Here’s my all-time favorite David Letterman Fun Fact:

“Jesus was bummed because his birthday always fell on Christmas.”

Now while I can’t vouch for the actual factuality of the statement, I can understand a fellow being unhappy about the siting of his birthday. At the same time, I myself believe I’d be fortunate to have been born on Christmas. Or Easter. Or Labor Day. Or Halloween.

That’s because my birthday falls in January, a month of unrelieved darkness, chill and gloom.

And not in early January either. Up until about the 10th, you can at least warm yourself in the afterglow of New Year’s Day, a garish parade and a couple of bowl games, and something about three kings arriving on camels with the Christ child’s frankincense. My birthday is very near the end of the month, when communal melancholia hits rock bottom, the temperature plummets to its annual nadir and even our most annoying snow-lovers are beginning to pine for the pitchers’ and catchers’ return to Fort Myers.

We January babies suffer in bleak anonymity. Name someone famous who was born in January. Besides Tom Selleck, who happens to have been born on the exact day in history I was, but who dyes his hair and mustache as though to deny having been born then at all. Selleck and I do share the day with a President, but luckless William McKinley was both undistinguished and assassinated.

Okay, it’s not on the same level, but last January, a few days before my birthday, I slipped on the ice and broke my arm. Unless you live several states more southern than ours, January is dark and cold and slippery. Bad things happen.

True, Millard Fillmore, Richard Nixon and Franklin Roosevelt were born in January. But none of the January POTUSes is celebrated this month if at all. You’ll recall that the nation’s official Presidents’ Day — some Monday in February — honors only our two best, and has inexplicably been deemed a great time to sell mattresses.

I know some of you are right now Googling “January birthdays” and can point out that Betsy Ross, Joan of Arc, Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Hardy, Wolfgang Mozart, Oprah Winfrey, Norman Mailer and Justin Timberlake were also, among a fairly long list of notables, born in January.

But you didn’t know that until you looked it up, did you?

Januarians don’t brag about it. We’ve resigned ourselves to celebrating in the dark.

Let’s face it: By this time everyone’s sick of being festive, and only the birthday boy or girl gets a present. January birthday parties require that loved ones hazard out on a night when the average temp may not reach a positive number and the chances, coming or going, of careening into a ditch or an 18-wheeler are not negligible. Who’s going to stand around in the back yard with a frosty mug? And if someone wants to duck out for a smoke the sliding door to the deck is frozen shut.

Because it’s drafty on the floor you can’t tell your guests to take off their boots, so dirty ice-melt from the Sorels soaks into the carpet. Is anyone having fun yet? Watch yourself on the steps.

My sister Joanne had the birthday I’ve always coveted — July 14th. First of all, the date offers more than 15 hours of daylight and is almost always sunny. While it often happens to be a scorcher, no one in these parts is going to slip on the driveway and break an arm. What’s more, it’s glorious Bastille Day, which is synonymous with excitement and stirring music and the thrust of human advancement. Unless, of course, you’re a French aristocrat.

Plus, while July 14th is eminently memorable, unlike Christmas it will never overwhelm the actual fact of your birth. No one is bummed because his birthday falls on Bastille Day.


William Swanson is an author and journalist. A Minnesotan born and bred, he lives in Minneapolis.

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