I live in a town that is small enough to always run into someone you know but not so small you know everyone you run into. It’s a handy way to catch up with friends I used to see regularly at school events. Nowadays I rely on chats over a shopping trolley at the grocery store.
My youngest will be celebrating her 21st birthday in January. We’re already organising invites as the summer weekends will fill quickly with other 21st celebrations. When my son turned 21 there were eight other parties within weeks of each other.
In New Zealand your 21st birthday is a big deal. Not because you can drink like in the US (the drinking age here is 18), but as an opportunity to recognise an important transition point in young people’s lives.
Growing up in a small town is filled with mixed blessings. Kids are surrounded by adults who love and care about them like second parents. Birthdays, school assemblies, performances, camping at the beach and sports days, we’re there, cheering them on. We’re also there as they navigate their way to adulthood; from temper tantrums and negotiating friendships to first loves, alcohol and possibly drugs. While it’s a supportive environment it can also feel like a fishbowl where everyone knows your business.
By the time many kids reach 21 the balance on these feelings shifts. Many have moved away for work or to attend university in one of our larger cities. They quickly learn that looking after yourself is harder on your own. Coming home for a regular dose of cuddles, meals that take longer than 2 minutes to cook and long chats over a hot drink become a priority. They are also welcomed around town with delighted hugs and questions about how life is going for them away from home.
There is an old saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ A 21st birthday celebration is a chance for a young person to recognise the village that has helped raise them. A slideshow of photos makes visible those moments of joy and laughter shared with others in the room. Speeches are given by family and friends, many with humour but all with love. The birthday girl/boy gets to bask in and be grateful for the love and support that has nurtured them and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives.
It’s an important and I would argue critical step for young people. We live in a world that offers endless opportunities alongside many challenges. At 21, what greater gift can we give young people than a reminder of all that they have in their lives, the qualities they hold personally and faith that with both they will succeed in their dreams?
Happy Birthday! With love.