The History of Birthday Celebrations

African Americans celebrating birthday

Since ancient times, birthdates have been recorded as historical data. These dates have proven important and helpful when studying civilizations past, and even today it is common to know the birthdates of close friends and family. With these annual birthdates has also come birthday celebrations, but the very idea of celebrating the date of your birth is deeply rooted in pagan traditions.

According to The Lore of Birthdays by Ralph Linton, the ancient Greeks believed that each person had a spirit that attended his or her birth, and kept watch. That spirit “had a mystic relation with the God on whose birthday the individual was born.”

Even birthday celebrations recorded in Bible times are questionable, namely, the birthday of an Egyptian Pharaoh and later a wealthy man named Herod Antipas.

These two celebrations share a lot in common - Grand feasts, the elevated treatment of the birthday hosts, and the beheading of two men. During the first of these birthdays, the Pharaoh ordered that his chief baker be executed.

However, possibly the more commonly known story happens much later during the birthday celebration of Herod Antipas. During his party, he offered to give his daughter anything she wanted. Bible history was made that day as Herod’s wife persuaded their daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Due to Herod’s obligation to follow through on his promise to his daughter, he ordered the beheading of John.

For this reason, religious groups like Jehovah's Witnesses and others, refuse to celebrate birthdays altogether.