Long about 1969, my parents gave me a book called Alphabet of Girls. I still have it--I am truly a book keeper. The book contains poems about the first names of girls, arranged by the alphabet: R, for instance, discusses Roseanna, Rosella, Rosedith, Rosetta and Rose, and the fact that not one of them is rose-like; C is devoted to Carol, Carla, Charlotte, Carrie and Cora, all of whom are indisposed; X describes the plight of a poor girl named Xenobia. H goes like this:
Hilda's birthday comes, we know,
Wrapped in January's snow.
Harriet's birthday comes on wings
Of March's windy wandering.
Hope can celebrate her day
With sun-etched greenery, in May.
For Heather's birthday, all the birds,
In August, sing their summer words.
Hazel's natal day will hold
October's scarlet and its gold.
Holly's day in mid December,
Is the easiest to remember.
My birthday is indeed the very middle day of December--today. I share my birthday with Jane Austen, Ludwig van Beethoven, Arthur C. Clarke, Noel Coward, Philip K. Dick, Margaret Mead, George Santayana, Liv Ullmann and Brett Weston. December 16 is in the sun sign of Sagittarius, sign of the archer--supposedly what he's hunting is the truth. Not only my sun but my moon sign is in Sagittarius; my rising sign is Libra.
There are ways in which my birthday isn't ideal, especially for someone in academia: it usually falls during finals week, and I can't count the number of times I have either given or taken an exam on my birthday, though I NEVER grade anything on my birthday--that's one gift I can give myself. Also lamentable is the fact that my friends and colleagues often take off for the winter break on or before my birthday, which can make it hard to celebrate properly. And then there's the way some people do that lame thing of giving me just one gift for both Christmas and my birthday, because the two events are so close together. I realize this is a bit bitchy, but I have to say: if you really like me, and if you want me to remember YOUR birthday, you'll buy me two presents, OK?
But despite all that, I have always liked my birthday. I like the general festive spirit of the season. I have always liked long cold nights (though long cold nights in Arizona are of a different character than long cold nights in Iowa or Pennsylvania) and I like celebrating my birthday with hot chocolate and a roaring fire. I also like my birthday because its proximity to Christmas is the reason for my name, which I love.
I like names that mean things, quickly and obviously: I've always said that if I ever had a daughter, I would want to name her Grace, because it's a beautiful word with a beautiful meaning. My sisters are Sharon, Katie and Lisa, and I like those names, but you have to look them up in one of those dictionaries of names to find out what they mean. I like that my name is both a noun and a proper noun. I like that my name is iconic. I like that I can point to something and say, "That's what I'm named for." One reason I bought the house I live in now is the fact that there were large, healthy holly bushes on either side of the front door. They seemed like a good sign, and so far, they have been.
My name is really quite pagan: a good old celtic fertility symbol that has subsequently been co-opted by Christianity and is now one of the most recognizable symbols of Christmas. I am glad that my parents decided to name me Holly instead of any of the other Christmas-y names: Carol, or Merry, or Noel. They are lovely names, but they don't fit me, and Holly does.
At the time I got my name, it was extremely uncommon: I could never find trinkets (necklaces, mugs, key chains) with my name printed on them, and it used to bum me out, though I make up for it now by collecting any number of things (salt and pepper shakers, vases, teapots, coffee mugs, serving platters, candy dishes, complete place settings for eight) with sprigs of holly on it. There was only one famous Holly around when I was little: Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's, and in her case Holly was actually short for Holiday, and neither was her real name: her real name was Lula Mae. There aren't many famous Hollys my age: Holly Hunter is one of the few. But the name has become quite popular, and there are plenty of little Hollys out there, which I am ambivalent about: yeah, I'm glad other people like my name well enough to bestow it on their daughters, but I also like not having to share it very often. I was the only person named Holly in my entire school, and that was more than fine with me.
In any event, I'm 42 years old today and I plan on having a lovely day. If you want to wish me Happy Birthday, I'd be thrilled to hear from you.