Birthdays-you look forward to it every year, and it has become customary to wish everyone more birthdays (that is, more years) to come. But have you ever tried to look back and wondered how birthdays began? Was there a time where people had no birthdays? Who celebrated the first birthday in the world?
The history of birthdays is not that simple. To understand how celebrations began, you need to explore how people started to measure time and how they realized that every year that passes is worth celebrating. So hold on to your party hats and champagne gift sets as you travel back to the origins of the calendar.
Measuring Time: How People Learned the Existence of “Years”
Birthday celebrations did not begin until calendars-tools used to measure time-were created. In early civilizations, people relied on the elements in the sky, such as the sun, moon, or solar eclipses, to tell time. Since much of their time is occupied with hunting and gathering, they weren’t interested in marking the anniversary of their births. They were, however, aware of the effects of aging.
Soon, people began to keep track of the moon’s cycles as well as the change in seasons to create a system to tell time on a larger scale. The concept of repetition-repeating seasons and astronomical events-helped them mark significant events, like religious holidays or harvest seasons.
The Party Legacy of the Egyptians
Although scholars are sure that early civilizations had a system to mark important anniversaries, there is no evidence that that the people celebrated their birth every year. The first mention of a birthday was around 3000 BCE in Egypt-the birthday of a Pharaoh.
In Egyptian civilization, the Pharaoh was the center of the universe. He was not a man, rather, a god, and his coronation day symbolized his transformation from a mortal to a deity. The coronation day, therefore, is his “birth” as a god and is more important than his actual birthday. This is probably what the world’s first documented birthday is all about.
The Glowing Contribution of the Greeks
The celebration of “birthdays” was most likely adopted by ancient Greeks, who had their own set of gods and goddesses. Unlike the Egyptians, they had no god on earth and worshiped only the deities that lived on Mount Olympus. The Greeks offered all sorts of tributes to please and appease the gods. One of the adored goddesses wa Artemis, goddess of the moon and the hunt.
During her feast, people offered moon-shaped cakes at her temple. To add a glowing effect that the moon and Artemis have, the Greeks added candles on their cakes. This is where the candle-lighting and blowing tradition came from.
Rome Parties for Everyone
The Romans adopted the custom of the Greeks but expanded the festivities not only to the feast of deities, but also the mortals. The Romans were the first to celebrate the birthday of the common man. The citizens would hold feasts for the birthday of their family and friends. The government even created public holidays for distinguished Roman citizens.
This annual tradition was then passed on to the Christians, which eventually spread across the world. Today, everyone celebrates the day of their birth, usually with a cake, candles, and gifts. Although the concept of birthdays started as a way to honor the immortal, people soon realized that everyone could celebrate another year in their lives.