We take birthdays pretty much for granted. When it is someone’s birthday we often have a birthday party for them, with a birthday cake and presents and sing Happy Birthday To You and have all sorts of fun. But when did the custom of celebrating one’s date of birth start to become important?
We have to go back thousands of years to possibly find an answer. Back during Roman Empire days, people did not know about astronomy and the titling of the Earth on it’s axis and stuff like that. They just knew that as winter approached, the days got shorter and shorter as the sun spent less time in the sky, and it was scary to them. They felt the sun was dying and at some point the sun would disappear altogether.
But around middle December, the days would start getting longer again. The sun got higher in the sky and so appeared reborn. This bought great relief and joy to the Romans, so much so that they created a festival to honor this day. The festival was called Saturnalia, named after Saturn the Roman god of agriculture.
The Saturnalia festival was huge, filled with joy and peace and merriment and gifts to the sun, and it lasted a whole week. And basically what the Romans were celebrating was the birth of the sun, which occurred every year at about the same time. In other words, the sun’s birthday.
Though often disputed, there is much evidence to support that the Saturnalia eventually became the day to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. Early Christians wanted to remove all pagan holidays, but Saturnalia was so popular that they wanted to keep it. Since Saturnalia was to celebrate the “birth of the Sun”, why not make It a day to celebrate the “birth of the Son”? In the 3rd century the official Saturnalia celebration day was December 25 (as prescribed by the Roman Emperor Aurelian), so that day also became Jesus’ birthday. And of course that day is celebrated pretty much the same way as Saturnalia, with joy and merriment and peace on Earth.
To make a long story short, as records started being kept of one’s date of birth, eventually people started celebrating their birthdays as they do the sun’s or Son’s. And so today we celebrate birthdays with joy and merriment and gifts. So we do as the Romans did!