Birthday Vibes-Why We Celebrate

Here’s to 56 laps around the SUN!

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Well, I made It another lap around the sun! I am officially one year older. Celebrating a birthday is a curious tradition. Most years the day passes without much ado, however, every once in awhile I long for the fuss that attends a traditional birthday celebration. But where did we get our traditions in the first place?

The act of celebrating birthdays goes back a long time. The first known instance of celebrating a birthday was recorded in 3,000 B.C.E. and was associated with an Egyptian Pharaoh. However, unlike the modern tradition of celebrating the actual day you were born, the Egyptians celebrated the day one became a God, or Pharaoh as it were.

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Ancient Greeks believed that each person had a spirit present at their birth who was charged with watching over them. This spirit was sent by the God that shared the same day of birth as the individual born on earth. The Greeks would mark the day by offering moon shaped cakes and lighting candles. The candles represented the light cast by celestial bodies, and the act of blowing them out was seen as a means by which a mortal could send messages (wishes) to the Gods.

Such days of celebration were thought to draw universal energy and potentially attract evil spirits along with the good. Therefore, family and friends would gather bringing good cheer. Noisemakers were used to scare off evil, and gifts were offered as tribute to benevolent Gods, thereby ensuring protection for the birthday person.

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Scott and I celebrate the BIG 50

It was Roman tradition that first introduced the celebrating of the common man’s day of birth. In Rome, anyone turning 50 would receive a cake baked with wheat flour, olive oil, grated cheese, and honey. However, only men were celebrated. Woman didn’t appear in birthday celebrations until the 12th century.

Those not subscribing to a belief in ancient Gods and believing instead that man was born with “original sin,” saw the celebrating of birthdays as an evil tradition. It wasn’t until after the birth and death of Jesus Christ and the observation of both, that Christians adopted the celebration of birthdays. 

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Throughout early history, the baking of cake was seen as a luxury. The ingredients needed were often a commodity that the common man could not afford. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that ingredients became widely available. Additionally, advances in equipment led to mass production. Bakeries began producing cakes in number, thereby offering a wide variety and easy consumption of the sugary confections.

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We can thank our German ancestors for the tradition of celebrating children’s birthdays with a party or “Kinderfeste” as they were known. The highlight of the celebration being a cake with lit candles on top.  Candles were seen as a means of ensuring good luck, and so one was lit for each year the child had been alive, plus one extra, signifying the wish that their life would be extended one more year. 

The “Birthday Song,” as it is referred to is actually a remix of a previously written song entitled “Good Morning To All.” That song was written in 1893 by two sisters, Patty and Mildred Hill, both schoolteachers, as a fun way to their welcome students to class. The song was published in a book that same year, and in 1924 the same song, with new lyrics, was released. That revised version is what we now refer to as “The Birthday Song.” In 1933 this new version was used in an Irvin Berlin musical and one of the founding sisters sued stating copyright ownership. She won the case in court. It is rumored that the copyright on the Birthday Song is in full effect until 2030.

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So, there is a synopsis of why we celebrate, and where our quirky birthday traditions originated. Regardless of individual customs or circumstances, I believe that every life is worthy of acknowledgement and adoration. We ALL have an amazing story to tell. Every life is a tapestry of interesting experiences. As for myself, I will celebrate the end of an age at my son’s house which borders a lake and is surrounded by forest. A weekend of hiking and relaxing lakeside is the perfect gift, and I ask for no more. Although, I wouldn’t say no to a cake!

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