Birthday

History of Birthdays: Why We Celebrate

white, pink, and fuschia happy birthday flowers

As a kid, and maybe even as an adult, there is no better day than your birthday. With cake, candles, flowers for birthday celebrations, and maybe even a good old-fashioned “me day” on the couch, what’s not to love? But did you ever wonder how and where these birthday celebrations started?

Before you start celebrating, take a moment to learn about the history behind birthday celebrations and traditions. And after you’ve learned about the origins of celebrating this big day, take some inspiration from unique birthday celebrations around the world!

The Origin of Birthday Celebrations

While many cultures developed birthday celebrations separately, the Egyptians were the first ones to get the party started. When Egyptian pharaohs were crowned gods, they were “birthed.” That means the first birthday celebration wasn’t marking the birth of a human, but rather the birth of a god.

Another early birthday celebration started with the pagans. Pagans believed that a person was especially susceptible to spells of good and evil during their birthday. Wondering why? During your birthday, personal spirits make their appearance. That means you’re a bit closer to the spirit world. If you thought birthday wishes were silly, you may want to rethink your beliefs.

The idea of spirits was also a focal point for the Greeks. They believed that everyone had a protective spirit or demon present at their birth. This same spirit formed a mystic relationship with the person and continued to watch over them during their lifetime. By celebrating the day you were born, you recognize the closeness of this spirit. This also supports the idea that birthday celebrations were originally events to create protection.

Over time, some of these traditions morphed into the birthday celebrations we know and love.

The Start of Traditions

Today, many people celebrate birthdays in similar ways. There’s the birthday cake, noisemakers, and candles. Plus plenty of wishes and maybe a gift or two. Did someone say flowers?

However, after years of celebrating with these items, they almost become afterthoughts. But how did these forms of celebrations arise?

Candles

Birthday candles started with Artemis, the moon goddess. To help celebrate Artemis, Greeks offered her cakes adorned with glowing candles. While these cakes weren’t meant to celebrate Artemis’ birth, they eventually make their way into birthday celebrations.

The Greeks also believed that smoke helped carry their messages to the gods. By blowing out candles, you help send your wishes skyward.

Noisemakers

While noisemakers may seem like they’re meant to add to the birthday celebration, their original intent was a bit different. People use the noise to ward off evil spirits from the birthday person. By scaring away the bad guys, you could prepare for a good year ahead.

Cake

While cakes had been around long before birthday cakes, Germans started the tradition of cakes adorned with candles. Sometime during the end of the 18th century, Germans began celebrating Kinderfeste. This celebration involved placing one candle for each year of life. The birthday child would blow out the candles while making a wish.

The Beginnings of the Happy Birthday Song

If there’s one thing that lets someone know it’s your birthday, it’s the happy birthday song. Whether you’re someone who loves or loathes people singing your name, it’s hard to escape this tradition.

So where did the song come from? In 1893, a kindergarten teacher named Mildred Hill composed a tune called Good Morning to All to greet her class each day. Rumor has it that the children began replacing the words with “Happy Birthday” so they could sing their beloved song at parties. Leave it to the kiddos to get creative.

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. Since then, the Guinness Book of World Records has nominated the song as one of the top three most sung songs in America. We have to say they’re probably right.

Unique Birthday Celebrations Around the World

While we’ve covered the history behind traditional United States birthday celebrations, these aren’t the only ways people celebrate their births. People from around the world have special ways to recognize their big days. Here are some fun and unique birthday celebrations.

Brazil

If you’re a child living in Brazil, you may want to protect your ears on your birthday. Family members and friends will pull on a child’s ear for each year of their life. The hope is you’ll grow old enough for your ears to reach the ground! Other countries like Russia, Italy, and Argentina also practice this ear-pulling tradition.

Canada

If you’re in Canada, your ears are safe. However, you might want to watch your nose. In some areas of Canada, the birthday person’s nose is smeared with butter. The greasy substance is meant to keep away bad luck.

China

In China, the first birthday is the biggest celebration. Friends and family gather around the little one while offering small gifts like flowers and books.

A traditional Chinese birthday celebration for any age starts with you and your family eating longevity noodles. A longevity noodle is one, really long noodle that would fill the bowl on its own. The long noodle symbolizes a long and prosperous life!

Denmark

In Denmark, you might think you’re celebrating your country rather than your birth. On a person’s birthday, people surround them with the Danish flag…on cakes, plates, balloons, and more. The good news is that all this flag decor can be used over and over for all the birthdays in your home or office.

Russia

On your birthday in Russia, you bring birthday treats into your classroom, and sometimes your classmates and teacher bring you homemade gifts. Some people eat birthday cake, but birthday pie is also common in Russia. And don’t forget the ear pulling.

Ireland

In Ireland, birthdays are a bit upside down. Literally! On your birthday someone flips you upside down and lightly bumps the top of your head for each year, plus one for good luck. This birthday celebration is called “bump to grow an inch.” If you make it through 21 years of head bumps, you get a set of keys on your 21st birthday to symbolize unlocking the door to your future.

Vietnam

In traditional Vietnamese culture, everyone celebrates their birthday on the same day. The day, known as Tet, is the first day of the year. Infants turn one on Tet, no matter how close to the day of Tet the child was born.

In modern Vietnam, many people celebrate on their true birth date while also celebrating on Tet. What’s not to love about two birthday celebrations?

Mexico

Pinatas are a popular Mexican birthday celebration. Children gather around to whack the pinatas in an attempt to obtain the candies and treats inside.

Some Mexican families also attempt to smash the birthday person’s face in their own cake! As friends and family chant “mordida” the birthday person attempts to sneak a bite of cake without getting their face pushed by others.

Time to Celebrate Birthdays

Now that you know more about the history of birthday celebrations, it’s time to get the party started! No matter what traditions you follow, enjoy your big day. Don’t worry if you missed someone’s birthday, we can help with tips on what to do after forgetting a birthday or how to plan a surprise birthday party. And when you need birthday flower delivery, we’ve got you covered!

Shop All

You Might Also Like