Why So Many Afghanis Celebrate Their Birthdays on January 1

In the war-ravaged nation, many peoples’ birthdays are on January 1st

birthday candles
Cade Buchanan

If there's one thing that can easily get lost amongst violence and constant shifts of government, it's paperwork. In Afghanistan, after the Soviets invaded in 1979 to prop up the country's communist government, after the U.S. got involved in 1986, after the Soviets pulled out in 1988, after years of civil war, and after the 2001 invasion by the U.S. Army, many Afghans stopped paying attention to or keeping official records of things like their birthdays.

So when U.S. bureaucracies started asked for birthdays in the wake of the 2001 invasion, many Afghans just picked the first day of the year, and January 1st became, says the Washington Post, a kind of unofficial holiday:

Most say they chose Jan. 1 because it was the easiest date to remember. But young Afghans in particular have coalesced around it — celebrating a mass birthday that is also an implicit acknowledgment of their country’s troubles....

Afghanistan isn’t the only war-torn nation whose citizens have chosen Jan. 1 as a makeshift birthday. In Vietnam, Somalia and Sudan, many birth dates weren’t recorded during years of unrest and institutional upheaval. When residents applied for visas or refugee status, thousands chose the first of the year — or, in some cases, the U.S. State Department chose it for them. The department has bestowed that birthday upon more than 200,000 refugees since the Vietnam War, according to several estimates.

So, happy belated birthday to all the Afghans and others out there—may your new year be better than the last.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Mapping Afghanistan’s Geology from Really, Really Far Away
The Enduring Splendors of, Yes, Afghanistan

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