Judge John Hodgman on Birthday Traditions

Abigail writes: During birthdays, my mother makes everyone say nice things about the birthday honoree. I am one of four kids, all with small children. In the middle of feeding toddlers and crying babies, our mother insists on a Meaningful Family Moment. But we feel we can decide if, when and how to say nice things to one another.

I’m glad your mom taught you to express sincere gratitude for one another and not just slam birthday cake and get sick in the bouncy house. But you’re adults now. When she tries this on your next birthday, remind her that forcing grown-ups to take turns heaping performative praise on a single human only happens in cults (and some presidential administrations). Save this ritual instead for your kids, who will benefit from models of open expression of love (and like all children, enjoy the trappings of dictatorship).

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