December 8, 2023

By Peri Sualp……

Have you ever thought about why we even bother to celebrate birthdays?

When you think about it, they’re really just an opportunity for your friends and family to come together and congratulate you for another year. But for some reason it’s become far more than that. A birthday is the anniversary of the birth of a person and it is celebrated in numerous cultures, often with birthday gifts, birthday cards, a birthday party, a birthday cake, a birthday song or a rite of passage.

Have you ever thought about how this tradition started? Well I did! Here is some information I’ve gathered together which I think you might find interesting.

First of all Egyptians started celebrating the coronation date of pharaohs around 3,000 B.C.E. since they believed it was the “birth” of Pharaoh as a God.

Getting the idea from the Egyptians, the Greeks started to offer moon-shaped cakes to Artemis – the lunar Goddess, as a form of tribute to her. In order to recreate the radiance of the moon and her perceived beauty, Greeks lit candles and put them on cakes for extra glowing effect.

The Ancient Romans were the first civilizations to celebrate birthdays for non-religious figures. Romans would celebrate birthdays for friends and families. They even created public holidays for their more important citizens. But only for men!! Female birthdays still weren’t celebrated until around the 12th century! (Can you believe that!)

For a few hundred years, Christians considered birthday celebrations as a pagan ritual and rejected the idea but later around the 4th century they changed their minds and they started celebrating birthdays starting with the birth date of Jesus as the holiday of Christmas.

Although the general idea of celebrating birthdays had already started taking off around the world — like in China, where a child’s first birthday was specifically honoured — “Kinderfeste” came out of Germany during the late 18th century. That is the closest prerequisite to the contemporary birthday parties that we know. This celebration was held for German children, or “kinder” and involved both birthday cake and candles. Kids got one candle for each year they’d been alive, plus another to symbolize the hope of living for at least one more year. Blowing out the candles and making a wish was also a part of these celebrations. German bakers invented the birthday cake. (Yay!)

For quite some time, birthday celebrations involving sugary cakes were only available to the very wealthy, as the necessary ingredients were considered a luxury. But during 19th century the industrial revolution allowed mass production and the necessary ingredients became lower in price therefore delicious birthday cakes started to be more affordable by everyone.

And finally the famous birthday song comes to the scene! It’s the most recognisable song in the English language, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and it started as a song for school kids. In 1893, Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill wrote a song called, “Good Morning To All” which was intended to be sung by students before classes began. The song eventually caught on across America, giving rise to a number of variations. Robert Coleman eventually published a songbook in 1924, adding a few extra lyrics that would quickly come to overshadow the original lines. The new rendition became the version we all know, “Happy Birthday To You.”

Here we are in the year 2018. Considering that birthday celebrations started around 3.000 B.C.E. and still continue up to this day, who am I to have the power to change this ritual! I guess I have to celebrate my own birthday this weekend with a big party (including a delicious cake with candles that goes along with the happy birthday song).

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