This question crops up now and then at birthday parties. I suspect even you are not sure of the answer.
Well, today, I’ll get you out of your state of confusion. I will give you the definitive answer to this enigma. That way, you will be able to talk intelligently at your next party.
But first let me tell you a background story, so that you will be confident to accept my advice.
Words have always fascinated me. In college, while my contemporaries read Playboy magazines, I read up book after book on vocabulary building.
The one thing I learned about having a rich vocabulary, though, is that big words have no big place in the real world. In the classroom and in the academic world, or in literature and in history, a big vocabulary is helpful. But when having a conversation with a round-eyed, small-waist, big-bust girl of your wet dreams, a rich vocabulary can turn the girl off and leave you stranded in your wet dreams.
Thus, after spending countless hours learning big words, I had to discipline myself not to use them. It’s one of the ironies in my life. It’s like mastering the Invisible Pass. You try to learn it very well so that no one can see it.
Still words keep me fascinated to this day.
Now I’m mentioning all this to you, because last week the party host in the birthday party I was performing at kept referring to the birthday boy as “the birthday celebrator.” One or two members of the audience were smirking at the term. The reason? To most Filipinos, celebrator is a pretentious word. It has a ring of artificiality in it.
Which shouldn’t be the case, because celebrator is a correct term. The only reason that prompted the smirk, I think, is that celebrator is not often used in the Philippines in ordinary occasions. The usual word is celebrant.
So now, if you are a magician in the Philippines, who is not a native English speaker, you may want to know which is the correct term to use? Birthday “celebrator” or birthday “celebrant“?
The answer favors neither. According to Dictionary.com, both terms are correct. They are in fact synonyms. They both mean “a participant in any celebration.” One can be used for the other, and it would mean the same thing.
However, celebrant also connotes “the officiating priest in the celebration of the Eucharist.” Methinks this connotation is what prompted well-meaning English professors and word mavens in the Philippines to preach that the correct term is celebrator.
Well, it may be the more correct term as far as nuance is concerned, but its sound grates the ears of ordinary citizens in the Philippines who are not used to hearing it, let alone using it.
That being the case, my advice is for you to use the more common word “celebrant.” It is still correct usage, and it is soothing to the ears of audiences in the Philippines.
The best option, however, is to avoid both words. If you ask native English speakers, celebrant and celebrator are formal words. Their use can be awkward in non-formal occasions like in a birthday party.
So that you won’t split hair and get a headache deciding which usage is more appropriate, follow my example. Use “birthday boy” or “birthday girl” instead of “celebrant” or “celebrator“. Say, “Let’s all clap our hands for the birthday boy,” instead of saying “Let’s all clap our hands for the birthday celebrator.” The first proposition to clap sounds soothing to the ears; the second does not.
After saying all this, I must confess I still use celebrant and celebrator in my spiel. I use these terms to elicit laughter at the beginning of my show. I greet my audience with this line: “I’m so glad to attend this party, because today is the birthday celebration of the birthday of our birthday celebrant who is celebrating his birthday as the birthday celebrator.”
This line never fails to crack the parents, although the children don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.
Try it. Say the line with a serious expression in your face. I assure you that you will be rewarded with a hearty laugh. You have my full permission to appropriate the line.