Each year on our birthday we get an excuse to blow out candles, eat cake, and open presents while surrounded by friends and family. But, have you ever wondered why we follow some of the traditions we do? Although there isn't one concrete answer to the origin of birthday parties, there is enough information to get an idea of how they started.
Here is a brief timeline of the seven developments that have enabled us to celebrate our birthday each year.
The tradition started in Egypt
Pharaohs who were crowned in ancient Egypt were thought to have transformed into gods. Their coronation date became much more critical than their birth. And, around 3,000 B.C.E, the Bible references a Pharaoh's birthday, which is believed to be referencing the coronation date because that was Pharaoh's birth into a god.
The Greeks initially started the tradition of putting candles on cakes
As a tribute to the lunar goddess, the Greeks offered moon-shaped cakes with lit candles to Artemis. The burning of the flame imitated the glow of the moon, representing the goddesses' beauty.
Ancient Romans were the first to celebrate the common man's birthday
Although women didn't begin celebrating their birthdays until around the 12th century, the Romans did celebrate birthdays for their male friends and family members. Romans were also the first to observe birthdays for non-religious figures. In addition to creating holidays in observance of more famous people, the government started throwing 50th birthday parties, giving the guest of honor a cake made of wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and grated cheese.
The Christians initially considered birthdays a pagan ritual
Because early birthdays were linked to pagan gods, and their belief that humans are born with original sin, members of the Christian church believed birthday celebrations were evil. But, when Jesus was born in the 4th century, (the day we now know as Christmas); Christians began celebrating his birth as a way to convert individuals already celebrating the Roman holiday of Saturnalia.
German bakers invented the present-day cake
In the 18th century, German children also known as "kinder" would receive a birthday cake with candles in it to represent the age they were turning, plus an additional candle as a symbol of continued life for another year. The tradition of blowing out the candles and making a wish also began as a part of these celebrations.
The industrial revolution allowed everyone to enjoy cake
Before the industrial revolution, cakes were mostly made for the wealthy because of the cost of ingredients. But once celebrations like kinderfest began to grow in popularity, baking ingredients became more available and affordable. And with the advancements in mass production, bakeries were able to offer deals on pre-made cakes as well.
The happy birthday song had different lyrics originally
In 1893, a song called "Good Morning to All" was written by Patty Hill and Mildred J Hill for school children to sing before class. Though there are many different variations of the song, the version we know today is "Happy Birthday to You," which was first published in a songbook in 1924 by Robert Coleman.
Knowing how birthday celebrations have evolved over the years makes you wonder how they will continue to change with generations to come.
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