A birthday, as the term implies, is the anniversary of the particular day on which a person was born. Though by no means universal, birthdays are celebrated in numerous cultures, often with a party or, in some instances, a rite of passage. Though major religious traditions such as the Buddhist or the Christian celebrate the birth of their founders, the most obvious example of which is Christmas, principled opposition to the very idea of celebrating birthdays is to be found among certain religious groups.
In most legal systems, one becomes a legal adult on a particular birthday (often 18th or 21st), and at different ages gains different rights and responsibilities – voting, certain drug use (for example, alcohol, purchasing tobacco), eligibility for military conscription or voluntary enlistment, purchasing lottery tickets, vehicle driving licenses, etc.
Many cultures have one or more coming of age birthdays:
The birthdays of historically significant people, like national heroes or founders, are often commemorated by an official holiday. Some saints are remembered by a liturgical feast (sometimes on a presumed birthday). By analogy, the Latin term Dies natalis is applied to the anniversary of an institution (such as a university).
A person's Golden or Grand Birthday, more commonly referred to as their "Lucky Birthday", "Champagne Birthday" or "Star Birthday", occurs when they turn the age of their birth day (e.g., when someone born on the 25th of the month turns 25).
In some Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox countries such as France, Poland, Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary, or Greece and Latvia it is common to have a 'name day'/'Saint's day'. This is celebrated in much the same way as a birthday, but is held on the official day of a saint with the same Christian name as the birthday person; the difference being that one may look up a person's name day in a calendar, or easily remember common name days (for example, John or Mary); however in pious traditions, the two were often made to concur by giving a newborn the name of a saint celebrated on its birthday, or even the name of a feast, for example, Noel or Pascal (French for Christmas and "of Easter"); for one, Togliatti got Palmiro as first name because he was born on Palm Sunday.
Some notables, particularly monarchs, have an official birthday on a fixed day of the year, which may not necessarily match their actual birthday, but on which celebrations are held. Examples are:
While it is uncommon to have an official holiday for a republican head of state's birthday, this can become a permanent posthumous honour, for example George Washington's is celebrated as Presidents' Day.
According to a public record births database, birthdays in the United States are evenly distributed throughout the year, except for the months of September and October, which follow the holiday season by nine months.
The birthday cake is traditionally highly decorated, and typically covered with lit candles when presented, the number of candles signifying the age of the celebrant. The person whose birthday it is may make a silent wish and then blow out the candles. After that, the person can open their presents. It is also common for the person celebrating their birthday to cut the initial piece of the cake as a newlywed couple might with a wedding cake.
Each item was associated with a prediction. For example, a person finding a gold coin in a birthday cake would supposedly become wealthy; a person discovering a thimble would never marry.
Sometimes special candles are substituted for the many individual candles in the shape of a numeral. For example, on the first birthday, there may be one candle on the cake in the shape of the numeral one, and on the tenth birthday there may be two candles on the cake, one in the shape of the numeral one followed by the other in the shape of the number zero.
In addition to parties, it is common for people to receive gifts on their birthdays or surprise parties. The popular gifts include toys, books, jewellery, clothes, flowers, technical devices, etc. However, sometimes it is expected of the person celebrating their birthday to treat their party guests instead; this varies depending on the local culture and may involve party gifts or other gestures, for example inviting to the restaurant or bar (some of them offer special birthday programs), arranging party at home, or at work. The origin of the birthday gift giving originates from the gift giving celebration of Christmas.
In most English-speaking countries it is traditional to sing the song Happy Birthday to You to the honored person celebrating a birthday. Happy Birthday songs are common worldwide. Similar songs exist in other languages such as "Zhu ni sheng ri kuai le" in Mandarin Chinese, "Lang zal hij/zij leven" in Dutch, "Õnne soovime Sul" in Estonian, "Zum Geburtstag Viel Glück" in German, "Nα ζήσεις και χρόνια πολλά " in Greek, "Hayom Yom HUledet" in Hebrew, "Que los cumplas feliz" or "Feliz cumpleaños a ti" in Spanish, "Parabéns a você" in Portuguese, "Maligayang Bati" in Filipino, "Sto lat" in Polish, "Lá Breithe Shona Duit" in Irish, "multi ani traiasca" in Romanian, "Ja må du leva" or "Med en enkel tulipan" in Swedish, "Joyeux Anniversaire" or "Bonne Fête" in French, "Tanti Auguri a te" in Italian and "Iyi ki dogdun, Mutlu Yillar Sana" in Turkish.This song is a common greeting used on birthdays, along with greeting cards and verbal greetings with messages such as "I wish you a Happy Birthday" or "Happy Birthday."
A person's birthday is usually recorded according to the time zone of the place of birth. Thus people born in Samoa at 11:30 pm will record their birthdate as one day before Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and those born in the Line Islands will record their birthdate one day after UTC. They will apparently be born two days apart, while some of the apparently older ones may be younger in hours. Those who live in different time zones from their birth often exclusively celebrate their birthdays at the local time zone. In addition, the intervention of Daylight Saving Time can result in a case where a baby born second being recorded as having been born up to an hour before their predecessor.
In Judaism, the perspective on birthday celebrations is disputed by various rabbis. In the Hebrew Bible, the one single mention of a celebration being held in commemoration of someone's day of birth is for the Egyptian Pharaoh, while Leviticus 18:1-3 states "And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived".
The bar mitzvah of 13-year-old Jewish boys, or bat mitzvah for 12-year-old Jewish girls, is perhaps the only Jewish celebration undertaken in what is often perceived to be in coalition with a birthday. However, the essence of a bar/bat mitzvah celebration is entirely religious in origin (i.e. the attainment of religious maturity according to Jewish law) and not secular, despite modern celebrations where the secular "birthday" element often overshadows the essence of it as a religious rite. With or without the "birthday" celebration, the child nevertheless becomes a bar or bat mitzvah, and the celebration can be on that day or any date after it.
Since the foundation of Christianity historically lies in Judaism, if there is a stance against the celebration of birthdays, it often mirrors the Jewish religious arguments. Few branches of Christianity, however, actually hold any official stance in regards to birthdays, be it in favour or against. Orthodox Christianity prefers the celebration of name days only, though it is not because of any active theologically-based prohibition or discouragement. Some Christian communities, especially in the Hispanosphere, celebrate both naming days and birthdays. Jehovah's Witnesses and some Sacred Name groups, among others, do not celebrate birthdays at all. They point to, for example, the birthday celebrations in the Bible for Pharaoh and for Herod, the latter being the occasion for the beheading of John the Baptist. Also, the origins, magic, and superstitions surrounding the pagan celebration of birthdays are also a some other reasons for some Christian groups rejecting birthday celebrations.
In the branches of Christianity where there is active discouragement or prohibition against birthdays, by default, this also affects their stance in regards to Christmas. After all, in its religiously presented form, Christmas is the commemoration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, that is, a birthday celebration for Jesus, who was born in a stable full of animals, particularly common farm mammals such as cows. Hence, Jehovah's Witnesses do not espouse the celebration of Christmas either, although additional theological arguments are also cited. Because of the very existence of Christmas as an integral celebration espoused by most branches of modern Christianity, it could be argued that this constitutes implicit acceptance of birthdays, contrary to this, it might put into question the legitimacy of Christmas altogether.
A number of possible superstitious origins for customs associated with Birthday celebrations have been suggested. One source states, that the tradition of birthday parties started in Europe a long time ago. It was feared that evil spirits were particularly attracted to people on their birthdays. To protect them from harm, friends and family would to come be with the birthday person and bring good thoughts and wishes. Giving gifts brought even more good cheer to ward off the evil spirits. This is how birthday parties began. In ancient times, people prayed over the flames of an open fire. They believed that the smoke carried their thoughts up to the gods. Another reference comments, "The various customs with which people today celebrate their birthdays have a long history. Their origins lie in the realm of magic and religion. The customs of offering congratulations, presenting gifts and celebrating - complete with lighted candles - in ancient times were meant to protect the birthday celebrant from the demons and to ensure his security for the coming year. . . . Down to the fourth century Christianity rejected the birthday celebration as a pagan custom."
See also Growing old
|←Goblin Market and Other Poems||A
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a watered shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves, and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves, and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.
There are no positive data in the Bible or in rabbinical literature concerning birthday festivals among the ancient Jews. This silence on the subject is, however, no warrant for the conclusion that the Jews altogether abstained from following a custom which was general among the Egyptians (Gen 40:20), Persians (Herodotus i. 133), Syrians, and Greeks. Even if not common among the people, yet kings and princes probably practised it, following the custom of their heathen contemporaries. Birthday festivals were not considered by the Rabbis as "ḥukkot ha-goyim" (customs of the heathen; see Maimonides, Yad ha-Ḥazaḳh, 'Akkum we-Ḥuḳotehem, xi. 12), although Lightfoot held a contrary opinion ("Horæ Hebr." on Mt 14:6).
A close study of the Biblical text shows that the Bible is not altogether wanting in references to the subject; for, while it lacks positive accounts, it contains passages from which it may be inferred that the custom of remembering birthday anniversaries was not wholly unknown among the Jews. "The day of our king" (Hos 7:5), on which the princes made the king sick with bottles of wine, and the king himself "stretched out his hand with scorners," alludes more probably to a birthday festival than to a solemn occasion, such as the anniversary of his installation, which would have been observed with more decorum (see Josephus, "Ant." xv. 9, § 6).
Birthdays might not have been celebrated by the common people with great solemnity, yet they did not pass wholly unnoticed, and were remembered by congratulations, as in modern times. Jeremiah not only cursed the day of his birth, but wished that it should not be blessed (Jer 20:14), as though such had been the custom.
It is said of Job, "and he cursed his day" (Job 3:1). The emphatic and determining expression "his day" implies the idea that he, like everybody else, had a certain day of the year singled out for a certain purpose, which we learn further was the anniversary of his birth.
The second or third birthday of a child whose coming into the world was very much desired by his parents was usually made the occasion of a feast, because the child was then weaned, and had consequently passed the dangerous and uncertain stage of infancy. Abraham made a great feast on the day Isaac was weaned (Gen 21:8). This occurred, according to Rashi, at the expiration of twenty-four months. Bishop Ely ("Holy Bible Com." l.c. on the passage) says: "By comparing I Sam. it would seem that this was very probably a religious feast." Hannah postponed the yearly family feast at Shiloh until she had weaned Samuel, in order to celebrate his birthday at the same time (1Sam 1:23, 24). According to Rashi and Midr. R. Samuel, l.c., this also occurred at the end of twenty-four months. Yet from 2Chr 31:16 it may be inferred that Samuel was weaned at the end of his third year; for only from that age were children admitted to the service of the Temple.
Two instances of birthday celebrations are mentioned in post-Biblical literature, from which it may be assumed that this was customary in the Herodian family. They used to celebrate birthdays with great pomp, and in the same manner as the Egyptian kings had done more than 2,000 years earlier (Gen 40:20), by extensive public entertainments, which were made the occasions of granting favors to friends and pardons to those in disgrace. Agrippa I. solemnized his birthday anniversary by entertaining his subjects with a festival, and decreed the recall of his banished general Silas, which recall, by the way, the latter stubbornly declined (Josephus, "Ant." xix. 7, § 1). Herod the Tetrarch celebrated his birthday with a great feast, at which the daughter of Herodias danced before the guests, the king promising "to give her whatsoever she would ask" (Mt 14:6).
The Jewish people in general may have had reasons to avoid feasting on birthdays in the times of the Tannaim and Amoraim: first, because they had been at one time grievously offended on such festivals (according to 2 Macc 6:7, the Jews were forced, in the time of Antiochus, to eat of the sacrifices which were offered "in the day of the king's birth every month"); secondly, because no "Talmid ḥakam" would attend as a guest at such a feast, since the Rabbis condemn the Talmid ḥakam who partakes of a meal or feast which is not a "se'udat miẓwah" (commendable meal). And to the son of him who frequented feasts were applied opprobrious epithets, such as "son of an oven-heater," "son of a market-dancer," etc. Since the fifteenth century (Löw, "Lebensalter," p. 210) the thirteenth birthday of a boy has been made the occasion of a family feast because it coincides with his religious majority (Bar Miẓwah).
In modern times the widely spread custom of celebrating some particular birthday of a great man by a banquet or by some literary production has enriched Jewish literature with many gems of Hebrew learningand poetry. Jewish scholars of great renown have become the recipients of marks of deference and homage on the part of their friends and admirers on their seventieth or eightieth or ninetieth birthday by the publication of a jubilee-book, to which scholars from far and near have contributed some of their best work. Of these publications are: (1) "Jubelschrift zum Neunzigsten Geburtstag des Dr. L. Zunz," Berlin, 1884, produced on the occasion of Dr. Zunz's ninetieth birthday; (2) "Jubelschrift zum Siebenzigsten Geburtstag des Prof. Dr. H. Graetz," Breslau, 1887, in celebration of Graetz's seventieth anniversary; (3) "Festschrift zum Achtzigsten Geburtstag des Dr. Moritz Steinschneider," Leipsic, 1890, on the eightieth birthday of Dr. Steinschneider; and (4) "Shay la-Moreh" (A Present to the Teacher), Berlin, 1890, dedicated to Dr. Israel Hildesheimer by his friends and students on his seventieth birthday.
Some have confined themselves to the sending of a letter of homage or a poem. Smolenskin remembered Dr. Zunz on his ninetieth birthday with a letter of congratulation, "Miktab Shalom" ("Ha-Shaḥar," xii. 327). H. S. Slonimski was greeted on his seventieth birthday by a letter of homage, "Iggeret Ḥen," signed by twenty-eight of his friends, all poets and "maskilim" ("Ha-Ẓefirah," vii.). S. Scherschewski wrote a magnificent poem on the same occasion (ib.). There is a poem by A. Gottlober dedicated to the famous ḥazan and musical composer, Solomon Sulzer, on his seventieth birthday ("Ḳol Shire Mahallal," vii. 29). Gottlober also wrote six poems on several birthdays of his own (ib. pp. 31-40). There are several birthday poems in the "Shire Sefat Ḳodesh," by A. Lebensohn ha-Kohen, most of them dedicated to his son Michael Joseph (ib. i. 220; ii. 162, 163-184).
The birthday anniversaries of heathen kings, (missing hebrew text) , are considered by the rabbis of the Talmud as legal heathen holidays, which count among those holidays on the three days preceding which Jews are by Talmudic law required to abstain from concluding any business with a heathen (Mishnah 'Ab. Zarah i. 3).
About the meaning of (missing hebrew text) of the Mishnah, which seems to correspond with ἡμέρα γενεσεώς (LXX., Gen 40:20), some doubts have been raised because, by the side of (missing hebrew text) ("birthday of the king") mention is also made of (missing hebrew text) (missing hebrew text) ("the day of birth and the day of death"). In the Babylonian Talmud ('Ab. Zarah 10a) the decision is reached in favor of (missing hebrew text) as meaning "the day of coronation." It is accepted by Maimonides (see Commentary to the Mishnah, and Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah, 'Akkum we-Ḥukotehem, ix. 5). The glossary "Kesef Mishneh," ad loc., thinks that Maimonides may have read (missing hebrew text) ("assembly") for (missing hebrew text) . Rasḥi explains (missing hebrew text) as equivalent to "the birthday of the king"; while the Talmud Yerushalmi ('Ab. Zarah i. 39) explains (missing hebrew text) as "birthday." This agrees with the use made of the word in many instances (Gen. R. lxxxviii.; Ex. R. xv.; Yer. R. H. iii. 8; Yalḳ., Job. 584; Compare Rashi, Gen 40:20). Graetz (in "M. G. Y." 230) is of the opinion that (missing hebrew text) means the day of death of the king.
All these difficulties and differences may be obviated if (missing hebrew text) be explained as indicating Christian festivals of the early Church. By (missing hebrew text) may be understood the Nativity, or Christmas, and by (missing hebrew text) Easter, or the Resurrection. Cave (in "Primitive Christianity," part 1, vii. 194, cited in McClintock and Strong's "Cyclopedia," s.v. "Christmas ") traces the observance of Christmas to the second century, about the time of the emperor Commodus. According to David Ganz ("Ẓemaḥ David," i., year 3881), Commodus reigned 183-185, at the time of Rabbi Meïr of the Mishnah, who counted those days as legal holidays.
Not everyone celebrates birthdays, including Jehovah's Witnesses.
A birthday cake is usually decorated and covered with candles. Most of the time, the number of candles is the same as the age of the birthday person.
A person's astrological sign is based on his birthday.
|Month||Modern Birthstone||Alternate||Traditional Birthstone|
|March||Aquamarine||Red Jasper (Bloodstone)||Bloodstone, Jasper|
|April||Diamond||Rock Crystal (Quartz)||Diamond, Sapphire|
|June||Pearl (the only non-mineral), Moonstone||Alexandrite||Alexandrite, Emerald|
|July||Ruby||Jade or Carnelian||Ruby, Onyx|
|August||Peridot||Aventurine, Sardonyx, or Sapphire||Sardonyx, Carnelian|
|September||Sapphire||Lapis lazuli||Sapphire, Peridot|
|October||Opal||Pink Tourmaline||Tourmaline, Aquamarine|
|November||Yellow Topaz||Citrine or Turquoise||Citrine, Topaz|
|December||Turquoise, Blue Topaz||Lapis Lazuli or Tanzanite||Zircon, Ruby|