December Birthdays: A Curse, or an Unexpected Blessing?

Those who were born in late December are often met with well-meaning pity when they tell people their birth date. Isn’t it hard, they’re asked, to have your special day get lost in a marathon of major holidays?

The short answer is, often, yes. (Disclaimer: This story was written and edited by two people with late December birthdays, so we cannot claim to be entirely unbiased in this matter.)

“Having a late December birthday sucks,” said Kim Rosenberg, who turned 56 on Dec. 29. Birthday presents get lumped in with other holiday gifts. The weather is often terrible (in the northern hemisphere, at least). Many family and friends are out of town, and those who remain are often too exhausted from all the other celebrations to put in much effort for a birthday.

Ms. Rosenberg, who lives in Toronto, still remembers the year her stepmother refused to buy her a birthday cake because she felt the leftover Christmas cookies and other treats should suffice. “You didn’t even get me a $5 cake from the grocery store?” Ms. Rosenberg said.

Some anxious parents-to-be go so far as to ask about inducing delivery early to avoid holiday conflicts, said Dr. Tawana Coates, an obstetrician and gynecological surgeon in New Albany, Ind. She assures them that their worries, while well-intentioned, are not insurmountable. She speaks from experience: She gave birth to her own daughter as holiday music echoed through the hospital and snow piled up outside.

“She was 6 pounds, 6 ounces and it was negative 6 degrees when we got home,” Dr. Coates said.

Dr. Coates’s advice is to put in the extra effort to make a December birthday distinct. Through some trial and error, she learned to throw two parties for her daughter, Mars, who turned 11 this December: a large gathering earlier in the month, before her friends’ calendars fill up, and a smaller one on the actual day for family.

“You were born during a special time of the year when there’s lots of joyous things,” Dr. Coates told Mars, who has come to embrace the season: Her birthday party’s theme this year was “Christmas.”

Ms. Rosenberg, on the other hand, has worked to carve out her own joy separate from the holidays, with the help of a “found family” of friends who have stepped up to make her birthday special when relatives fell short. One year, they took her on a road trip through California — photographing old signs, discovering fun dive bars and staying at a (supposedly) haunted hotel.

December birthdays can also teach a kind of selflessness. RayShawn Payton-Kilgore, who turns 30 on Dec. 31, has only tried to throw two birthday parties in his lifetime. No one attended the first one, the year he turned 14; he remembers watching as his friends stopped across the street to pick up a neighbor and left to spend New Year’s Eve together elsewhere instead.

For years, he focused on finding contentment amid others’ end-of-year revelry. “That’s always been my gift to myself,” said Mr. Payton-Kilgore, an information technology business analyst in Louisville, Ky. “How can I make that day happy for everyone else?”

But last year, his therapist pushed him to actually celebrate himself for once. This time, his friends got on board, and they all went to a nice restaurant and saw a drag show.

“We had a ball,” Mr. Payton-Kilgore said.

This year, he has another reason to celebrate. He and his partner (whose birthday is also at the end of this month) had a baby boy on Dec. 2. Like many of Dr. Coates’s patients, they had hoped for a January delivery but, when their son came several weeks early, they were overjoyed all the same.

“I definitely want to make a point of making that day about him, to show him that he deserves to be selfish for a day,” Mr. Payton-Kilgore said. “It’s important to feel special.”