What is it about birthdays that make them so special? I think we all like them because it’s one full day dedicated just to us. It’s the day when we first entered into the living world! Did you know that the practice of celebrating a birthday is thousands of years old? The earliest mention of one came from the Egyptians and referred to a Pharaoh’s birthday.
However, we can thank the Greeks and Romans for what we consider to be real birthday celebrations. Ancient Greeks honored their gods and goddesses by associating them with special days. Such days were treated as holidays with much merrymaking and offerings. They also made birthday cakes with candles that glowed like reflected moonlight. They made moon-shaped cakes to give to Artemis, goddess of the moon.
Early Christians avoided birthday celebrations and considered them to be a pagan tradition. Though some cultures worshiped gods and goddesses and believed in magic, a day of major change, such as a “birth” day, was thought to welcome evil spirits. Candles were lit for protection, to keep the evil away.
How did we get the birthday of Jesus? Early Christians wanted to have a celebration to honor Him. Although no one knows exactly when Jesus was born, the church chose December 25 as his official birth-date. This was done in hopes of counteracting other ceremonies of the same day. Christmas started as a way to adopt and absorb some of the Roman traditions. Yule and winter solstice festivities included bringing in a live tree into the home that was decorated with food and treats. They believed that wood spirits needed a place to keep warm in the cold, winter months. Later this belief evolved into the use of wreaths, holly, and the Christmas tree.
December was a busy month, there were two large Roman festivals that also took place. One was called Saturnalia, to honor Saturn, the god of agriculture. It was observed for two weeks and coincided with the winter solstice. Romans spent days gambling, feasting, singing, playing music, socializing, and giving each other gifts. Candles were common gifts of the time to symbolize the return of light. Each day after the winter solstice had a bit more daylight. The second Roman celebration was on December 25, and it was perhaps their most sacred day of the year. It was the birthday of Mithra, the sun god.
The first documented use of birthday candles comes from Germany in 1746, when a count used them at his lavish birthday celebration. He requested a cake complete with an exact number of candles denoting his age.
What about singing? The song “Happy Birthday” did not appear in this world until the end of the 1800s. It was written by a kindergarten teacher in 1893. The tune was originally called “Good Morning to All.”
What about presents for birthdays? This idea is very old, gifts were mentioned in the Bible. The Wise Men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. Ancient Egyptians also gave gifts to show affection, love, and appreciation.
Years and years later, birthday celebrations were only noted by the wealthy or by national heroes; presidents had big birthday celebrations. Yet for everyone else it was just another day. Monarchs, rulers, and the rich had parties in spacious villas and entertained with lavish food. They received gifts and well wishes from family and friends, as well as had special tournaments and parades in their honor. Did you know that Queen Elizabeth II celebrates two birthdays? She has her actual birthday on April 21, and later has an “official” birthday in June. This coincides with the Trooping of Colour procession, which is a grand parade at Buckingham Palace.
Not until about 100 years ago did birthday celebrations become more commonplace. As clocks and pocket watches became more prevalent, individuals were more aware of the passage of time it seems. And as families had fewer children, they took note of each child’s birthday.
There is nothing like attending a first birthday party! I can remember both of my children’s parties and the expression of pure joy on their faces. It’s hard to beat eating cake with your fingers! It’s hard to top getting frosting all over your face while adoring family members look on!
As we age our birthday outlook changes. Decades roll by and we wonder where the time has gone, but we feel fortunate to have made it through another year! Over time we store up birthday memories and experiences. We share stories and recollections with family and friends. Some years are not fun at all and sometimes we just don’t want another birthday!
Families are an important part of birthdays as well. I remember my Mom sitting at the kitchen table many nights with her cards and letters. She always sent out birthday wishes to friends and family. She marked their big day on the calendar and I don’t think she ever forgot anyone!
Well, some of her thoughtfulness must have rubbed off on me. I have a Birthday Book! Yes, there is such a thing! It can be purchased on Amazon. In it I write down names and birth dates, month by month, line by line. There’s plenty of room and it’s my way of keeping track. And just like my Mom, I send out birthday cards and write letters and notes.
During the month of September my Birthday Book is full of notations. Each page triggers a memory. I record not only birthdays but anniversaries and passings. I think about my Uncle John (the inspiration for my “Letters Home” stories), his birthday was on September 9, 1911. He was married for 42 years to his darling Mil. They wed on September 14, 1940. They’re noted on September pages in my Birthday Book.
Birthdays are great! They provide a relief from the monotony of everyday life. They’re a way for our loved ones to say “thank you” for just being us! They’re an excuse to get together with long-distant relatives or to plan a trip. They’re a reason for delicious food, parties, and tasty cake! Birthdays are recognized with much fanfare. We get greeting cards, Facebook posts, phone calls, and text messages. Birthdays are big-business!
Birthdays are times of reflection. I know I certainly reflected on turning 70 this year! Birthdays can also inspire us, and did you know that we can be an inspiration to others? Who doesn’t look at a positive-minded person of any age and not feel inspired? There’s always wisdom, love, and happiness to share; spread it around.
So, remember to celebrate birthdays; not just yours but those around you. Every day is someone’s day! Maybe you’ll even consider starting a Birthday Book!