It may be hard to believe, but celebrating birthdays hasn’t been around forever. The origins of birthday parties come as a surprise to many people. Let’s take a look at where they started and why many of the common elements of birthday celebrations came into use.
The first mentions of a birthday came from Ancient Egypt, 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 of these is said to have taken place somewhere around the year 3,000 B.C.E. The first recorded instance of this can be found in the Hebrew Bible, which describes such a celebration for the Egyptian Pharaoh.
Like many things, this Egyptian tradition came into use by Ancient Greeks. They similarly celebrated their gods as a form of tribute. To do this, they offered moon-shaped cakes to the lunar goddess Artemis. As a way to recreate the Moon’s radiance and Artemis’ beauty, the Greeks added lit candles to make the cakes look as if they were glowing. This became a tradition carried on to this day.
Despite playing host to the most widely celebrated birthday in the world, Christmas, early in the Christian church’s history, birthdays were considered Pagan rituals. In their first few hundred years of existence, they believed birthday celebrations to be evil and would not allow them. 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 the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. In medieval times, nobility began to celebrate their actual birthdays, while the peasants celebrated their ‘Saint’s Day,’ which was the saint they were named after.
Most research points to Rome as the first society to begin celebrating birthdays for non-religious figures. However, they did this only for the men, as women did not have birthday celebrations until the 12th century. The Romans were also the first to have public holidays dedicated to the more famous citizens’ birthdays, as instituted by the government. Roman celebrations also brought forth the practice of generous presents being given.
Many of the common traits of a modern birthday party stem from Germany in the late 18th century. At this point, birthday celebrations had become much more widely accepted. For example, in China, a child’s first birthday was a specific event to be honored. But it came in Germany, where the creation of Kinderfeste (kids events) became the clearest precursor to current day birthday parties. It was here that a child’s birthday would be celebrated with abirthday cake and candles denoting how old they were, with an extra candle to symbolize the year ahead. This was also where the practice of blowing out the candles to make a wish began.
Due to the high costs of ingredients needed to make a delicious, sugary sweet cake, the affluent were the only ones to be in a position to celebrate birthdays like this. However, this changed with the explosion of the Industrial Revolution. At that point, ingredients became far more obtainable and affordable. With the introduction of the conveyer belt into bakeries, this allowed the bakers to offer pre-made cakes at prices that were more reasonable for parents that weren’t as well off to afford, bringing birthdays to the widest market they ever had up to that point.
Many cultures and religions place larger importance on specific birthdays than others. Japan celebrates Coming of Age Day, the second Monday in January, as a way to congratulate and encourage everyone that turned 20 in the past year, as it is symbolic for their entry into adulthood. Jewish boys and girls have a mitzvah (bar and bat, respectively) on either their 12th or 13th birthday, depending on which discipline of Judaism they follow. Many Hispanic countries, along with Brazil, celebrate Quinceañeras, which is the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday as the transition between childhood and young adulthood.
In the future, we will take a closer look at the way different cultures celebrate birthdays. Who knows? It might give you some ideas for what you’d like to do for your next birthday party. But if you’re still not sure, why not give Rebounderz in Lansdale a call. We’d love to have you celebrate your special day with us!