In light of my own impending coming of age celebration, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the multitude of ridiculous ways that we Yalies celebrate getting older. Junior year is the year of the 21st birthday. In my hometown, that means finally going to the liquor store by yourself, possibly going to the bar for trivia night and eating greasy bar food with your high school friends. At Yale, however, I’ve experienced something that I never thought I’d see after the year of the Sweet 16. So many of us, whether swimming in cash or completely on scholarship, break the bank to turn 21. Not only is getting obligatorily wasted non-negotiable, but most of us pay an anxiety inducing amount of cash to rent out a bar, club or lounge, and provide an open bar celebration for our random assortments of friends. When did getting older become so expensive? While I too have broken the bank on my b-day extravaganza, I will still admit that the tradition of pretty much bribing your friends with free booze to celebrate with you is probably still abnormal in most of the world. In light of our peculiar way of become legal, I thought that in honor of my own 21st, I’d take a moment to talk about the number of ways to turn 21.
The Open Bar — As the go to favorite, there are sadly seriously high expectations for an open bar party. While you’d think that just paying for a lot of people to get drunk off their asses would be enough, your party stands against the legacy of every 21st before it. By second semester junior year, everyone you know has been to more birthday parties than are conceivable. Which means that while they don’t intend to judge you, these frequent flyers can’t help but deem your event a raging success or an embarrassing failure. I don’t think anyone expects yours to be “the best,” but there are so many considerations to make your unjustifiably large investment worthwhile. Besides securing a venue that won’t be third world over-crowded or pitiably empty, there’s the guest list, the music, the drink selections, the question of whether or not you should pay for food, and convincing a bar that you’ve been going to for two years that you’re not turning 21, despite what everyone keeps drunkenly shouting at you. I think it’s the most fun option. As someone who spent my sweet 16 at a Broadway show, I must admit that I always wanted to know enough people to fill a bar. So I, like every other daddy’s girl, have batted my eyelashes and written a check to blackout city for my 21st.
The Suite Party — This much cheaper and more versatile option is usually the staff pick for people who like birthdays but don’t think they’re a really big deal, are going somewhere insanely awesome for their actual birthday, or don’t have the time/funds to go the open bar route. The pros: you can force your guests to come in costume if you so choose and your budget will go much further on hard liquor and mixers than it will at the bar. The cons: unless you live off campus or your suite is the size of a master’s house, you have to drastically limit the amount of people you can actually invite, which can get super awkward. You’ll also have to clean up afterwards. And I can’t imagine a worse type of hell. Luckily, there is the Suite Party’s cousin —the Frat Party Birthday. So if you’re lucky enough to share a birthday with a bro, you can likely use their kegs and their space and can rely on the kindness of pledges to mop up your celebration.
The Restaurant/Bar — These are good for those birthdays when you don’t feel like spending money on anyone else and your parents have agreed to pay for your meal. It’s usually a pretty low-stress birthday celebration, limited to only your closest of friends (the people who will spend their own money on your birthday). The upside to these is that you don’t pay a dime. The downside (upside?) is that you’ll find out who your real friends are and who won’t even spend $20 to see you have a happy 21st.
I’m sure there are many other ways so celebrate. I know that some of you lucky bastards jet-set off to the Caribbean mid-semester to relax on an island where you’re already legal. Some of you don’t do anything at all (which I can’t understand for the life of me). But no matter what you do or don’t do, you should enjoy being 21. As depressing as it is, are you really looking forward to being 23? 40? Hell no. This is the big one. The last hurrah of birthdays. So even if you can’t afford a big shin-dig and don’t know enough people to fill a hall, you should celebrate. You only turn 21 once.