Quick question: how do you feel about touching on the topic of the BEST THING EVER?
Today, I want to tell you a little bit about birthday parties. When did humans start having them? How have they changed over the centuries?
Party time in ancient Egypt
Like most birthday traditions, they evolved from a handful of traditions practiced across a number of different cultures. One very obvious link between the past and the modern birthday party is a practice in ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians didn’t celebrate the birthdays of its citizens, but they did celebrate the birthdays of their gods. And because they believed that their Pharaohs were gods, they celebrated the Pharaoh’s coronation date as his birth as a god. In fact, the earliest written mention of birthdays was in the Bible and it referred to Pharaoh’s birthday.
Evil spirits begone!
For a long time, birthday parties were seen as a pagan ritual. Certain pagan groups believed that evil spirits were at their strongest on days of major change in a person’s life. There’s a lot of emotional energy around an important day, whether it’s the day a baby is born, the day you commemorate your own day of birth, the day you get married and so on; and these people believed that evil spirits fed off emotional energy. So on big days (like birthdays), they would band together and make noise and dress up to ward off the spirits and keep the person safe on their big day. In other words, they’d have a party!
Let’s get everyone on board
Like I said, Christians didn’t have birthday parties because they were considered a pagan thing. But they knew they were missing out on something awesome, so they found a way around it. Rather than celebrate the birthday, they started celebrating “name days.” At this time, Christians were almost always named after saints – so, they would have a party on the feast day of the saint they were named after. For example, my patron saint is Kateri Takekwitha (my middle name is Katherine and Kateri is the Native American equivalent of Katherine). Her feast day is on 14 July, so I would have had a bangin’ bash on that day instead of 15 November, which is my birthday.
But birthdays won in the end
Eventually, the western world shifted to a secular society, meaning it was not specifically shaped by the beliefs of one, overarching religion. And with this shift, it became the norm to celebrate birthdays. Many Christians are aware of their patron saint’s feast day and depending how consistent their family is with practicing their religion, they may get a little gift on the day. But for the most part, Western society has fully embraced birthday parties.
The best birthday party I’ve ever had
Researching for Happy Birthday Podcast and these blog posts is so much fun. Not only do I learn things, it also forces me to reflect on my own birthday experiences. I can’t remember the specifics of most of my birthday parties, but my 22nd birthday stands out.
I hosted an ice cream party at my little apartment and plied my guests with an ice cream sundae buffet of epically delicious proportions. There were six different kinds of ice cream and at least ten toppings to choose from. It was a big turnout; everyone I invited could make it and people brought me the most amazing, thoughtful presents.
I was still new-ish to Australia, so I think this party stands out because it made me feel special and supported in a relatively new place. And guess what – all the other birthday parties that hold a special place in my heart have a common thread; the feeling of being supported and surrounded by people that care about you. As a guy in the park once put it when asked what makes a birthday great – “It’s the people, bro. You got good people, you got a good birthday.”
Want to know more? There’s a Happy Birthday Podcast episode about parties and you’re all invited!
Join Jo and Jerry for the perfect mix of poignant storytelling and incoherent ramblings as they talk about birthday parties from all kinds of angles.
Listen right here via Podbean or head to iTunes!