“Why do you want to have a birthday party?” I asked my nephew. He promptly replied, “All my friends will be there and we will get to play and enjoy”, and then greedily added, “I will also get loads of gifts”. I laughed the first part off and maternally preached him about not being so gift-minded all the time. But at the back of my mind, the question kept nagging me.
Not that I mind these celebrations. In fact, I love birthdays and all the joyous merrymaking associated with them. But never did I consciously think about the where’s and when’s of the origins of these celebrations.
So, after rushing up with my things to do list, I started off with my search.
And before I share what I came across, I reproduce the exact lines that have left me rejuvenated and refreshed.
“It is good to be thankful for what you have in life and what you have accomplished. But open your eyes to the larger picture. If we are to appreciate the fruits of life, we must first appreciate the tree that bears the fruit: birth itself.
Birth is your beginning. It is a window to the chance of a lifetime, the chance to fulfil your unique mission. So a birthday is a momentous occasion, to be commemorated.
It is a chance to remember the day that a major event occurred, to celebrate and give thanks and to reflect upon how well we are fulfilling our calling.”
This is the essence, the heart and soul of all the celebrations related to birthday, captured perfectly.
Now with the history. Well, several millennia ago, when people had no calendars, they marked their days by cycles of moon and sun. And they observed by experience, that when the zodiac position of the celestial stars coincided with the one observed on some person’s birthday, that day turned out to be extremely fortunate. A bit too optimistic may be, but they were guided by their practical experience. Lots of good things happened to the concerned person and this pattern was observed to be happening all the time. So, to mark the joy, this good fortune brought to him, celebrations were held and hence the concept of birthday celebrations kick started from here.
There is a protectionists view of evolution also. It was observed that the people who expected a change in their life like getting a year older, or children with birthday were more vulnerable to evil and bad spirits. So family, friends, well wishers, people from neighbourhood, community etc. would all gather in the birthday baby’s house offering their well wishes. Gradually, noisemaking, cakes, presents, candles all made their way into these gatherings and the foundations for a wonderful tradition were thus laid.
As was with other things, the birthday celebrations were a trend that only royalty and nobility were allowed to indulge in and that brought the birthday crowns and hats in the picture. But eventually, the festivities trickled into the households of commoners and villagers.
And finally, thanks to Germany, for its was their “kinderfests” (kinder for kid and fest for festivals), the celebrations for which would last whole day long, that gave the much needed fillip to the evolution of this trend.
So, this is how the celebrations to mark the excitement of life brewing around us evolved.
Tomorrow I am going to share this with my nephew and tell him that "Your birthday is definitely something to celebrate .. to celebrate your gratitude for being born, for being alive .. to say simply that you are thankful for this life ...."
P.S. The birthday song “Happy birthday to you” was written by two sisters Mildred and Patty Hill in 1893. But the original lines were “Good morning to you”. The song became popular only after the original words were changed. And now this is one song which is a world anthem for birthdays, which can be heard in every house and in every street.