My brithday doesn't really make me think of such things, at least not seriously. Rather, it's the birthday cards that prompt my musings today, particularly the ones from my grandmother.
This year's birthday card was nice. On the outside it just has balloons and stars and says "Have a great year!" And on the inside, it says (including stuff she added), "Hello Bets. Your birthday is here and look what's begun--another year of good times and fun! Happy Birthday. Thank you for the nice visit. I certainly enjoyed the weekend. Love you. Have a joyful birthday."
See, that wasn't so hard!?
Of course, I was 31 or so before I got her to start sending me these nice secular cards. Before that, I used to get cards--on every single holiday! including my birthday--that said she was having an order of nuns pray for me.
Now, I think when I was a kid, I'd get normal cards, but I came out to my grandmother that I was an atheist (she's a devout Catholic) when I was about 18 or 20, and after that, I started getting these prayer cards. I really tried to be a good grand-daughter about it for a long time... it's just grandma; this means a lot to her; she means well; blah, blah, blah. But after a while, I really started to get annoyed. I mean, I guess it wasn't a big deal at Christmas: it was a religious holiday, so I expected a religious card of some kind. But for my birthday?? Did it really not occur to her?
It didn't help that my grandmother would tell my mom things and mom would repeat them back to me. How grandmother was worried about me, that I was going to burn in hell (or more probably, that she would be all alone in heaven), and she wanted me to come back to the church. Sometimes she blamed my mother. I realize that she was genuinely concerned, but at the same time, she also told my mother that she was praying for me to come back to the church.
This began to really wear on me after a while. It was clear that she didn't really respect my choices, and that it wasn't enough that I was a decent person. After some time the message I was getting was not one of concern, but one of patronization and disrespect. The more often the message was repeated, the more resentful I became.
So, when I was about 30, and I got yet another one of these damn cards from her, I finally told my mother to have a talk with her. I didn't want those kinds of cards anymore. Christmas, Easter, fine. My birthday? No. I was tired of having my face rubbed her disapproval of my disbelief. I tried believing for a long time, and I couldn't. I can no more believe than I can become black. I would prefer no card at all rather than continually be reminded of her disapproval on my birthday. I didn't care if she still continued to pray for me, or had orders of nuns pray for me full-time, but I didn't want to know about it. I didn't want my face rubbed in it.
I'm told she was very upset, but she had respected my feelings ever since. Now, I get nice secular cards that I can leave up for a while, rather than I have to toss out as soon as I read them.
For an atheist dealing with a religious family, I strongly suggest that you learn to insist on such things as soon as they start bothering you. Maybe not the first time someone does it, especially if it's right after announcing you're an atheist--such reactions are to be expected--but if it keeps up, don't wait ten years until there is a lot of pent up anger. Approach your family reasonably, calmly, and explain that you are no longer getting the message of concern, but rather the message of disrespect, and you would respectfully ask them to consider your feelings. There is no point in waiting so long that even when they accede to your wishes, there is still resentment that it took them so long to "get it".
If nothing changes, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried.