February 23, 2013

History of birthday parties

There has not always been a way to keep track of one's date of birth. Calendars were developed when people began to understand lunar cycles. With the advent of the calendar, people were able to celebrate the anniversary of someone's date of birth.

Before the birth of Christianity, pagan cultures believed that evil spirits came to visit a person on their birthday. To protect themselves from the spirits, people surrounded themselves with friends. Noisemakers were used to scare the spirits away. Gifts provided additional cheer to ward off evil.

Few records of ancient birthday celebrations exist. The only documented birthday celebrations were for royalty and nobility. Historians believe that only the wealthiest people could afford to throw birthday parties in ancient times, and that that may be the reason why people sometimes wear crowns on their birthdays.

Children's birthday celebrations originated in Germany. The Germans called children's birthday celebrations kinderfeste, which means "children's party." 

Birthday cakes originated in Greece. The ancient Greeks took round cakes to the temple of Artemis, the moon goddess. Candles were placed on the cake so that it would glow like the moon. The word "cake" was coined around the 13th century and comes from the Norse word kaka. The Germans gave children sweetened dough in the shape of baby Jesus in swaddling cloth on their birthdays. They placed one candle in the center of the cake to symbolize the light of life. In medieval England, people put small objects such as thimbles, coins, and rings in the cake batter. These objects served as fortunetellers for birthday party guests. For example, it was believed that the person who got the slice with the cake with the ring would marry in the coming year.

Birthday candle superstitions are believed to have originated with the ancient Greeks as well. They believed that smoke from birthday candles would help send prayers to the gods. Today, people often make a wish before blowing out birthday candles. If one blows out all the candles at once, one will get his or her wish. It is popular for children to have the same number of birthday candles as the age one is turning, plus one extra for good luck. Children also enjoy candles in the shape of numbers.

The song "Happy Birthday" was written by two sisters, Mildred J. Hill and Dr. Patty Smith Hill, in 1893. Mildred was a teacher at Louisville Kentucky Experimental Kindergarten, and Patty was the principal. The original song was titled "Good Morning To All" and was included in a book of children's songs. The second verse, which is the birthday song we know now, was added later. There was controversy over whether it was written by Patty or by a man named Robert Coleman. Dr. Hill took Coleman to court, and it was proven that she and her sister owned the song and were entitled to royalties. Over time, the second verse became more popular than Good Morning To All, and it received a huge boost in popularity when it was included in the Broadway musical As Thousands Cheer in the late 1930s. Warner Communications purchased the song in 1989. If the song is to be used for profit, royalties must be paid to Warner Communications. For this reason, many restaurants have their own birthday songs. Happy Birthday is one of the three most popular songs in the English language. It is sung all over the world. There are versions in other languages, but sometimes the English version is sung even in countries where English is not a primary language.

Birthday cards originated about a hundred years ago in England. If one could not wish a friend happy birthday in person, he or she sent a card as an apology. Nowadays cards can be given in person or sent, and they can be store bought or handmade. Several examples of handmade cards can be found at Cats From Mars. Birthday e-cards have also become popular in the past decade.

Birthday shoutouts to Rachel, Meghan, Matt, and Elliott

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting - I found it fascinating to learn how old some of our birthday customs are (like candle superstitions) - and how new some of them are! (the birthday song)

    Thanks for the link to my blog. I do enjoy making birthday cards!