I did a silly/stupid thing yesterday. I saw a load of Facebook birthday greetings to my son’s girl-friend and I added my own, noting that I’d managed to get it in with less than three hours to spare before her birthday ended. Picture my consternation when she tactfully informed me her birthday had actually been the PREVIOUS day.Grrr, Doh and damn it to Hades.
Only then I began thinking about this habit of extending wishes to people. “Have a good day!’ the Yanks say; ‘Good luck!’ we tell people as we leave them; “Happy Birthday/Christmas/Easter/Halloween/Wedding Day’ - we shower others with our good wishes. ‘How commendable’ you may say. Indeed. Except it doesn’t make sense.
My wishing people a good day will have no effect on how that day works out for them, any more than my wishing Happy Birthday to my son’s girl-friend, even had I been on time, would make the experience of that day any different for her. I may tell my daughter ‘Safe journey’ before she embarks on a holiday to Cambodia, but my wishing her that won’t affect her safety one way or the other. Except you believe that some kind of karma is created and supports her plane until it lands in South-East Asia.
Maybe the custom is like another custom: shaking hands. Originally a way of showing you weren’t carrying a weapon: we've done it for so long, we’ve forgotten the original meaning. Now we use it just as a sign that we’re, well, friendly, open to the person we’re meeting.
And perhaps that’s what saying ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Happy Christmas’ is really about: it means ‘I like you and if I ran the universe, you would have a good time generally but particularly today”. When political adversaries of Gerry Adams retired or lost office, he always wished them well in their future. His wish wasn’t going to change anything; it was just a sign that he would be pleased, not peeved, if their future was a good one.
We pride ourselves on our rational, clear-headed approach to life, yet our days are shot through with illogical words and actions. What weird animals we are.