Have you ever wondered that When did birthday celebrations begin? When did people start counting birthdays? or Who invented birthdays? All these questions may seem boring to most people but if you are curious then we have tried to collect all the references in history and tried to answer some of your questions about birthday celebrations. Here is what you will find in this post.
- Birthdays didn’t begin until calendars were created
- Birthday celebration by Egyptians
- Birthday celebration by Romans
- Is birthday a Pagan ritual?
- Cult of Mithras & birthday celebrations
- Birthday celebration by Greeks
- Birthday celebration as per Gregorian calendar
- German bakers and birthday cakes
- Modern birthday cakes and the industrial revolution
#1. Birthdays or keeping track of age didn’t begin until calendar systems came into existence
Earlier civilizations had never the time and resource to keep track of how many years they have lived. They were more concerned about their safety from wild animals, natural disasters, and diseases. They were always on the move to find more food and safe habitat.
Later on, when civilizations progressed they started keeping track of time based on astrology (positions of stars) and lunar cycles. This gave them a rough idea of how many years one has lived.
Here is a link to find out the history of various calendars
#2. The first mention of birthday celebration by Egyptians
Started by: Egyptians
Time: 3000 B.C.
Mesopotamia and Egypt, are considered to be two places where civilizations flourished and people marked the birthdays of important figures like kings, gods, and royal nobles.
The main reason for keeping a record of birthday in ancient times is to predict the horoscope of the person based on his/her birthdate.
#3. How Romans celebrated birthdays?
If we take a look at history then we will not find much detail about the life of the common man. As only the wealthy and nobles had the means to document their life and important events. So, as per the documents and other historical proofs the Romans celebrated birthdays of important individuals as well as events. They celebrated the start of any event. They also had a festival called Parilia which was celebrated to pray for the good health of sheep, the shepherds, and other livestock.
The April 21st of 753 B.C. was celebrated as the birth of Rome City and was known as Natalis Urbis.
If we talk about Roman birthday they called them “Dies natalis” which means “birthday, anniversary” in the Latin language.
Although, birthday celebrations at that time were very different from ours as they were a means for the royal kings to show their greatness, wealth and to create an event that will be etched in the memory of the public for a long time. These birthday celebrations included lots of liquor, sacrifices, and other religious rituals.
#4. Birthday celebration a Pagan ritual
The term Pagan means “A person when holds religious beliefs other than the majority is referred to as Pagan”. The term Paganism was first used in the fourth century (304 B.C. to 396 B.C) of the Roman empire
Pagans believed that on your birthday and other events evil spirits try to enter your life. So, they started the ritual of birthday celebration to ward of evil spirits. This Pagan tradition also shows the link between keeping track of birth and ancient astrology.
Ancient Jews and Christians didn’t celebrate individual birthdays because they considered this as a sign of ego. But in the fourth century, Christians changed their beliefs and started birthday celebration of their God Jesus.
The Encyclopedia Americana (1991 edition) stated that “The ancient world of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Persia celebrated the birthdays of gods, kings, and nobles”
#5. Birthday celebrations in the West started with the cult of Mithras
Mithraism is a religion that originated in Persia then spread to all over the Roman empire from 1st to the 4th century. This was a mystery religion that is debated by many historians. The Mithras started the celebration of birthdays for the common man. So, apart from kings and nobles, the common man was also allowed to celebrate his/her birthday.
Interesting Fact: As per some theories, the Mithra represented the Sun or the Persian god of light itself. And the birthday of the Sun god was celebrated on the 25th of December. So, Mithras birthday coincides with Christmas that is the birthday of Jesus. And the same day pagans celebrated the birthday of Saturn the Roman god of agriculture and it was known as Saturnalia.
So, all the historical facts aside due to all these events in history at least the common man got to celebrate his own birthday.
#6. Greeks also learned the tradition of birthday celebrations from Egyptians
Greeks also had a similar tradition to celebrate the birthday of Artemis, a Greek goddess. They celebrated the festival of Artemis also known as the Deer Huntress. On this event, they offered her cakes in the shape of stags and up of dough, honey & sesame seeds.
They also lighted candles and made loud noises surrounding the person whose birthday it is. This ritual was performed as a way of protecting the person from bad spirits. The Egyptians started making wicked candles in 3000 B.C. and other civilizations like the Romans and Greeks also learned to make wicked candles in a similar manner.
#7. Birthdays as per the Gregorian calendar
Started by: Israel
Time: October 1582
Israelis used two calendars for different purposes: Hebrew and Gregorian calendar. One of the purposes of the Gregorian calendar was to celebrate birthdays. This calendar didn’t have any leap year and there were 365.2425 days in a year. So, we can say that Hebrews celebrated birthdays.
#8. Germans brought Birthday Cakes and Candles
Germany in the 15th century started baking birthday cakes similar to what we eat today on our special day. Although, the cakes at that time were single layer, round in shape, and white in color. They were mostly used for birthday celebrations and weddings. At that time getting a cake and celebrating your birthday required lots of money so such celebrations were limited to royalty and wealthy people. The look and taste of cakes also evolved in the 17th century.
The use of candles on birthday can also be attributed to Germans as they celebrated the birthday of children with candles on a cake. The candles were meant to save them from bad influence and spirits. This event was known as Kinderfest in the 18th century.
An account of a birthday party in 1746 is also present in a book about Ludwig von Zinzendorf. In his account, he mentioned a very large cake with candles equal to the age of the person and one candle in the middle. So, thank the Germans for bringing the tradition of birthday cakes in our life.
#9. Industrial Revolution made cakes available easily for various occasions
History has very little mention of birthday celebrations of common people. The reason behind this may be that only rich and affluent people could manage to spend on birthday cakes and celebrations. However, things change with time. The industrial revolution and the increase in the number of bakeries led to a huge rise in the popularity of cake cutting ceremony on birthdays as well as for other occasions like wedding, anniversary, office inauguration, etc. Also, as people earned more money they started to spend a good sum of money to celebrate their special day.
As of today, we can’t imagine our birthday without any party, birthday presents, wishes, or birthday cake. But the birthday traditions of modern days took a look time to come from the religious celebrations in ancient civilizations.
To, conclude we can say that there is no clear answer to Who invented birthdays? or When did people started counting birthdays but the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Germans, Mithras, and many other civilizations contributed to the evolution of birthday celebrations.
Let’s rejoice at the fact that we can all have a good laugh and spend quality time with friends and family on our birthday.
If by chance any of your loved one or friend’s birthday is coming soon then check out our collection of happy birthday wishes and greetings.
If you hate birthdays then read this post Are birthday celebrations Overrated?
and if you are searching for ways to have fun on your special day then take a look at Fun things to do on your birthday.
If you know anything else about the history of birthday celebration please mention your views in the comments section below.