Good Question: How Did Birthday Traditions Start?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — To children of all ages, a birthday is a reason to celebrate. But why? What are the reasons for many of our birthday celebrations?

• Why do we celebrate birthdays?

The idea of celebrating the date of your birth is a pagan tradition. In fact, many Christians didn’t celebrate birthdays historically, because of that link to paganism.

Pagans thought that evil spirits lurked on days of major changes, like the day you turn a year older.

The ancient Greeks believed that each person had a spirit that attended his or her birth, and kept watch. That spirit “had a mystic relation with the God on whose birthday the individual was born,” says the book The Lore of Birthdays.

• Why do we blow out candles on our birthday?

The candles were a response to the evil spirits. They showed up to communicate with the gods. A light, in the darkness.

The Germans are credited with starting the kids birthday tradition in the 1700s. They put candles on tortes for “kinderfeste,” one for each year of life, along with some extras to signify upcoming years.

• Why do we sing “Happy Birthday To You?”

It’s the most recognizable song in the English language, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and it started as a song for schoolkids.

In 1893, two Kentucky schoolteachers, Patty and Mildred Hill wrote “Good Morning To All.” The tune was published in a book for schoolteachers.

It’s unclear who changed the words to “Happy Birthday To You,” but in 1933, that song was in an Irving Berlin musical. One of the Hill’s sisters sued, arguing that they held the copyright to the song. They won the case, and the courts have ruled that copyright still holds today.

In fact, some believe the song is under copyright until 2030. The owner of the copyright splits proceeds with the Hill’s estate, reportedly $2 million a year.

• What’s the most common birth date?

Oct. 5 is considered to be the most common birthday in the United States. The reason is pretty obvious: go back 9 months, and you’ll find a conception date of New Year’s Eve. May 22 is considered to be the least common birthday in the United States.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Bob (5-22-__)

    Hey Jason,
    What gives!?! Oh yeah, “Oct 5th is considered to be the most common blah, blah, blah… The reason is pretty obvious:…blah, blah, blah!” Hey, Mr. Birthday Boy Answerman, it’s not that obvious to us “least commoners” why the day of our birth is so infrequently visited by Mr. Stork! Please make like Paul Harvey & give us poor, lonely May 22nders the rest of the story, er, answer! I mean, you’re the man with the answers, right!?! How are we supposed to go on living and trying to find happiness in this world now that you’ve told us our day has more people celebrating an Unbirthday than any other day of the year (but you haven’t told us why)!?! Are we forever to be left with the wondering of why there are so few of us wandering this planet (at least the United States)?
    Please do not forsake us, not even one more day. Please, please tell us why it is so! (sob, sobbing)… Waiting in Lindstrom.

    P.S. And please don’t tell me that historically the 3rd week in August has seen more young women join a convent than any other week of the year.

    • Jon Lindquist

      Historically, the 3rd week in August has seen more young women join a convent than any other week of the year. In some of those cases, they were teachers that wanted to escape from mouthy little brats and saw this as the best option. ^^

    • Zewski

      Wow- could you be any more rude?

  • Beverly Flatulence Johnson

    If you go back 8 months from 5/22 you’ll find that is the day most people have severe gas. It’s also pretty obvious that’s why they never have used live candles at your party Stinky.

  • Old Man Johnson

    Of course that assumes most little stinkers born on 5/22 are premature deliveries for obvious reasons

  • SB

    Note to self, don’t go to Lindstrom or conceive the first week of August. Both could be trouble!

  • Tweets that mention Good Question: How Did Birthday Traditions Start? « CBS Minnesota --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kyle Matteson, Minnesota Wild. Minnesota Wild said: WCCO >> Good Question: How Did Birthday Traditions Start? […]

  • amber

    Its usually to hot and miserable in early August for most people to engage in such activities.

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