Birthdays…..Do you ever wonder about some of the celebrations we associate with them? Every time we go out to dinner, someone in the restaurant has a birthday and much to his embarrassment, the staff all clap and sing the traditional Happy Birthday song. Let’s see what we can find out about traditional birthday celebrations in our Western culture.
Many think that the large-scale celebration of birthdays began with the cult of Mithras, which originated in Persia but spread throughout the Roman Empire.
Birthday celebrations were rare during the Middle Ages but became popular again during the reformation. It was seen as a good way to transfer some of the old saint’s customs to dates in the everyday world.
Birthday cakes have been traditional as far back as the Middle Ages when the English would hide things such as gold coins, rings and even thimbles inside their cakes.
Each item was associated with a prediction. A person finding a gold coin meant the person would become wealthy, but finding a thimble in your slice of cake meant you would never marry.
In most English-speaking countries, it is traditional to sing the song ‘Happy Birthday To You’ to the honored person. It is the most frequently sung song melody in the world and is often sung when a bright candle-lit birthday cake is brought into a darkened room.
The birthday cake is traditionally beautifully decorated and covered with candles representing each year of the celebrant’s life. The person having the birthday makes a silent wish and tries to blow out all of the candles. If this is done with a single breath, it is said that the wish will come true. But, only if the wish is kept a secret. Now, I am telling you from experience that this is much easier done when you don’t have many candles on that cake…
Birthdays, like wedding anniversaries, have things associated with certain years. Some of these are:
• 10th birthday – lollipops
• 11th birthday – gumdrops
• 12th birthday – tootsie rolls
• 13th birthday – bubble gum
• 14th birthday – dog biscuits
• 15th birthday – lifesavers
• 16th birthday – sugar monkeys
• 17th birthday – lemon drops
• 18th birthday – fake key of a car
Another tradition started by girls in the 1950’s here in America is the wearing of corsages with streamers holding candy or other inexpensive items corresponding to the age of the birthday celebrant. Today, friends often attach dollar bills making a corsage of money on that special day.
There are many other traditions associated with birthdays such as birthday spankings for every year, ‘a pinch to grow an inch’, and birthday parties full of treats, games, and gifts with family and friends. Some of these are even surprise parties.
Birthdays are sometimes considered to be a rite of transition. Some girls here in the United States have what are called ‘Sweet Sixteen’ birthday parties, but our Hispanic friends often have big quinceanera celebrations marking a girl’s 15th birthday. In Asian countries, it is the 14th birthday when one becomes a man or a woman in society.
Jewish boys have a bar mitzvah on or around their 13th birthday, and Jewish girls have a bat mitzvah when they turn 12. In Reform or Conservative Judaism, the bat mitzvah is sometimes held till around the 13th birthday.
Even today, the celebration of birthdays is not universal in the West. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays considering it to be a pagan festival along with Christmas and Easter.
So, when someone is honored with clapping and singing in your favorite restaurant, by all means join in. Your day will come, and usually sooner than you think…
I prefer to say that I am 39 plus shipping and handling. Works for me… God bless you.