Origins of the Birthday Celebration

Like many of our modern celebrations, the origins of the birthday celebration lay deep in human history, pre-dating all the world’s major religions.

ArticlesandContent.com · Oct 7, 2021 (written 2005)

Some historians believe that one of the first things people began celebrating once they figured out how to tell when a year had passed by studying the moon, was in fact the birthday. In many ways, this celebration, and many of the traditions associated with it, like gift giving, birthday cards, birthday cakes, and parties is as old as the human conception of time.

Image Description
Blowing out candles was a very early part
of the birthday celebration.

Humans were, and still are to a large extent, ruled by superstition. Those who study history believe that ancient humans thought they were haunted and hunted by evil spirits. These spirits, according to the legends, were especially strong when someone was undergoing a change in their life, such as getting married, having a child or, in this case, turning a year older. This is in fact why the tradition of having a party on one’s birthday began. It was believed that by having lots of friends and family around, by laughing and having a good time, that the evil spirits could be kept at bay. Similarly, it is believed that loud noises scared off the evil spirits, which is why we have noise makers and sing songs and such as part of our birthday celebrations.

The traditions of birthday card and birthday presents are closely related to this. Ancient people mostly brought good wishes and thoughts for the person whose birthday they were celebrating, in the same way that we bring birthday cards with wishes for the person’s emotional and physical well-being for the next year. Although people didn’t routinely bring presents, it was an especially fortuitous sign if they did, it was supposed to bring the person extra good luck for the next year. Today, when bring well wishes and presents for or friends and family on their birthdays, we are really protecting them from evil spirits, according to ancient humans.

Other birthday traditions, like making a wish on candles, also originated from the beliefs about evil and good spirits. There are two lines of thinking about birthday candles; one is that the flames would send a signal to the good spirits or the gods. Another theory about birthday candles is that the smoke and the fire some how warded off the bad spirits. This can been seen in other areas today as many cultures light fires and use smudge sticks, which smoke, to chase away evil spirits. Either way, it is clear that the tradition of blowing out candles was a very early part of the birthday celebration.

Lastly, there is the tradition of wearing a hat or a crown. It is believed by most historians that birthday celebrations were the most common among the rich and nobility. This is because these are the only people who could afford to have a party. They could afford things like presents and sweets and candles that went along with having a birthday celebration. It is largely believed that being the king for the day and the tradition of wearing a hat or a crown originated with the celebrations of a birthday among the nobility.

As you can see, the birthday celebration is very old and many of the traditions we associate with it are very old too. One that isn’t old is the birthday song. Although people probably have been singing at birthday parties since the very first one, the actual birthday song as we know it didn’t come about until 1935. The melody was written in 1890 by a woman named Mildred Hill. The words were later written by her sister, Patti Hill and published in 1935. The song was made popular in a Broadway play that was staged a couple years later called “As Thousands Cheer.”

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