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-
- We celebrate our existence
- We thank the divine/our parents/ mother nature for giving us life
- 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
- People who would not contact you or see you, being all happy and phoney to wish you
- Does anyone ever really ‘wish’ what they say on a birthday?
- 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.
Let me share some reflections on birthdays that the ghats of Benaras presented me with
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.