“It’s just another day.” My friends and family remind me of this every year.
Today is no different to any other January day. The moon has faded from the night sky, making way for the low winter sun. The birds are singing their usual early morning songs and the frost is glistening across the cold earth. Early spring bulbs are peeking out of the frozen ground in anticipation of Imbolc and the world is slowly waking up.
Today, billions of people around the world are carrying on with their daily routines.
Today is my birthday.
“It’s just another day” I tell myself, but it’s not.
Why do we celebrate birthdays once a year?
My soul has lived on this planet for many moons and on this date, every calendar year, my family and I celebrate the anniversary of my arrival into the world. No matter whose birthday it is, we traditionally gather at my mum’s house. Our time together is spent enjoying each other’s company as well as a mouth-watering buffet of homemade food, sweet treats and, of course, eating enormous slices of birthday cake, after blowing out candles and warbling our way through the classic Happy Birthday song.
I love birthdays.
I remember once, at the end of an exhausting but fun-packed children’s birthday party, my daughter said to me “imagine if we had a birthday every day”. My reply was that it wouldn’t feel as special because it would become too ‘normal’ (and expensive!), but it got me thinking about why we celebrate on a yearly cycle, and why we feel the need to make that one day special and different to every other day.
Why do we not celebrate our birth, existence and life on this incredible planet every day?
The origins of birthday celebrations
The earliest mention of a birthday dates back to around 3,000 B.C.E, where the Bible refers to a Pharaoh’s birthday in Genesis 40:20. Pharaohs were crowned by Ancient Egyptians when they were believed to have transformed into Gods - this moment signified their ‘birth’ as a God.
The Ancient Greeks continued the Egyptian tradition of celebrating the ‘birth’ of their Gods but the Romans were the first people to celebrate birthdays for non-religious individuals, such as friends and family.
Birthdays as a time for protection
The Romans held onto the Greek belief that everybody had a protective spirit or daemon that was present at his or her physical birth and kept watch over them throughout their life. According to The Lore of Birthdays (New York, 1952), these spirits “had a mystic relation with the God on whose birthday the individual was born,”.
Authors Ralph and Adelin Linton further explain:
“Originally the idea [of birthday greetings and wishes for happiness] was rooted in magic. The working of spells for good and evil is the chief usage of witchcraft. One is especially susceptible to such spells on his birthday, as one’s personal spirits are about at that time. Birthday greetings have power for good or ill because one is closer to the spirit world on this day. Good wishes bring good fortune, but the reverse is also true, so one should avoid enemies on one’s birthday and be surrounded only by well-wishers. ‘Happy birthday’ and ‘Many happy returns of the day’ are the traditional greetings”
Like many other pagan cultures, the Ancient Greeks believed that significant days, such as those involving major change, saw both good and evil spirits appear to communicate with the Gods. People would burn candles on these days for protection and to ward off the evil spirits, believing they had magickal properties and representing light in the darkness. The flames of the candles were also used to send prayers to the Gods, blowing them out after the wish had been sent.
As well as lighting candles, loved ones would offer cheerful greetings and good wishes to the birthday person, and music and singing was encouraged to deter any unwanted spirits.
Why do we give birthday presents?
Giving gifts is a tradition based on the offering of sacrifices to Gods to appease them. In particular, the Ancient Greeks celebrated the birthday of Artemis, the lunar goddess, by offering moon-shaped cakes decorated with lighted candles to represent her beauty.
Does everybody celebrate their birthday?
Based on its origins, celebrating the day you were born is considered a pagan ritual. Early Christians and Jews didn’t celebrate birthdays because of the connection to paganism and, up until the 4th century, the Christian Church believed birthday celebrations were evil.
If I celebrate my birthday, does that mean I’m pagan?
Whether you worship deities and follow pagan traditions or not, how you celebrate your birthday (if you do at all) is completely your choice. As are all magickal rituals and practices.
You do not need to identify as a pagan to commemorate the day you were born, however knowledge and understanding of the origins of behind the tradition will allow you to celebrate in a way that is meaningful to you.
I personally will be spending today outdoors, walking amongst the tall bare trees and mulched flower beds, appreciating and admiring the beauty of the changing seasons and being thankful for another wonderful year of existence on this beautiful planet.
I will use the power of my birthday greetings for good and give thanks for the blessed fortune and protection they bring.
I will honour my parents for giving me life and, best of all, eat an enormous slice of birthday cake.
Today isn’t just another day. It’s my birthday.