Twenty-First BirthdaysCategory: Customs + Festivals
I’ve got the key of the door,
Never been twenty-one before…
(An old Music Hall song often sung at 21st birthday parties)
It is an important date in any person’s life when he or she officially comes of age. A twenty-first birthday party is generally arranged to celebrate the occasion. All those invited to the party send or bring presents, and of course nobody forgets to send a card. Twenty-first birthday cards usually have a picture of a key on them, which is a symbol of the young person’s independence. Sometimes the parents or some of the friends of the person who has reached the legal age of maturity, give him a large cardboard key painted silver, and those present at the party sign their names on the back of it. Often the guests bump him 21 times.
VICTOR’S 21ST BIRTHDAY
The extract below comes from S. Barstow’s novel A Kind of Loving. It introduces us to some of the customs connected with the celebrations of a person’s coming of age and shows the importance attached in England to this event. Here we meet Victor’s girlfriend Ingrid Rothwell.
I have my twenty-first birthday in October and I start paying my board at home. I think the Old Lady’s always fancied throwing a party for me, but I’m not in the mood, so her and the Old Man buy me a gold wrist watch, a real beauty.
I see Ingrid a day or two after. She’s sent me a card and I thank her for it, though I wish she hadn’t done it because naturally the Old Lady was on to it like a shot. [...]
“Well/’ she says, “How does it feel to be a man?”
I give a laugh. “Ask me another.”
“Did you get any nice presents?”
I stretch my arm across the table to show her the watch. “Me mother an’ dad bought me this. Isn’t it a gem, eh?”
She takes hold of my wrist and turns it so she can see the watch better. “It’s lovely … What else did you get?”
“Oh, J im bought me a tie and Chris and David got me a book of crime stories and an L. P. record of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetic Symphony.”
“My, my,” she says, lifting her eyebrows. “Haven’t we gone highbrow lately!”
This niggles me no end. She’s so satisfied that these yawping crooners are the last word.
“Well, what’s wrong with it?” I say. “It was written for people to like, wasn’t it? What’s wrong with me liking it?”
“Oh, nothing at all. Only there’s lots of people who pretend to like that kind of thing just because they think it makes them Somebody.”
“You know me better than that.”
She shrugs. “Oh, if you like it you’re welcome to it. Personally I can’t stand it. I like something with a
“But there’s bags of tunes in Tchaikovsky,” I say. “You can’t get away from ’em…” I stop. Be damned if I’m going to defend myself for liking something that’s worth something instead of the latest boy wonder from Clackne- cuddenthistle who gets on television because he happens to have a check shirt and a guitar and a lot of bloody cheek.
We just sit there propping our chins on our hands and say nothing else for a bit.
(A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow)