When Did People Start Celebrating Birthdays?

When Did People Start Celebrating Birthdays?

12/16/2014 • Ask Mr. History

When did people start celebrating birthdays?


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Dear Helena,

The earliest recorded birthday party in Western annals appears in Genesis in the Old Testament, as the Egyptian pharaoh whom Joseph served is described having one to mark his. Many polytheistic civilizations marked birthdays in conjunction with astrology, in hopes of using that to predict their future destinies, although celebrating birthdays was usually reserved for those potentates who could afford it. Judaism, in contrast, never mentions anyone’s birthday, although it does mark one’s 13th with the rite of passage of a bar or bat mitzvah, since at that age they make the transition to maturity and are expected to understand and take up all the faith and attendant responsibilities of a Jewish adult. Early Christianity had an equally hard time accepting the whole concept of a birthday, regarding astrology as a pagan practice and an individual birthday as a celebration of ego, the exact opposite of the attitude they sought to encourage (see typical diatribe below).


Less studied are the origins of birthday celebrations on the other side of the world, but for thousands of years the Chinese mark birthdays, starting from the first year of survival, as a mark of how long one has survived and hopes of longevity ahead. Besides matching the year with their own astrological calendar (based on 12 years rather than 12 months), the Chinese traditionally celebrate birthdays with noodles, the longer a strand of which one can get in one’s mouth with a single intake representing long life to come. How much of a celebration of individual ego this is among a people who traditionally think of family as the minimum of other people about whom one should be concerned is a matter better left to their own philosophers than those pondering it in the West.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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5 Responses to When Did People Start Celebrating Birthdays?

  1. […] answer is here, if this guy actually tells the truth… matter of finding out one self Share this:ShareClick to […]

  2. pj says:

    Could that last sentence get any longer and any less decipherable?

  3. desmond says:

    what was the actual year that birthdays started

  4. […] The earliest recorded birthday party appears in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 40, and verse 20: “And so it happened; the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday and he gave a banquet for all his officials. Of his officials he lifted up the head of the chief cup-bearer and the chief baker.” This is according to Jon Guttman, Research Director of the World History Group (http://historynet.wpengine.com/when-did-people-start-celebrating-birthdays.htm). […]

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