History of Birthdays: Why We Celebrate

History of Birthdays

It happens every year, whether we like it or not: our birthday. But whose bright idea was it to turn birthdays into celebrations, anyway? If you’ve ever wondered about the history of birthdays, we’ve got some surprising info for you!


The Start of a Tradition

Believe it or not, the history of birthdays begins in witchcraft and paganism. It was believed that a person was especially susceptible to spells of good or evil during their birthday, because your personal spirits made their appearance during that time, making you closer to the spirit world. So a birthday greeting of good or evil could really determine what kind of year you’d have. Either you would fall ill or find fortune.

The idea of spirits was also a focal point for the Greeks. They held the belief that everyone had a protective spirit or demon who attended their birth, formed a mystic relationship with them, and continued to keep watch during their lifetime.

This also supports the idea that birthday celebrations were originally events to create protection. Greeks would place round cakes with taper candles on the altar of Artemis, believing the candles held special magic that could grant their wishes.

Celebrating Birthdays Around the World 

Most Americans blow out birthday candles and open up gifts on their birthdays. If you’re a child, there are probably fun games to play with other children. But there’s quite a diversity of birthday traditions around the world:


On the Atlantic side of Canada, it’s common for the birthday boy or girl to be ambushed and have their nose “greased,” usually with butter. This is believed to ward off evil spirits. The older you turn, the more butter you get!


The Chinese hold the traditional belief that in order to celebrate one’s longevity, one should eat a plate of really long noodles. The challenge is to slurp them as far as you can before taking a bite.


For children in Mexico, at any birthday celebration, the presence of a piñata is a guarantee. As we’ve adopted the tradition here in the States, you’ve probably seen your fair share of piñatas:  typically made of papier mache and shaped like animals in bright colors, they’re filled with candy or toys for the children to snag once broken.


Here’s a fun one: Apparently some Swiss parents hire an evil clown to follow their child all day long! The clown will torment the child until finally smashing a pie in their face. Not sure this would fly in the U.S….


Birthday parties in Egypt are all about singing and lots of dancing! Our favorite part, though, is that the room is filled wall to wall with beautiful flowers.


If you happen to be a man over 30 and still single, you are made to sweep the front steps of city hall while your friends throw trash at you. Harsh…

The Story Behind the Song 

Despite the many different ways other cultures have of celebrating birthdays, two things remain consistent worldwide: songs and greetings! Check out this video on YouTube to hear “Happy Birthday” in different languages.

So where did the song come from?  In 1893, a kindergarten teacher named Mildred Hill composed a tune to greet her class every morning. Rumor has it that, eventually, children began replacing the words with “Happy Birthday” so they could sing their beloved song at parties.

With the advent of the radio in 1931, the song appeared as a singing telegram on the Broadway show Bandwagon. A small legal tiff led to Mildred Hill’s rightful ownership of the song’s copyright, and since, the Guinness Book of World Records has nominated the song as one of the top three most sung songs in America.

Birthday Trivia 

The most common birth date in the United States is October 5, while the least common is May 22.

The very first birthday invitation was sent in 100 AD  by Claudia Severa, the wife of Commander Aelius Brocchus. They are known as the Vindolanda Tablets.

58% of all cards purchased in the U.S. are birthday cards. (We wonder what percentage of flowers sent are birthday bouquets…)

The most expensive birth certificate in the world was Paul McCartney’s. It was auctioned off in 1997 for $84,146.

Europeans were the first to use noisemakers at birthday celebrations. They thought all the noise would chase off evil spirits.

Never give someone in China a watch or a clock for their birthday – it is considered bad luck!


We could go on – but luckily, you don’t have to be an expert on the history of birthdays to have an amazing time celebrating birthdays. Whether you need some ideas for a 40th birthday party or you want help with a forgotten birthday, we’ve got your back. If you’ve got one coming up in the life of a friend or loved one, consider brightening their big day with the joy of a handcrafted Bouq from The Bouqs Co.!

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