Happy Birthday! But why do we celebrate?

Hello my little demons!

For those of you who know, it was recently my 31st birthday!

I remember for a friend’s birthday one year, in true Penny tradition, we had the discussion of where birthday cakes came from (although I cannot remember the details), and wondering over other birthday traditions.

Since my birthday was recently and I was deliberating options of a blog post, I thought it fitting to talk about where the celebration of birthdays came from

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So I did a little bit of research.

Birthday celebrations isn’t Christian!

… In fact, the Church considered celebrating birthdays evil!

Forgive me if this is inaccurate, as I am by no means well versed when it comes to the bible. But I happened across an interesting article [1].

In the bible there are a few mentions of celebrating birthdays. In the book of Genesis, the Old Testament, the first mention was of a Pharaoh, the Egyptian king. It is said that God told Joseph in a dream, that the Pharaoh’s butler and baker would lose his life. Three days later, on the Pharaoh’s own birthday party, the Pharaoh hanged his baker at the party.

The second account, this time in the New Testament, Herod the tetrarch made a promise at his birthday party which he did not want to keep, this resulted John the Baptist loosing his life.

The third and final account is found in the book of Job. Job’s seven sons “went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and drink with them”. During the birthday party of Job’s oldest son, God allowed Satan to kill all ten of Job’s children with a tornado.

The article then continues to discuss that Job spent his time cursing his birth, the author says “his words make plain that there is nothing good about the day of a man’s birth”.

What is interesting is that these were interpreted by the writer in the article from the bible, s/he continued to explain “the central lesson of each of these accounts” and that those familiar with the accounts “ignore Job’s comments”.

Of course, this is just a single article, writen by a single human person on a website, a clearly religious and devote Christian and is just his/her interpretation of what is in the bible.

In fact, another website [2] explains that there is no hint that it was wrong for the Pharaoh or Herod to celebrate their birthdays, not does Scripture discourage Christians from celebrating birthdays.

But it is said that birthday’s weren’t celebrated by Christians until the 4th century. This was because birthdays were tied to “pagan” gods, and due to the belif that humans were born with “original sin”. [3]

Of course, it’s possible Christians changed their minds about celebration and began celebrating the birth of Jesus (hello, Christmas!) and let’s not even get into the idea that the Church may have done this to cover up the Pagan celebration of Saturnalia.

So, when did celebrating a birthday first start?

Actually, I’ve technically already answered that question.

The first mention of a celebration of a birthday was in the bible! The Pharaoh’s birthday! Around 3,000 B.C.E (before common era).

But, it’s interesting to note here, that this birthday was not the birth of a man, but birth of a god. In Egypt, when a man was made Pharaoh, it was believed that he was reborn a god. And of course, what is more important than a man’s birthday but a god’s birthday? It’s therefore possible this reference to the Pharaoh’s birthday was actually his coronation.

Where did birthday cake come from?

Celebrating birthdays with cake was first found in Germany in the 15th century. Typically single layer cakes and typically for first birthdays, called Kinderfesten.

The birthday cake would have a candle for each year they’d been alive, and an extra one (usually in the centre of the cake) to symbolize the hope of living for at least one more year. A wish would also be made upon blowing the candles out.

Using candles on cakes, however, didn’t begin in Germany, this tradition dates back to ancient Greece, where they represented the goddess of the moon, the hunt and chastity; Artemis. The round cakes were a symbol of the moon with the candles a symbol of light.

The first birthday gift

Much like the first birthday celebration, the tradition of gift giving on a birthday is hard to trace back, and there are a few theories on where it originated from.

Of course, us humans have been avid gift givers for many many years, you could probably go back as far as the cavemen! But since there was no calendar back then, you couldn’t say this was for birthdays!

One theory is that the first birthday gift exchanges were seen in the first century AD with the Romans, “showering the emperor with gifts”.

Another theory is that birthday gift giving originated in Europe (although I’m unsure what time period). People believed evil spirits haunt a person on their birthday, and the way to ward them off was to present them with gifts (gifts were symbolic tools).

And of course, many Christians believed birthday gift giving began with Jesus Christ, the three wise men offering frankincense, gold and myrrh to Jesus when he was born (which can also be linked to celebrating and gift-giving at Christmas!)

Birthday Traditions across the globe

One thing that has interested me, as I know many people across the globe, including my brother’s girlfriend who is Thai, is that birthday celebrations are different in many different countries.

My brother’s girlfriend, for example, doesn’t typically receive gifts for her birthday (although she got a little something from Scotland from myself and my parents!) but she does celebrate the day.

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Typical birthday here in the UK

Here in the UK – at least from my own experience – children are given gifts of toys, books, chocolates, sweets, sometimes clothes and other foods as birthday presents. They might have a day out to celebrate their birthdays or a birthday party at home or at a venue with family and/or friends.

As we get older, not much changes, although many people aren’t so bothered about celebrating lavishingly. Usually the 16th, 18ths, 21st are big birthdays. Including any new decades such as 30th, 40th, etc.

Smashing cakes and sweet sixteens in the US

In the United States, it’s similar to the UK, although they do a few things differently. One such difference is the sweet sixteen birthday party, originally a party to celebrate a girl’s coming of age. Although sometimes a young boy can celebrate. These birthday parties can range from the smaller quieter ones to the large one with DJs, make-up, expensive gowns and ballrooms.

Smashing cakes is also a typically US tradition, where extra cakes are baked specifically for children to destroy.

Candy filled Pinata in Mexico

Another common one is hitting a pinata (usually a colourful horse shape made out of papier-mache) filled with candy and small toys. Originating from Mexico, the birthday boy or girl hit the pinata blindfolded with a stick. I’ve seen this celebrated in the US at times too.

A country-celebrated birthday in Vietnam

In Vietnam, they do things very differently. Rather than each individual celebrating their birthday on the day they were born, the country has a day called ‘Tet’. This day allows the country to celebrate their birthday on one day, regardless of their actual birth date, they add one year to their age. Children typically get a red envelope containing “lucky money” (li xi) by their parents on the morning of Tet. What’s more, Tet is also Vietnam’s New Year.

Strange scare and pie in Switzerland

I certainly wouldn’t want to visit Switzerland for my birthday, as parents will hire an evil looking clown to scare the birthday boy or girl. After a day of stalking and tormenting, sometimes for a few days, the clown will put a pie in their faces. Supposedly all this is meant to bring health and happiness!

Reverse gift giving and bad luck in Russia

In Russia, rather than the birthday boy or girl getting gifts, it’s a tradition that they instead are the ones to give the gifts. It’s also seen as bad luck to celebrate their birthday before the birth date, it’s thought that you are most weakened and vulnerable on the eve of your birthday.

Long noodles in China

A chinese tradition for a birthday person is to eat a plate of long noodles, they are meant to symbolize longevity; the more you are able to slurp into your mouth before biting the longer you are thought to live.

There are many others, from ambushing celebrators with butter on their noses in Canada, to upside-down birthday bumps in Ireland. Each country certainly celebrates differently!

I know I have a few places I’d like to go to on my birthday now (and a particular day, in the case of Vietnam) and at least the one place to avoid (Sorry Switzerland!)

The Queen has two birthdays!

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Her Majest Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland (and other commonwealth realms), has two birthdays!

One birthday, April the 21st, is the Queens real birthday, usually celebrated by a series of gun salutes around London (Hyde Park, Windsor Great Park and the Tower of London!) but other than this, it is mostly celebrated privately.

Her other birthday, her “official birthday”, usually the first Saturday in June, is also on ‘Trooping the Colour’, this is a large birthday celebration, where the Queen and other members of the Royal Family parade through London on horseback and carriages. The display closes with a fly-past organised by the RAF, watched from the Buckingham Palace balcony.

It’s not just Queen Elizabeth II either, it’s a tradition by many British monarchs, originally started by King George II in 1748, who had the misfortune of being born in November (I feel you King George!). Rather than having his subjects risk getting ill, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

How did I celebrate my birthday?

This year I celebrated my birthday with my mother in Edinburgh.

My parents bought a night stay in a hotel for myself and my mother, so on the Friday we travelled into Edinburgh (I actually had a job interview that day in Edinburgh, killing two birds with one stone, as they say) had a lovely meal in a Thai restaurant in the city in the evening, went back to the hotel for a drink in the bar and had something for desert (not many options in a Thai restaurant!). The next day my mother and I were up, went for breakfast, did a little bit of shopping along Princes Street, walked up to the castle along the Royal Mile, back down and found a pub called “The World’s End” and had “The World’s End” bitter, before heading to Marks and Spencers for something for dinner (and to-go lunch) before heading to Waverly station to get the train home.

All photos are my own. Copyrighted to myself, Penny Hooper.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to check out my other blog posts!

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November…

Samhain, All Hallows Eve and Ghost Stories – Halloween Special!

Douglas, South Lanarkshire – A Hidden Gem

Living in Australia – Part 1: Breakup from hell and Brisvegas

Best places to visit in South Lanarkshire

The HALO Trust: Safe Steps – Challenge Complete!

I won! I came first in the Earnesty Writer’s Awards 2018 Paranormal Genre!

My Normal – A Short Story by Penny Hooper

Rose Garden Sanatorium – Prologue

References:

[1] The Restored Church of God: https://rcg.org/articles/abcc.html

[2] Should Christians Celebrate birthdays: https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-birthdays.html

[3] GoodNews, Celebrating Birthdays: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/history-of-birthdays_n_4227366?ri18n=true

The Connected Traveller, Birthdays around the world: https://www.travelsim.net.au/blog/2016/10/06/top-10-birthday-traditions-from-around-the-world/

Cool Traditions around the globe: https://www.bustle.com/articles/136530-11-cool-birthday-traditions-from-around-the-world

Seven traditions around the world: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/52335/7-birthday-traditions-around-world

The Origins of Birthday Candles: http://www.mebondbooks.com/2017/01/23/the-origins-of-birthday-candles/

Why do we give gifts on birthdays: https://giftsforsomeonespecial.com/why-do-we-give-gifts-on-birthdays/

How do Russians Celebrate birthdays? https://weirdrussia.com/2015/05/17/how-do-russians-celebrate-birthdays/

Birthday celebrations are not special for everyone: http://silverinternational.mbhs.edu/v163/V16.3.04a.birthday.htm

The Queens two Birthdays: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/64887/why-does-queen-have-two-birthdays

Trooping the Colour: https://www.royal.uk/trooping-colour

Published by

thegirlwhowhispered

Hi! I'm Penny, AKA The Girl Who Whispered. I am an award-winning multi-genre author, blogger and activist.

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