Happy Birthday


Julia Webster, Co-Editor

Birthdays are an integral part of getting older, being more responsible, and becoming an adult. Our culture places great importance on the day of your birth. After all, these changes come with newfound freedoms like drinking, driving, voting, and yes, starting careers. These are the tenets of an adult, someone mature enough to make your own decisions and cohabitate. But birthdays haven’t always included balloons, cake, and presents. Celebrations of this kind occasion originated in Egypt.

In ancient Egypt, the people exulted the pharaoh as a god. According to Huffington Post, “this divine promotion made their coronation date much more important than their birth into the world.” The reference of the Pharaoh’s birthday in the Bible, “Thus it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants,” is sometimes viewed as the first mention of birthday celebrations, but Egyptologists agree that it is probably a reference to the coronation date of Pharaohs, as it would be the “birth” of the Pharaoh as a god. The coronation celebration included the Sed Festival, the restoration of the pharaoh’s life force, and was performed an average of once every three years. The people also celebrated the Sokar festival every six years, according to Ancient Egypt.com, a ceremony in which the pharaoh pulls along the Nile a sacred boat.

The Greeks added to the celebration and included cakes and candles. They made moon-shaped cakes for Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and the moon. To honor her beauty, they added candles for a glowing effect, according to Huffington Post. The smoke that the candles generated was thought to carry prayers up to the goddess, perhaps starting the tradition of blowing out the candles and making a wish.

The Romans adopted this idea and started celebrating the common man’s birthday. But, of course, only men’s birthdays were observed; women were not included in the birthday festivities. Friends and families gathered to celebrate a birthday, and the state and government created public holidays to honor famous leaders and warriors. The fiftieth birthday was an especially memorable one; a special cake of wheat flour, olive oil, honey and grated cheese was given to the special individual.

Because of the association with “pagan gods,” the Christian church believed that the celebration of birthdays was evil. But, around the 4th century, they changed their minds, and started to honor the birth of Jesus as the holiday Christmas. According to Huffington Post, “This new celebration was accepted into the church partly in hopes of recruiting those already celebrating the Roman holiday of Saturnalia.”

Birthday cakes were introduced by the Germans. All around the world, birthdays were widely celebrated, like the Chinese, where a child’s first birthday was a special occasion. Kinderfest, which started in the 18th century, is the closest relative of the common-day birthday party. The party included cakes, candles, and wishes. The child got one candle for each year they had been alive, as well as one more, to signify hope that they would live to be one year older.

The addition of sugary cakes was made possible by the Industrial Revolution. Originally, only the wealthy were able to have the expensive cakes, but the mass production of sweet treats made the price cheaper. Celebrations like kinderfest were spread and more widely observed as the availability of sugary foods increased.

And lastly, the song was added. The origin of the “Happy Birthday” song is traced to Patty and Mildred Hill, who wrote the song as a sort of good morning song that students would sing before classes each day. It’s popularity grew and grew across America, and Robert Coleman wrote new lyrics that quickly overshadowed the original ones, becoming the song we all know, “Happy Birthday.”

Birthdays are society’s way of telling us we have matured and grown up, that we must start to take care of ourselves, by ourselves. Celebrating another year of life is momentous, and a significant step forward in your life.