Winnie the Pooh’s tip for celebrating birthdays

Is there a Jewish way to mark the occasion? The ever-green children's character might have the answer



I’ve noticed that people approach birthdays differently.

We all know people who go wild and others who sink into depression at the very mention of birthdays. The existential psychiatrist Irvin Yalom suggests this reaction stems from the patent reminder of the inexorable passage of time and the fear of our mortality.

The oddest one I’ve come across was a rabbi who would always cry on his birthday, not because he was sad to be a year older, but because he was thinking of the pain he’d caused his mother when she gave birth to him!

I’ve been asked if Judaism has a view on celebrating birthdays. I remembered the biblical story of Joseph. He was in an Egyptian prison on a false charge, together with Pharaoh’s wine waiter and his chief baker.

On Pharaoh’s birthday, he expressed his gratitude by freeing the waiter and giving him his job back. It seems that in ancient times people gave gifts on their birthdays rather than receiving them!

Recently, I discovered that I share a birthday with the children’s author A A Milne. When I was a child, I loved Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin and Piglet.

Although they’re mostly fun stories, there are some wonderful ideas underlying what appears to be mere childish innocence. A favourite thought touches on my birthday theme: “Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.”

Being grateful to God, to one’s family and friends for the many blessings of life is a great way to spend a birthday and helps dissipate the anxiety of another milestone.

Gratitude nurtures our souls, helps us to focus on what we have rather than what we want and brings us closer to God, the ultimate source of good. The early rabbis captured this with a clever question. “Who is rich?’ they ask. The answer? “Those who rejoice in what they have.”

A birthday is a chance to reflect on health, family, friends, opportunities and becoming better at seeing the glass of life half full. None of us can know what the future holds but being thankful for today is a great start.

In the words of the immortal Pooh Bear, “What day is it?”

“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.

“My favourite day,” said Pooh.

Excerpted from A Point In Time – Reflections Through The Year, a collection of pieces inspired by Rabbi Belovski’s radio broadcasts.. Available via Amazon £7.99 or in Kindle £3.99

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