The History of Birthdays
Have you ever wondered about why we celebrate birthdays? Even if you don’t like to be reminded that you are getting a year older, we often still get together with friends or family to celebrate. This was the question proposed to myFiveBest by our friend and fellow blogger, Logan Horsford, who writes the blog, Logan’s Voyage (http://logansvoyage.blogspot.com/), which is a fantastic tale of travel from a guy who just packed up and travels the world. I highly recommend reading this blog.
So back to birthdays. Where did they start? Why do we participate in these birthday traditions? Here are some answers that may have made you wonder throughout the years.
WHEN DID BIRTHDAYS START?
As you can imagine, early man didn’t celebrate birthdays. They had a hard enough time trying to remember when the seasons changed, let alone being festive on the day they were born. It wasn’t until ancient man started counting the stars and understanding the movements of the sky did we get a sense of fime. Once the calendar came into existence, people started to mark the date of their births. Without a doubt, only kings and important people kept track of their birthdays at first, but eventually, this trickled down into the ranks of the common man.
WHY BIRTHDAY PARTIES?
Once again, the rich were the only people that could actually afford a proper party. If you were poor, you were lucky enough to have food on the table, let alone having a feast. However, early man did believe that their souls were the most vulnerable on the day they were born, so it became custom to gather ones friends and family about them on the anniversary of their birth to keep demons and other evil-doers away from them. It is proposed that horns and noisemakers often found at birthday parties were used as a way of scaring off these demons.
WHO BROUGHT THE CAKE?
The birthday cake is sort of a “new” thing. In ancient Greece and Rome and into the Middle Ages, a “cake” was basically the equivalent to bread. Eventually, cakes separated from the stuff that we bookend a sandwich with by making it sweeter. They would do this by adding nuts and honey to the bread and calling it cake. Doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, does it? As time moved forward, these cakes became more elaborate and single-layer loaves of sweet bread (you’ve heard of those, right?) were often served at weddings which became quite popular. Around the 14th century, a German baker got the notion that he could make more money if he started selling his cakes for children on their birthdays. He called the delicacy, Kinderfest (Children’s Festival). The birthday cake was born! It would take about another century or two before you started seeing multi-layer cakes with frosting, but everything has to mature…
WHO BROUGHT THE CANDLES?
This tradition is older than the birthday cake. A lot older. It comes from Ancient Greece and is thought to be a way of communicating with the gods. While the demons were out searching for your soul on your birthday, the gods were also thought to be more likely to listen to you on this day. However, to get their attention, you had to light a fire so that they could see you from up above. At first, early man most likely used torches because candles were very expensive. They would light the candles (or torches), then pray to the gods. By blowing out or extinguishing the flame, a gout of smoke would rise from the candle. They believed their prayers were carried directly to the gods on this smoke. This is why you “make a wish” when you blow out your candles! You are asking god (or whatever you believe in) to answer your wish. The tradition of not telling anyone what you wished for comes from the belief that the gods might get confused if more than one person was praying for the same thing.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME…
Where did that song “Happy Birthday To You” com e from? We sing it at every birthday celebration and it seems like it has been around forever. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is the most recognizable song in the English language. Ironically, the song just turned 110 years old this past year. It was written in 1893 by a Louisville, Kentucky sisters, Patty and Mildred J. Hill. They didn’t set out to write such an iconic piece of music, though. The original title of the song was “Good Morning To All“. Unfortunately, for them, no one liked the song or cared. Maybe the world wasn’t ready for a morning song before their cup of coffee and birthday cake. The birthday lyrics didn’t turn up until about 1912 and the song wasn’t copyrighted until 1935. No one is quite sure when it became a staple at birthday parties, but it was being sung regularly by the time FDR took office in 1933.