Birthday celebrations: history, significance and reflections


Birthdays are a cause for celebrations amongst us homo sapiens across the globe. Birthdays call for cakes, candles, parties and get-togethers.

As kids, birthdays meant getting together with your friends and especially in India— a paper plate full of cake, chips, samosas and a toffee/chocolate. Birthdays also mean gifts, which everyone loves. 

Have you ever wondered though why are birthdays celebrated in the first place? Why these cakes and candles? Well, read on as I present a bit of history and personal reflections on one of the most important days of our lives. 

A few reasons we place importance to birthdays are- 

  1. We celebrate our existence
  2. We thank the divine/our parents/ mother nature for giving us life
  3. Or, we rejoice having survived another year 

Last year a day after my birthday, I visited the ghats of Benaras. If you’re not aware, the ghats of Benaras are famous not just for their indelible charm and river Ganges but also because followers of Sanatana Dharma burn their dead here. The visit, coupled with my reflections on living led me to ruminate on what does a birthday mean. 

History of birthdays


In ancient Egypt—say about 3000 BC—whenever a new Pharaoh(ruler) was appointed, grand celebrations marked the new beginning and the deification of the Pharaoh. 

In Greece, the people offered cakes, topped with lit candles to the Moon Goddess Artemis. The Greeks used candles to simulate the glowing effect of the Moon. 

More recently around the 18th century, the Germans celebrated a festival called ‘Kinder Festa‘. Kinder Festa involved serving of a cake with the number of candles a person has lived; This is the closest we can get to the kind of birthday celebrations we witness till date. 

Birthdays: matter of life and death

My understanding as to why birthdays hold such a significance is because of this word- ‘significance‘. No matter who you are, what you’ve achieved, the need for significance is inherent– As is the need for attention. Birthdays bring a positive recognition and importance for an individual. 

As a teenager, I’ve had all sorts of issues with birthdays. I found them meaningless and a chore. There were a few things that irked me

  1. People who would not contact you or see you, being all happy and phoney to wish you
  2. Does anyone ever really ‘wish’ what they say on a birthday?
  3. Why blow candles?

Putting aside my bias, I have eased up on birthdays now. I look forward to celebrating birthdays of people around me and myself as well in a manner that resonates. In fact, I find birthdays to be a hugely significant reminder of our mortality. 

How? 

Let me share some reflections on birthdays that the ghats of Benaras presented me with


  1. Birthdays can be a reminder that we’ve reached another year closer to our death. The Vedic scriptures reveal, remembering death(our mortal nature) can bring profound meaning to living. 
  2. Blowing of the candles can signify that we’ve blown away ‘x’ number of years away from life. Those years, times and moments are never to return. While we cannot do anything of what’s gone by, we sure can work on what lies ahead. 
  3. Birthdays also give an opportunity for us to reflect how far we’ve come from the previous age number to the current. Have we only grown in age or have we also managed to grow in life? (Hint: the biggest growth factor is smiles, laughter and joy)

How do you celebrate your birthday? Let me know in the comments.

I sincerely hope that the post ends up adding some value to you, dear reader. In some of my future posts, I’d love to touch more upon the topic of living and death. If you liked the piece, let me know and please also share it with others. I look forward to serving you again next week. 

Wish you love, laughter, harmony and joy.

Kushagra

16 thoughts on “Birthday celebrations: history, significance and reflections

  1. nitishkath

    Very nice article. I use to celebrate my birthday by spending time with special people. Like i use to go blind school or give something to needy person which bring happiness on their faces. As according to me God has given us another year another chance to bring smile on others faces

    Like

  2. islejazz

    Enlightening as always. Apart from the new dress I used to get on my bday when I lived with my parents, it has never held any significance for me. People around me feel happier than me on my bday. I don’t even think it’s necessary for people to wish me because I know who wishes well for me and who are fake.

    Like

    1. Kushagra Singh

      Thank you for reading it, A. I mirror your thoughts or used to especially on the wishes part. Now though I feel words have tremendous power and hence any good words are welcome 😉

      Like

      1. islejazz

        Good words are always welcome. But what about the ones that are forced. Also, I wonder about people who take offense when others don’t wish them. It is all so futile. Waste of energy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Kushagra Singh

        That’s so true. I used to wonder where exactly is the wish in what we call the birthday wish! It is merely a greeting. These days I wish only the people that I truly care for and add a prayer for their well being, along with that. 🙂

        Like

  3. Neha

    Quite a fresh perspective you have put in my mind today. I never saw birthday as something that could be a reminder of my getting closer to my death. It just hit me that I should start celebrating life more! After reading this piece I guess this thought will linger on my mind for a long time now. As for the birthday celebration part, well since adulthood I have enjoyed celebrating birthdays doing things I like to do. A day for me sorta theme. Simple yet meaningful.
    Can’t wait for the next article. ✨🤗🤗

    Like

    1. Kushagra Singh

      I deeply appreciate how you find time to read and share such heartfelt feedbacks, Neha. I am super happy that my posts can spark something of value in your life experience. Can’t wait to share the next article with you. Lots of love.

      Like

  4. Ak

    Beautiful article, enjoyed reading it. Interesting how you connect the ancient rituals, blowing candles, and looking at the time as a limited resource. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  5. Prashant

    Hi Kushagra,
    I don’t know about others but there are genuine feelings for you from my end for no particular reason as I do feel it so. I do always wish the best for you without expecting anything in return.
    When it comes to my birthdays, I am really grateful for it each year. Why would not I? As it’s a life I had been blessed with again. I do cherish the b’day celebrated at the hospital in 2015 the most. Earlier, I used to expect friends to call me up as I did on their birthdays. Now, I don’t expect anybody to wish me as it only makes matters worse. Instead, I had told few of my loved ones myself that it was my birthday last year to get their wishes.

    Like

  6. Aakanksha Joshi

    This was long due to read, especially coming from you on a topic which you shy away from. Must say it’s well researched and executed even better. Loved the Banaras angle very much.
    I celebrate my birthday with all the joy possible! It’s been my favourite day since childhood. From balloons to cakes and wafers, new dresses and gatherings; I have enjoyed all the phases of my birthdays.
    Today, however I have become subtle in celebrating the day. Close friends and my family know and respect this wish to keep it down and not have a grand celebration. Though I still buy a new set of clothing for my birthday and eat my cake 😀

    Like

  7. Pingback: Combating the tooth-brush anxiety: Seven tips to stay mindful and be present – Wisdom from the Smiling Panda

  8. Pingback: Death talk- Take two – Wisdom from the Smiling Panda

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s