August for me is full of birthdays. My sister, two of my nieces, a brother-in-law, and myself all have birthdays in August. (For those of you that follow the Zodiac, that’s a lot of Leos and a Virgo.) This birthday-filled month has made me wonder – Why do we celebrate birthdays the way we do? Why is there cake and candles? Why do we blow out the candles? Why is there a party? Who wrote the “Happy Birthday” song?
In my search, I found some interesting facts. I hope you enjoy!
⦁ Birthdays are thought to be rooted in ancient Egypt, where pharaohs were coronated (mortals becoming a god). The celebration was not for their birth on Earth, but marked when they became a god. Honey cakes shaped like a moon would be made.
⦁ Greeks added candles to these cakes to symbolize the light of life and sending a prayer for the honored. They blow the candle out so that the smoke could carry the wish and prayer up to the gods. Europeans would celebrate and let the candles burn all day to ward of the evil spirits that they believed would visit on birthdays.
⦁ As Christianity emerged, so did the idea of being born with “original sin”. Many early Christians celebrated the day associated with their named saint (Saint Celsus, aka Kelly, Feast day is April 7). The feast days were determined by the saint’s date of birth to Heaven, aka date of death. However, wealthy or privileged families celebrated the actual date they were born on.
⦁ In many Eastern Asian countries, the day a person is born, it is considered their first birthday. When they turn 12 months old, they turn two…and so on.
⦁ Bakeries in Germany in the 15th century started selling one-layer cakes for birthdays and weddings. It wasn’t until the 17th century that birthday cakes started to take on the look they have today (icing, multiple layers, decorations, shapes, etc.), but were only available to the wealthy. Thanks to the industrial revolution, tools and ingredients became more available and birthday cakes became more common.
⦁ In the 1880’s the Swiss placed a lit candle for each year lived on the birthday cake, sometimes with one extra candle for living another year.
⦁ In 18th century Germany, a birthday celebration is called kinderfeste (celebration for children). Germans children would gather to celebrate another year, while the adults would observe and protect the kinder from harm. Partygoers make noise, keep the honored merry, and bring the only good wishes to scare away evil spirits, which were thought to steal a child’s innocent soul and happiness. If a gift was brought, it was thought to be a highest honor for the person celebrating their birthday.
⦁ Patti and Mildred Hill wrote the song “Good morning to you” in the 1890’s. It was converted to “Happy birthday” soon after, though documentation states exactly when. It’s just a song that sort of happened. Thank goodness it did, because it is the best known song!