Today, she is celebrating her birthday. She was curious as to where the commonplace traditions everyone associates with birthdays came from. In efforts to explain the origin of birthdays, she had to dig a little deeper and what she found out was fascinating.
For 28 years now, she had not given much thought to whether or not her ancestors celebrated their birthdays or how. Just like many others in this culture, she has a birthday cake and her friends and family call and drop by throughout the day to wish her well for having made it yet another year. Her Facebook wall is usually plastered with kind words and “happy birthdays.” If she is really lucky, there are those who send her a thoughtful birthday card the old-fashioned way, via snail mail. This method is a lot people’s personal favorite.
For as long as can be remembered, people have celebrated their birthday and joining in on the birthday celebrations of their loved ones. People have even participated in the birthdays of people they do not even know. There is nothing that brings office workers together like: “Hey, there’s birthday cake in the break room!”
Either way, People figure birthdays seem to be such an integral aspect of everyones life, that she wanted to find out where they came from. A birthday is a happy acknowledgement of the life of another person. When people celebrate a birthday, they are essentially sending a message to that person that their life matters to them and that they are glad that person is in their life.
Since everyone is not promised to make it to another birthday, this milestone event carries with it the subtext of life’s uncertainty. In the days before the internet, iPads, and plasma TV’s, folks had to find ways to keep up with the world around them and they did so by monitoring the patterns of the sun rising and setting. They observed that the moon completed a cycle over the course of thirty days and started over a new cycle at the start of another set. Over time, they also realized that the climate change was also connected to the patterns of the moon.
Ancient civilizations had beliefs that were centered around superstition. The way they lived their daily lives was a constant effort to ward off evil spirits and attract good spirits into their lives. While this may seem outlandish, this is the way that the tradition of celebrating birthdays came about. Because they believed that milestone events, such as birthdays, made them more vulnerable to harm from evil spirits, these ancient peoples would spend the hours of a person’s birthday in constant vigil over that person to keep them safe from harm. A sweet pastry was prepared as a distraction for any demonic forces that might enter the abode, further insuring the safety of the day. This was the pretense by which birthday cakes were invented. It was not until the annual “celebration” of the moon on which a person’s birth occurred had past and the next day’s cycle began, that friends and family went on about their lives. Each year, it was the duty of every able-bodied man, woman, and child to stand guard over loved ones until their hour of vulnerability had drawn to a close.
Today, as people prepare to add another candle to their own cake, they can not help but feel fortunate that they have been blessed with the life that has been given, and that those who choose to share their space on that special day, do so not out of fear, but out of their friendship. When people think of where birthday traditions originated, they have a deeper understanding of life from another culture’s perspective.
Opinion By J.A. Johnson