What is it about Birthdays that need celebrations? Why do we ‘celebrate’ a birthday? My search takes me to the land of mythology (and occasionally History too) and this is what I find – two stories:
The Pharaohs of Egypt were supposed to be the descendants of the god Horus, who was considered to the first image of all the Pharaohs, though Ra the Sun god was considered to be the first Pharaoh. In those days, birthdays of the Pharaoh was celebrated with great pomp and show as it was the day to be honoured as the embodiment of god had graced the earth and mankind. It was during one such celebration, that the Pharaoh was celebrating his birthday, that he hanged the chief Baker.
Another story from the Bible says that Herod Antipas was celebrating his birthday and his daughter entertained him by dancing in front of him. This impressed Herod so much, that he granted her a wish. Herod’s daughter was coached on this by her mother Herodia and she promptly asked for the head of John the Baptist. Herod did not quite wanted to dirty his hands with the murder of John the Baptist, but then he had no choice and immediately sent executioners to bring the head of John the Baptist. Herodia was against John as he had opposed the wedding of Herod and Herodia as she happened to be the widow of Herod’s brother.
Celebrations of birthdays were considered as evil by the early Christians who considered it to be a Pagan remnant. A birthday celebration was seen as self-indulgent leading to sinful behaviour like excessive drinking, etc. Also the above two myths had resulted in murders, which also got associated with early Christianity which led to such thinking. They also felt that on this day, people and the celebrant praised himself/herself as against god and thus the celebrations were looked down upon.
In due course of time, and with the arrival of neo-Christians, birthdays got associated with celebrations. Today, the birth of Jesus Christ is a mass celebration across continents. A remnant of the Pagan thinking however believed that on the day of one’s birthday, the celebrant was most vulnerable to both good and bad spirits. So on ones birthday, a celebrant was supposed to be surrounded by friends and relatives and all would wish good for the celebrant. This would deter the bad spirits from acting, thus began the concept of wishing well on Birthdays.
The usage of Birthday cake and candle too has its origin in Greek mythology. Greek goddess Artemis was the goddess of moon, and her birthday was celebrated once every month in ancient
. As a practice, the Greeks offered her a round cake (in the shape of a moon) and also lit candles on the cake in the likeness of a glowing moon! Needless to say that fire always had a special significance in religious orders and rituals. The practice got carried on to the modern age and today it is mandatory to cut cakes, lit with candles and making a wish. Greece
Birthday celebrations have come a long way from the Pagans to today. But as someone has said – A birthday is just the first day of another 365-day journey around the sun. Enjoy the free trip. And if you get gifts and wishes, take them as bonus!