When it comes to celebrating my birthday, I have long since given up on the concept of holding parties and making any kind of big deal about it. That's why my last proper birthday party was when I turned 18, twenty-two years ago.
And, every year since then, I started setting lower expectations on my birthday due to a variety of reasons. If you've ever spent a birthday when literally no one greeted you on the day and/or you associate your birthday week with a lousy break-up and/or you have memories of physical assault/verbal abuse by someone close to you on your birthday and/or some of your previous birthday parties have been plagued with semi-disasters (blackouts, getting sick, etc) - then, you'll know some of my 'whys'. 😉
On my 38th birthday, though, I decided to break that birthday hang-up. I decided to do an online virtual party - doing a fundraiser. And, I loved it. From that year on, I wanted to enjoy my birthday without stress or guilt.
That's why that year - 2012 - apart from the fundraiser/virtual party, I also ended up having an extended stay in San Francisco, after a work trip.
And, last year, the hubby planned a special family weekend trip to the Barossa Valley to celebrate my birthday weekend. Plus, there was also a special birthday dinner/dessert with a couple of friends.
This year, being a milestone year, I wanted to do something special. A party seemed like a great idea. But, with family and good friends scattered all over the globe and only a handful of really good friends in Adelaide, I wasn't sure if partying was the right thing to do. Plus, as I said, I wasn't sure if my bad streak in birthday parties would continue on or not. I know, I know... It's a crazy phobia. But, if there is such a thing as BirthdayPartyPhobia*, I definitely suffer from it.
I mean - other people's birthday parties are fine. But, my own? They terrify me.
So, I told hubby a few years ago that my wish for my fortieth was just to check-off a couple more items on my bucket list. Perhaps, go back to Europe and visit another country that I've been wanting to visit.
We were looking at our options and were considering an extended European family trip. But, the logistics were too difficult and the expenses were a bit too much at this time of our life. So, the hubby just encouraged me to find a European tour that I can just join on my own.
I wasn't too sure if a solo European tour with a group of strangers was my idea of a great birthday celebration. I mean, I know I'd love to travel again, but would I enjoy it without my husband and kids? I know going on business trips without my family are bad enough sometimes. But, a proper holiday without them?
Anyway, the one tour I would have considered - an art tour to Italy with the local art group I am affiliated with - was fully booked anyway. So, I wasn't sure where else to look for a similar one.
But, as luck would have it, a spot opened up in that tour. So, in-between crowdsourcing the European Tour vs Big Birthday Party idea on Facebook and Twitter (Trip got the most votes) + "What decade would make a great theme for a 40th birthday party?" (Votes were divided, but I believe 1920s won) - and talking it all through with my husband and kids - the Tour won. And, so, I grabbed the spot at Splashout Studio's 2014 Italy Art Tour.
With that booked and finalised, I was already pleased that my 40th celebrations are well taken care of. Never mind that the tour doesn't happen until a couple of months after my official birthday. I figured, I still have something to look forward to, so I'm happy to have just a quiet celebration with my family on the day.
However, two weeks before my birthday, the hubby announced: "I've booked a place for your 40th party! And, it's going to be a 1920s one." We had less than two weeks to invite people and to organise the whole thing.
Needless to say, I was stressed. I had all sorts of crazy thoughts in my head: What if the whole idea of a 1920s-themed party is a flop? Can I even get a nice 1920s dress in the time that we had? What if 12 days wasn't enough to put together a 40th birthday party? And worst of all: What if no one comes to the party?
Yes, I can strategise and deal with work and business issues with a clear head. Heck, I can even design and sew a birthday costume for my daughter in less than 48 hours even though I'm not a dressmaker. But, give me my own birthday party to plan and I become a messy puddle.
So, given my limited time and resources, I sent out the birthday invites the quickest way I know how: Through a Facebook Event Page. And, by email and/or Twitter DMs and/or Yammer, for people who are not my Facebook contacts list. I invited anyone and everyone I can think of in my list. Not because I wanted the biggest, fanciest party ever.
I decided on this approach because I wanted to extend a hand of friendship to people who are connected with me one way or another, even though our relationship may be mostly categorised as 'online friends' or 'colleagues'/'ex-colleagues' or 'acquaintances'. I figured, it's one way for me to know as well who would be great to nurture as better friends in the coming years. And no, not just based on people who came/didn't come - but even on how people responded when they realised that they couldn't make it for one reason or another.
And, sure enough, even though there were some disappointments along the way, I was amazed with the hands of friendship that were extended in return.
There's a good friend of mine who was celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary that evening, but her and her husband still came to the party. Another good friend from Melbourne who I met online many years ago attended the party with her mum during her family weekend visit to Adelaide. Another good friend who's been out and about and busy attending functions that weekend still came to the party, albeit briefly, with her young kids in tow. A couple of good online friends over the last few years whom I've never met in person showed up. Some of hubby's colleagues at the Uni also showed up with their partners (they're some of the first people I've met and gotten to know in Adelaide) - with one couple leaving their baby with sitters only for the third or fourth time since becoming parents; another couple showing up at the party straight from a long day at the office; another couple joined the party a bit later after watching the Rocky Horror Show...
There were many other similar stories from the guests, and I can't help but feel grateful for them taking the time to celebrate with me. After all, in our very busy lives, it's so much easier to come up with excuses on why we can't make time for other people and/or for different things that clog our calendars.
That's why given the limited notice, the Friday night schedule, and everything else - I consider my guests' attendance at the party already a wonderful 40th birthday gift.
In fact, hubby and I were even joking that the good thing about holding my party at the bar at Hotel Richmond is that if no one showed up, we can pretend that the folks at the bar are my guests. And, with a live band already playing, we can just enjoy the atmosphere, eat all the food, and drink like silly.
Thankfully, 25+ friends, colleagues/ex-colleagues, acquaintances, online buddies, and other contacts were happy to come and celebrate with me. And, save for a handful of folks, most of the party guests got all dressed up in 1920s-style finery. It was wonderful to see!
I couldn't get over how gorgeous everyone looked. The men looked dapper in their suits and hats. The women looked fancy in flapper dresses and accessories. Made me wonder why I've never held or attended a party like this before. Seriously. Seeing everyone in their 1920s gear and/or simply adorned in lovely clothes made it worth whatever price we had to pay for that party. Really loved it.
I mean, just look at these:
Even those who 'came as they are' looked lovely:
Since we didn't have an official photographer, and both hubby and I were busy talking and entertaining our guests, I realised afterwards that we didn't have pics of everyone who were there at the party. Ack. I'm not sure if they got captured in other people's cameras, but I couldn't find them in ours.
Anyway, in spite everyone looking fabulous for the party, the event didn't really last all night long. It started at 7pm and by 10pm, only a handful of guests remained. Everyone left around 11.30pm. And, hubby and I were home just after midnight. Probably just as well, as our babysitter for the evening was hoping to head home herself by then.
I guess it's another proof that I really am getting old. No crazy parties that last 'til the wee hours of the morning for this aging woman. 😉
Apart from people simply showing up - and getting all 1920s fancy for the birthday party - some other highlights for me include:
Here are some more scenes from the party (thanks to hubby, who did his best to capture the events on camera; also thanks to Jasmin for taking some pics and sending them over + also Tim for a photo he took; will be sharing more pics if others share their pics from the party).
To see the full set of photos, visit Shai's 40th Birthday: 1920s Fancy Dress Cocktail Party album.
Thanks again to everyone who helped me to celebrate my milestone birthday. And, thanks also to those who took the time to write, greet, send messages, and more. I really appreciate you.
* BirthdayPartyPhobia - Apparently, there is a similar thing called Fragapane Phobia (didn't hear of this when I was doing my psych degrees!).
Shai has been managing and blogging here at ShaiCoggins.com for 17 years. Here, she writes about creativity, productivity, and how to recharge for a better, happier lifestyle. She is the author of Today: Life Journal, Colour Bliss: Kaleidoscopes, and a little known children's book. A serial entrepreneur, Shai also currently runs Vervely.com, a boutique digital media agency offering online content, community, and conversion marketing services. Her blogging experience and digital work have been featured in various media, including being listed in Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology" list. Originally from Manila, Shai lived in Singapore and the USA before moving to Australia with her British husband. They have two children, a pet bunny, and a rambunctious rescue Labrador.