Having a Monday birthday is not the most fun.

Especially when you plan a party for the following weekend, but just before you send out the invitation to your classmates, you learn that a group of people in your program (not your class) have already scheduled a Halloween party for the same day and forgotten to invite you (there doesn’t appear to have been malice–once word got back that they’d left me out, they…let me in).

This is the latest and most egregious in a long succession of transgressions that Halloween has made on my birthday festivities. I had been planning my 26th birthday for THREE YEARS (it is not a coincidence that this is the amount of time that elapsed between my discovery of Georgian food and my first birthday in a city that has Georgian restaurants).

“Are we being mirthful yet?” “…Yes.”

So I guess Georgian food will happen next weekend. Two weeks after my birthday, but it’s never too late for wine and cheese bread.

Incidentally, the cafe that is responsible for taking ALL of my money is upstairs from the Georgian restaurant. Every time I go there, I pass by the back room of the restaurant, where the cooks hang out and smoke hookah on breaks. Sometimes they have snacks. I wonder what would happen if I were to go join them? The stairwell smells alternately like heavenly Georgian stews and mushroom pizza.

Anyway. Birthday. You know that awful feeling of agonizing over the appropriate gift for someone that you don’t know very well? Even if you’re not super close, there’s still all that pressure to find the perfect thing. In Russia, not so. Hostess gifts and any kind of gift for someone you’re not very close to are pretty much always chocolate. I love that this has been ritualized: it saves the giver from the pressure of trying to think of The Perfect Gift and the recipient from having to act like they’ve received The Perfect Gift when everyone knows that’s unlikely to have happened.

Everyone needs chocolate, because (a) you have to keep sweet things around to serve to unexpected guests, and (b) chocolate. You still have some freedom to choose something that you think they’ll like. If you hit the nail on the head, then great. If you don’t, then at least they aren’t going to have some stupid candle or decorative plate sitting on their mantle, or a tea towel that they keep in a drawer and pull out every time you come to visit. No pressure. Easy for everyone. Smiles all around.

In my mom’s circle of friends, cocktail napkins serve this purpose. Ubiquitous, able to be personalized, but ultimately low-risk. If I tried to give cocktail napkins to anyone in my circles, I would be institutionalized. Bread is a safer bet. So what if you don’t know whether the birthday person is a cocktail napkin person or a bread person or a bird-feeder person or what have you? Chocolate, that’s what.

The other Russian birthday tradition (one with which I’m slightly less on board) is e-cards. I know, we have e-cards too, but we also use regular mail. Russians do not use mail, because, well, would you trust the Pochta Rossii with literally anything? Of course not. So they send little pictures of kittens and teddy bears and flowers, accompanied by elaborate wishes for an unreasonable amount of good fortune.

Example:

Happy birthday! I wish that your soul will be full of love and joy!

Katja the Dark is a master of toasting and birthday wishes. Here’s what she had to say this year: “Ahhhhhhh my dear Kate! Happy birthday to you! May all of your dreams come true! Joy in every cell of your body! Love! Joy! Kindness! Success in all your undertakings! I’m very glad that we met! 🌷🎉🎊💋 Come and visit as soon as you can! I’m waiting!”

How can any other birthday greeting ever measure up to that? `

Well, this one, from Sveta’s sister (who lives around the corner and brought me chocolate–so it wasn’t totally random) tried pretty hard–so much so that I recorded it for you (sorry for the aimless clicking where I couldn’t figure anything out):

The poem says,

Happy birthday! 

This day, happy day

Happens once a year.

It gives smiles, laughter

and the command

to be healthy and happy, to live long

To be happy and beautiful and loved!

Russian birthdays are exhausting. So many emotions and superlatives. Thank God there’s plenty of chocolate for a pick-me-up.

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