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Miss Conduct

Upstaged by Christmas

When your birthday conflicts with a holiday, plus confusing weight gain with a pregnancy.

By Robin Abrahams
December 20, 2009

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My birthday is the day after Christmas. I want to have my birthday party on my birthday this year because my family will be gone, leaving the condo to myself. However, friends will still be wrapped up in family holiday celebrations, and a few are giving me a hard time about celebrating my birthday on my birthday, looking at me as if I’m crazy to even try. I’m turning 26 and have never successfully navigated the pitfalls of having a birthday so close to Christmas. Would it be acceptable for me to have a half-year un-birthday celebration in June, or must I compete with the family commitments of the season forever? V.N. / Merrimack, New Hampshire Here’s the thing about birthdays -- aside from office parties marking the event and the like, your own personal celebration really can be any way you want it. You can honor the day or ignore it, or pick a particular age you like and keep observing that one over and over. You can celebrate on the day of, the day after, or a day randomly appointed; you can ask your guests to come in costume, to stay up until the wee hours partying with you, or to wake up in the wee hours and hike Mount Monadnock so that you may witness the dawn of your natal day. It is your birthday, and you may ask what you will. Guests, of course, are free to graciously decline, so one’s birthday ambitions ought to be at least roughly aligned with the desires of others if they are to come to pass.

Right now, you’re having a hard time getting those others on board with a day-of birthday celebration, so I think the idea of a half-year “un-birthday” is delightful and practical. You could even get creative with it: Celebrate your “X-and-a-half” birthday with a cake and a half, blow out X-and-a-half candles, decorate half the house, even encourage your guests to come in half-and-half costumes (half Ginger and half Mary Ann, Two-Face from Batman). If you continue to want to celebrate on the day of, you might need to resign yourself to, shall we say, an intimate birthday gathering. Which has its charms; the holiday season is so hectic that a quiet evening with wine and a small handful of friends might have a certain appeal.

I am a petite female who has put on a little weight -- all in the front. Every week, a new stranger asks me, “When are you due?” I have no ring on my finger, and with the most recent pregnancy accusation made by an obstetrician, I am angry. Since when is it OK to ask if someone is pregnant when they could very clearly just be a bit overweight? Also, what is the appropriate reaction? I would love to point out the other person’s flaws (a big nose, hairy ears, whatever), but I just smile and say, “No, sorry.” N.L. / Taunton A simple “I’m not pregnant” (no “sorry”!) is all you need to say. It may not feel satisfying to you, but the other person will feel horrible -- trust me on this -- and will never ask another woman if she is pregnant again unless, in the words of Dave Barry, there is “an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.” I understand your anger, but please realize -- as all people subject to annoying comments and questions should -- that you are not being asked The Stupid Question 100 times by one person, but one time by 100 people. It is not fair to take out your anger toward the previous 99 people who asked you TSQ on the unlucky 100th person to do so. The more polite you are, in fact, the worse the person will feel. Unleash biblical wrath on a stranger’s head, and he or she is less likely to question his or her own tactlessness than to think, “Well, I’m certainly glad she’s not planning to be a mother, with a temper like that!”

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. She is the author of Miss Conduct’s Mind Over Manners. Got a question or comment? Write to missconduct@globe.com. BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at boston.com/missconduct. CHAT Get advice live every first and third Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.