As a kid, and even as an adult, there is no better day to celebrate than your birthday! With balloons, a cake, candles, noisemakers, and maybe flowers, what’s not to love? But did you ever wonder how and where these birthday celebrations or traditions started? The history is quite interesting!
The first mentions of a birthday came from Ancient Egypt around 3.000 B.C.E., where large celebrations were put on for the Pharaoh. These celebrations were coronation dates, symbolic of the Pharaoh’s birth as a ‘god.’ The first recorded instance of a celebration is for the Egyptian Pharaoh and can be found in the Bible, "And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants". (Genesis 40:20)
Long before celebrating birthdays became a common tradition, the Greeks were decorating cakes with candles as an act of worship to Artemis, the goddess of the moon and the hunt. The candles were meant to make the cakes glow like the moon, and it was believed that the smoke from the candles would carry their wishes up to the gods.
The Romans were the first to begin celebrating birthdays of ordinary people. Prior to this, birthdays were reserved for religious figures. Roman citizens celebrated the birthdays of their family members and friends, and public holidays were created for famous citizens. Any Roman man turning 50 years old would receive a special cake baked with wheat flour, nuts, yeast, and honey. Women's birthdays were not celebrated until about the 12th century.
Early Christians considered birthdays pagan in nature, as people were born in original sin. Of course, this changed around the fourth century when the birth of Jesus began to be celebrated. It is said they began to celebrate in the hopes of bringing in people that already observed Saturnalia, an ancient Roman pagan festival honoring the agricultural god Saturn. Saturnalia celebrations are the source of many traditions we now associate with Christmas, such as wreaths, candles, feasting and gift-giving. In Medieval times, common Christians celebrated their individual saint’s days – as they may have been named after one – though if you came from privilege, you celebrated your actual birthday.
While cakes had been around long before the birthday cake, the modern birthday party with a cake topped with candles stems from Germany called Kinderfeste. There were no gifts, but there were well wishers, and a cake was decorated with a candle for each year of life as well as an extra to represent the year to come. These candles were lit in the morning and replaced as they burned throughout the day. At the end of the day, the child would blow them out and make a wish, much like the modern tradition.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, cakes were considered a luxury good, and due to the high costs of ingredients needed to make a delicious, sugary sweet cake, the wealthy were the only ones to be in a position to celebrate birthdays with a sugary sweet cake. But mass production made it possible for everyone to partake in cake on their birthday. Ingredients became more widely available and with the introduction of the conveyer belt into bakeries, this allowed them to offer pre-made cakes at lower prices that were more reasonable.
There is one tradition that has stood the test of time around the world, in every language, and at every age - the “Happy Birthday to You” song. The melody to ‘Happy Birthday to You’ dates back to the early 1890s, when a Louisville Kindergarten teacher, Patty Hill, and her sister Mildred, composed a simple song to sing with Patty’s students. The original lyrics were: "Good morning to you, Good morning to you, Good morning dear teacher, Good morning to all!" The sisters published Good Morning in 1893 in a book of sheet music called Song Stories for Children, which they copyrighted and exhibited that year at the World's Fair in Chicago. Believe it or not, this little melody has created a whole lot of drama and controversy over the years, and up until the year 2016, “Happy Birthday to You” was actually illegal to sing publicly. The copyright of the song was deemed invalid and is now in the public domain.
I had a wonderful mother, and she always made my birthdays stand out, even into my adult years. I continued the birthday tradition with my own family. I always have a birthday cake or cupcakes, candles, balloons, decorations, and a few gifts. My husband and son both celebrate their birthdays in April, my birthday falls in September, and my daughter is a Christmas baby celebrating her birthday in December.
B - Is For Birthday
© Erika L. Shields
H – is for the Happiest of all days
A – is for All the wishes and praise
P – is for the Presents you’ll open with delight
P – is for the Party that will last into the night
Y – is for the Year leading up to your day
B – is for the Balloons a celebration they’ll say
I – is for the Ice cream to have with your cake
R – is for the Ribbons and decorations you’ll make
T – is for the Theme you’ll decide to throw
H – is for the Hats made with confetti and a bow
D – is for the Day you know will be fun
A – is for Another great year that is done
Y – is for Your special day
Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday! Hip-hip-hooray!
The graphics used within this website are copyrighted to various graphic artists and are not public domain, nor are they available for download from this site. Please visit the links provided if available. Happy Birthday mp3 by Oleksii Kaplunskyi from Pixabay. Information obtained from Wikipedia, Rebounderz: The History of Birthdays, and The Bouqs Co. History of Birthdays: Why We Celebrate.