Birthdays of the Deceased, Vol. 15, Issue 47

Etiquetteer launches this column with a reminder that September 15 is Felt Hat Day, the autumnal counterpart to Straw Hat Day on May 15. Time to put away those boaters and other summer straws in favor of some Forthright Felts!

Etiquetteer is ready for Felt Hat Day with a favorite fedora.

Etiquetteer is ready for Felt Hat Day with a favorite fedora.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I thought there was a rule about this. One can celebrate the anniversary of the birth of a deceased person, but not the birthday of that person. Only living people can celebrate their birthday. I see this in media reports and especially on social media. Can you let us know the right way to celebrate the day of a deceased person's birth?

Dear Observing:

What an interesting question to ponder, especially since many willconsider it only a semantic distinction. Can one celebrate a birthday when the celebrant cannot celebrate it actively in this realm/dimension? Would it be more proper to say that one is observing the birthday of the deceased? Is celebrating the anniversary of a birthday more solemn, or less?

Regardless, Etiquetteer can't say the distinction impacts what one chooses to do, whether the birthday or the anniversary of the birthday. These fall into two categories: the Dead One Has Known Personally and Dead Celebrities. For the former, any Perfectly Proper activity enjoyed by the deceased would be appropriate.* Nor would Etiquetteer find a traditional birthday cake amiss - though one or no candles would be in Better Taste, nor would it be necessary to sing "Happy Birthday." One could visit a favorite place of the Deceased, or even the Deceased's Final Resting Place. Invitations could be sent as widely or narrowly as one chose, as long as attendance was not required. The grieving process is different for everyone, and for some such a gathering might not suit.

The anniversaries of the birthdays of Dead Celebrities are celebrated all over the Internet on any given day. Just this September 13 Google honored "Peruvian Songbird" Yma Sumac with one its famous Google Doodles, noting that "Tuesday marks what would have been the singer's 94th birthday." That's a rather neat way of sidestepping whether one is celebrating a birthday or its anniversary. Otherwise, feel free to contribute and comment appropriately throughout the Internet, and consider a memorial donation to a Worthy Cause.

*For instance, many people like to sit around and drink beer, and that would be a Perfectly Proper way to observe the birthday of a Deceased Semi-Recumbent Beer Drinker. But to sit around in one's underwear and drink beer would not be Perfectly Proper, even if that was a regular habit of the Deceased.