There are two types of people in this world: people who love celebrating their birthday and people who hate celebrating their birthday. But why do we celebrate birthdays? After all, you didn’t give birth to yourself and you’re basically celebrating the fact that you lived for one more year. And as someone who milks her birthday for all its worth – I was curious as to how this tradition was started. Sadly, there is no official origin story, just bits and pieces across time that brought the birthday tradition to where it is today.
Similar to a coronation date, pharaoh’s had a birth date. The date marked the time where the pharaoh was crowned and become divine himself. There are many biblical references to a pharaoh’s birth date but this refers to when they took control of Ancient Egypt, not the day they were born. But this is the first reference to birthday.
Candles were first put on top of cake back in Ancient Greece. Traditionally, the Greeks would offer moon-shaped cakes to their deity Artemis. They would put candles on the cake to give the cake a glow like the moon.
The Ancient Romans were the first to celebrate birthdays (the day of birth) for the everyday man. They would celebrate with friends, families and famous citizens would even have a holiday for their birthday. However, emphasis on everyday man. Women didn’t have their birthday’s celebrating until almost the 12th century.
For a while, Christians didn’t celebrate birthdays because they were associated with paganism (see above). However, around the 4th century, Christians turned the birth of Jesus Christ into a holiday that we all know and love – Christmas. They did this in an effort to recruit Roman pagans who were celebrating Saturnalia and convert them.
In the 18th century, the first contemporary evidence of a birthday party can be found. Germany’s Kinderfest (child party) involved a cake and one candle for each year the child was alive. This is where the tradition of blowing out candles also started.
A century later during the industrial revolution and the use of mass production techniques brought cake (which was a luxury item) to the masses. In 1893, Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill wrote the song “Good Morning To All” and through a long game of telephone the lyrics have changed to “Happy Birthday To You”.