 Palestinian children have been targeted and killed, and the toll is rising. Women have not been spared either.
Where have morality and humanity been swept under? What have we as inhabitants of one planet evolved into? No, no celebration for me.
Instead, I called up my daughter just before my birthday and asked her and all those who had planned to participate in the birthday event to spend whatever money that would have gone towards my party on donations to the Gaza humanitarian fund.
Just knowing that this simple request may help alleviate a little pain of a Gaza victim is celebration enough for me.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena