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Birthday Celebrations – Since When And Why Do People Celebrate Birthdays

Updated on June 25, 2013
digitalart @
digitalart @ | Source


A birthday is the day on which a person is born. Although the celebration of birthdays is by now an established custom in most cultures, it was not always the case.

In many cultures the celebration of birthdays is still a matter of dispute based on the believe that these kind of celebrations have historical connections with superstitions, magic and Paganism.

According to research the purpose of the original celebrations of a birthday was to keep evil spirits away. The noise - cheers of good wishes and singing - scared evil spirits away. The light of candles caught the attention of the gods (who were living in the sky), therefore the gods could hear the wish of the person blowing the candles. Gifts might have been rather for the gods than for the person whose birthday it was, or at least the gifts must have had a quality that could please the gods.

Keeping the significance of astrology and horoscopes in ancient times in mind, birthdays must have been celebrated in many cultures before Judaism and Christianity ended the custom.

But then the history_of_calendars. should also be kept in mind. But let’s regard this as beside the point.

The Lore of Birthdays by Ralph and Adelin Linton

The celebration of birthdays was banned in 1300 BCE

For many ages kings and queens had exclusive rights, such as celebrating the day they were born. Personally I am not sure if ordinary people would violate these exclusive rights. The Bible is one source confirming the tradition of kings -

  • Genesis 40:20: "And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants..."
  • Matthew 14:6: "But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod..."
  • Mark 6:21: "And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee...."

In Judaism and Christianity birthday celebrations were banned in 1300 BCE -

  • Deuteronomy 18:10-12: "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD"

BUT, in the realm of some Christian churches the celebration of a "Name Day" became the norm, meaning that on the feast day of a particular saint all persons with the same name as the saint were allowed to celebrate the day they were born, or rather the day they were named after the saint.

So obviously the celebration of birthdays was not always the norm, although in many cultures children at a specific age – somehow determinable - had to conform to certain religious rites and traditional customs.


Birthday Celebrations in South Africa

Until a few decades ago many illiterate people in South Africa did not even know on what day they were born. I remember a time when the answer to how old a person was, would be a hand sign stating that they are still small, or reaching the knee or hip or shoulders of an adult, or that they are old, because they are missing some or all of their teeth. The celebration of birthdays was a Western custom not practiced by Africans until quite recently.

When my father did the genealogical register of the Coetser family, he could only found in the archives of churches the dates on which a person was baptised and buried, which could have been any time in a child’s or adult’s life, keeping but only the following facts in mind -

  • 1652: The arrival of the first whites in South Africa
  • 1665: The arrival of the first minister, Johan van Arckel, subjected to the control of the Presbyterian church governance of the Netherlands.
  • 1806, under British government, Presbyterian ministers from Scotland were encouraged to serve the needs of Christian citizens, while many of these citizens were farmers, living far away from established settlements, as the Cape colony had expanded a long way beyond the Cape Peninsula since 1652.
  • 1 July 1837: In England the registration of births, marriages and deaths became mandatory (and probably also in South Africa, as it was at the time a British colony.)
  • 1838: The Groot Trek – White farmers (Afrikaner Calvinists), being in revolt inter alia due to British government’s indifference to border conflicts with the Xhosa’s, and Dutch Reformed ministers not providing sufficient pastoral ministry, left the Cape Province in search for a better life north of the Orange River.
  • 1860: The Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk was eventually recognised as the state church of the South African Republic, separate from the Cape Church.
  • NB: The Catholic church was banned until 1795.

And many other developments until long after the Second World War (1945) kept the celebrations of birthdays even in Western culture a non-existing custom in South Africa.

© Martie Coetser (My maternal grandparents)
© Martie Coetser (My maternal grandparents)
© Martie Coetser (with my parents and siblings)
© Martie Coetser (with my parents and siblings)
© Martie Coetser (My son's 3rd birthday celebration - posing with me and his oupa Pozyn)
© Martie Coetser (My son's 3rd birthday celebration - posing with me and his oupa Pozyn)

Personal: Family tradition regarding birthdays

I remember my grandparents felt uncomfortable when the family made a fuzz about their birthdays. My own parents uncomplainingly accepted the ‘new tradition’ of paying the adult whose birthday it was a visit (if possible), though nobody were invited. Not visiting a relative on their birthday without a sound reason was considered to be an insult. Only one of my many aunts acquired the habit of sending birthday cards to adults and children on their birthdays.

In my time (1980 onwards) invitations to a personal visit became the custom. If not invited, surprising the birthday person with a telephone call and/or a birthday card was, and still is, the proper thing to do.

When I was a child in the 60’s and through-out into my adult life, it was the custom in our home to wake the birthday-person with the ‘Happy Birthday’ song. Then the ‘special’ person would receive best wishes and a kiss from each member of the family and ONE gift.

Nowadays every member of the family surprises the birthday-person with a gift, plus a cup-cake with a candle to be blown, and maybe also breakfast in bed, AND a well-organized (and expensive) party in the afternoon or evening or the coming Saturday.

The song "Happy Birthday to You" was composed by the sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill, in 1893, though the original words were "Good Morning to You".

Modern Times

Although the celebration of birthdays has its origin in mythology, astrology, magic and idolatry, modern people of the 20-21 st century regard this custom in a positive light. They do not relate to any of the ancient practices.

Today, people celebrate their birthday with joy and gratefulness for the opportunity to live and love and also for the wonder of being loved and appreciated by their relatives and friends.

Happy birthday, Linda Bilyeu!

Stuart Miles @
Stuart Miles @

Today (25 June) we celebrate Linda Bilyeu’s 50th birthday

Linda Bilyeu, aka sunshine625 is a writer in HubPages who lives with her husband and family near Orlando, Florida, USA.

Linda is one of my most dearest online friends. Although we don’t chat on a daily basis, just seeing her coming and going in my online space keeps me happy and contented. Linda’s shining and Positive-Attitude, even at times when most people will flee or fall, keeps me inspired and eager to follow her beautiful example.

Since the very beginning I could relate to Linda's way of sticking to her convictions, principles and the set of rules she has established in order to reach her goals. Being Linda’s friend was my choice, and since the very beginning I knew that her friendship would be an asset and not a liability in my personal balance sheet.

Marcoujor (my awesome sista in cyberspace) and I have decided to surprise Linda with a set of poems (haikus). Marcoujor wrote the haikus and I had the privilege to change them into haigas.

Especially for our dear friend, Linda Bilyeu, aka sunshine625.....

Linda is Sunshine and Summertime

Sunshine and Summertime (Lyrics)

We've got barefoot ladies and tricked out Mercedes

And people getting crazy on the boulevard

We've got classic colas and ice cold Coronas

And big pool parties in the back yard.


I said "Hey, that's the way we do it

New friends and blue skies that never end

Hey, that's the way we like it

Good times, sunshine and summertime."


You'll see straw sombreros and T-top Cameros

And stereos blasting in the parking lot

You'll see rock hard bodies and bikini hotties

And everybody's got it going on and showing what they've got.

Hey, that's the way we do it

New friends and blue skies that never end

Hey, that's the way we like it

Good times, sunshine and summertime.


I said, "Hey everybody, can't you feel the rhythm now?

Hey everybody, don't you want to party?

Hey everybody, can't you feel the rhythm now?

Hey everybody, don't you wanna party?"


Hey, that's the way we do it

New friends and blue skies that never end

Hey, that's the way we like it

Good times, sunshine and summertime

Good times, sunshine and summertime

Good times, sunshine and summertime


To Linda, from SAA and MM.....


Today is Linda's birthday, the first day of the rest of her life. Nevermind the history of birthdays and previous customs, we celebrate TODAY the day of Linda's birth and wish her only the best of days ahead.

May she always shine; may she always be the sunshine in the lives of her relatives and friends.

Do you think the celebration of birthdays is an improper custom?

See results

Did you know Linda is a saxophone player in the Hubville Symphonic Wind Orchestra?

Follow this source and enjoy Linda's audition -
Follow this source and enjoy Linda's audition - | Source

This was my part of Linda's gift....

If today is also YOUR birthday -


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    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Teaches, being the centre of attraction on one's birthday was a sin in some religions and cultures, and still is. What can we say about this? Blessed are they who hold on to their beliefs without using it to choke and torture others.... :)

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Auw, vocalcoach, what a surprise to wake up at 4am to see this hub shared by you in HH! Currently I am trying to get over an attack of fatigue - a birthday party may be just what I need, as I am an extrovert, charging my batteries with energy released by others....

      Sunshine is a delight and a source of positive energy :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Martie, glad you reposted this one. Birthday celebrations were banned t one time? That would be horrible! Thanks for the history lesson. Always nice to see Linda highlighted, she's a very special person.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Dear Martie - Your talents are truly endless and this brilliant hub proves it! I enjoyed learning about the origination of birthdays so much. What a marvelous topic to write about.

      Linda is a wonder of wonders and so loved and appreciated by all, including me. A beautiful tribute to a lady who deserves to be remembered on her birthday.

      I so enjoyed the photos - especially the one with your family and son. Jeepers ( anyone else remember this word?) - I feel so blessed to call you my friend. Big hugs to you Martie ~ Audrey

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Hi my dearest drbj, as I've already said, I no longer get excited about birthdays, as they are actually fatal - one eventually dies from it. But I am also not a party-pooper. Now I wonder when is your birthday? Have a good day, my dear professor :)

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Hi, Martie - What an inspiring, imaginative, ingenious birthday tribute to both the custom of birthdays and Linda's birthday. Thank you for enriching my birthday knowledge with your fascinating hub. Loved it and voted Up, of course.

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Genna, thank you so much for your very kind and supportive comment. I look forward to spend some time in your corner during this coming weekend :)

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      How interesting to learn about the history of birthdays. Cultural history defines so many things with different perspectives. I was so surprised to learn that birthdays weren’t celebrated in Africa until only relatively recently. It was nice to learn of your family; the photos are wonderful…especially the one with you celebrating your son’s third birthday. We celebrate birthdays to celebrate the miracle of life and love. Your birthday tribute to Linda is full of sunshine, hope, and blue skies, which is how our good friends often make us feel about life. So many different yet seamless, creative elements in this wonderful hub of friendship between you, Maria and Linda, all meld to make it perfect. Beautiful. :-)

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Interesting, Sunshine. Now let's have a Taylor Shift.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I stopped by to listen to James Taylor once again. His voice is so serene. Did you know Taylor Swift was named after James Taylor? Just a piece of useless trivia I thought I'd share :)

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      @ Faith Reaper – Did you know the brain automatically read a misspelled word correct, and especially when the first and last letters are correct. That is way proof-readers often read scripts backwards. I haven’t even noticed the err :) But oh, I know how you feel. I can’t tell you how often I feel bad when I notice an error I have made, and I normally notice it too late. But we have a saying: “Elke outjie maak so nou en dan ’n foutjie.” (Every bloke makes now and then a mistake.)

      Yes, seeing all the babies growing older, is knowing that we are growing older too – a sad fact we prefer not to know. Love you, Faith!

      @ mckbirdbks – Thanks for your supportive comment. These bonds we make online are pure and solid – immune to all the absurdities that make earthy bonds so fragile. It is the bonding of spirits (souls) regardless of circumstances and physical matters.

      @ Nell Rose – Believe me, I have never given the origin of birthday celebrations a thought. But looking at everything we write through the eyes of Pappa Google sometimes sends us far back into the past. Thanks for the votes and shares, Nell :)

      @ always exploring – Lots of hugs to you :)

      @ ishwaryaa22 – I am sure Linda can be quite bad-natured when she gets rubbed up the wrong way, but just to become all sunshine again after the storm. Thanks for your visit and for sharing :)

      @ Vickiw – Maria and I are true (online) sistas for quite a long time now, and we are constantly adopting more sistas (and brothers.) You know you are part of the family. Thank you so much for your friendship :)

      @ Mike Robbers - Wonderful to know you enjoyed the read, as I enjoyed your visit :)

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 

      6 years ago from London

      Wonderful hub, Martie. I really enjoyed reading about the history of birthday celebration.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Martie, you and Maria are wonderful Hub Sistas, and I love having you in my life, just as Linda must love it too, especially on this lovely day. What a beautiful thing to do for her. A Hub filled with love is a top-notch Hub indeed!

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 

      6 years ago from Chennai, India

      A wonderful hub highlighting the history of birthdays and ending with a fabulous birthday tribute to our good-natured fellow-hubber - Linda madam! Way to go!

      Thanks for SHARING. Beautiful & Awesome. Voted up

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Thank's Martie..Loved the video.....Hugs..

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Fantastic Martie! absolutely love this! your tribute to our lovely Linda is wonderful, and the history of your country was fascinating, I never knew it went back to the 16 hundreds so I learned something new! Wish there was an amazing button to press! lol! voted up and shared! nell

    • mckbirdbks profile image


      6 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Happy Birthday Linda. Yes, I repeat myself. Martie, what a hub! When you start out on a Trek you thoroughly prepare.What a distance you covered here. The combination of Maria's haikus and your artistic skill produced wonderful haigas. Martie his is a slendid tribute formed from the bonds you have made with both Maria and Linda.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      You're most welcome dearest Marie, and of course I meant your precious family, not previous!!!

      I understand fully about remembering the pain of childbirth : )

      Give your precious granddaughter a big hug from me!!! They all grow up so fast, which you know what that means for us! hehe

      Hugs and love, Faith Reaper

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      @ marcoujor – YOU are incredible! This was your bright idea and I thank you so much for asking me to be your partner in fun. At the end of the day I found all the pictures we needed at, but once again I feel inspired to shoot my own photos.

      Yes, let the party begin. Are you ready? The table is for Linda.....

      @ Pamela99 – Linda is indeed a remarkable lady. And so are you, my dear Pamela :)

      @ MsDora – Strange how many things we do without knowing its origin. But how glad I am for living in this day and age where superstition is no longer a force to take account of.

      @ billybuc – Always good to see you in my corner, and how nice to know that you can use the information I have gathered. Linda is certainly one of a kind; I believe each and everyone of us is one of a kind. You, too, billybuc :)

      @ always exploring – So glad you enjoyed this. The more we learn about ancient practices, the more everything we believe today make sense. Yes, I grew older until 40, then I started to grow younger. Only my mirror tells me that I am living in a fool’s paradise. Here is a special James Taylor for you -

      @ tillsontitan – Isn’t HubPages a lovely home? Everybody in here feels like family :) I am so glad you enjoyed this, Mary. Please join us in the party. Sadly, only Linda may dance on the tables :)

      @ CrisSp – Thanks for joining us. Your comment counts :)

      @ bravewarrior – I always feel quite awkward on the birthdays of my Jehova Witness friends, not sure if I should remind them that they are a year older or not.... Although they may not regard it as a ‘big deal’, surely they ought to acknowledge the interest others take in their progress in life? Oh well, as long as they are happy, I am happy. But I must add, congratulating someone because it is their birthday could become a topic of debate. After all, is it really an achievement? Of course, it simply happens as long as we live, and it is so dangerous. We eventually die from it!

      Your idea of congratulating mothers make sense. I guess that is why they’ve established ‘Mothers Day’.

      @ Sunshine625....... drumroll...... red carpet..... Happy birthday, my dear Linda... You will not understand the words of this song – “Welcome to my (your) party” – But all you need to do is dance dance dance....

      Thank you for your lovely comment, and for all your smiles.... :)

      @ Faith Reaper – I don’t know about you, but every single year on my children’s birthdays I re-live every minute of the day they were born, and even the day before and after. Fortunately I only remember the pain without feeling it all over again. Please give your daughter my best wishes. May she – and all of you - have a wonder day. Yesterday was my granddaughter’s birthday, but for some reason my brain registered her birthday on the 26. So, if her mother has not reminded me.... Go figure!

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Faith :) YOU are awesome :)

      @ My dearest fpherj - I am so glad you are here.... just in time for the party :) Thanks for your lovely comment :)

    • fpherj48 profile image


      6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York grace us all with your incredible talents.....What a woman!

      Hey, wait a minute! Maria? Did YOU sketch that head shot of our SFAM? not tell me that amongst all your other are such a fabulous artist!! Between Martie & you.....and our Birthday girl & ladies astound me with your genius!! How blessed I am to have met you all and call you my friends!........Wow.

      This is such interesting info about "Birthdays," Martie. I'm happy to add this to my knowledge bank!

      Here's to another year.....a wonderful year.....for everyone!..UP+++

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      Oh, Dearest Martie, this is one fabulous hub here from the interesting history on the celebration of birthdays, to your lovely and previous family photos you have graciously share, to your fabulous choice of music, especially for Linda (Sunshine), and the very lovely tribute to your special friend!

      You are indeed one awesome friend.

      I love birthday celebrations, and we have one on Wednesday, as it will be my daughter's birthday.

      When one has a scare on one's life, birthdays are a lot more special no doubt!

      I am glad to know Linda has joined all of us in the fabulous 50 and over group here in Hubville!

      You both are beautiful women, and I hope this is the best birthday ever so far for Linda (Sunshine)

      Happy 50 years young Birthday Linda!

      Voted up +++++ and sharing

      Hugs and love, Faith Reaper

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      SAA & MM you have both created the coolest colobaration and what an awesome birthday celebration!!

      I am a major fan of birthdays. No matter whose birthday it is, they are my favorite holiday. Others might say Christmas is their favorite, but not me. With birthdays the party never stops. Someone, somewhere is always celebrating.

      I love the haikus!! You both know me too well. This hub is evergreen and could be recycled for many other birthdays!! Thank you!! Xoxo

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      What an awesome collaboration! Too cool! Happy Birthday, Linda!

      Martie, the history of birthdays is fascinating. I was unaware. A friend of mine is a Jehova Witness. They don't celebrate birthdays or any of the Christian holidays, although gifts seem to appear before or after the actual day.

      I, for one, always thought the mothers should be celebrated on their childrens' birthdays also. We go thru so much during labor and giving birth is a day we remember for the rest of our lives. When you think of it, our kids are already 9 months old when they're born. But I understand 'birth day' as the celebration of birth. Again, the moms deserve celebration on that day too!

    • CrisSp profile image


      6 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Wow! This is really special and suits our celebrator (Sunshine) indeed. Fun and informative! Great job!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Oh Martie what a truly beautiful hub! You made me laugh, scratch my head and yes, you made me cry. Your history and family photos made this hub special right from the get-go!

      This thing we call HubPages is like a living, breathing entity, nourished by people like you, Maria, and Linda and this hub is living proof of that.

      With all the good thoughts and wishes headed her way Linda just has to have a great day!

      Voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful and interesting.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This was so much fun to read. The history of birthdays was interesting. The idea of the first lights were for the Gods in the sky is fascinating. Birthdays have always been important in my family. We celebrate with gifts and a cake. I send cards to friends who live away. The idea of people not knowing their age and measuring the size with their hand was shocking and a reminder of the importance of education. Happy birthday Linda. Mar's poetry is spot-on and James Taylor is another one of my favorites. I must say that i quit counting my BD at thirty nine..Hee

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      How very interesting about the history of birthdays. I didn't know that, but you gave me great information for a content article I have to write for a customer. Thank you for that. As for Linda....she is one of a kind and this was a lovely birthday celebration. Well done, Martie!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 years ago from The Caribbean

      Great presentation here on the history of birthday celebration. So informative and interesting. Also a wonderful birthday tribute to Linda Bilyeu. Happy birthday Linda. Congratulations to both of you on your great friendship! Voted Up

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      I have never given any thought to how long birthdays have been celebrated or even how it started. I love all the history, and then comes the wonderful birthday greeting for a remarkable lady that we all love. Happy Birthday Linda! Celebrate to the max.

      Awesome birthday hub. You did a fantastic job with this one.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      6 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      OMG, today feels like my darned birthday, my dearest are incredible! You have written an informative, fun and absolutely beautiful tribute to our fabulous Linda...!

      In addition to being a bestest pal, you are awesome to work with! Your photography is stunning, especially that cowboy 'eye candy', that even us 50+ year old gals can enjoy...

      Happy Birthday, Sunshine! Now let the party begin...

      Love you both, Maria


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