The Surprising Origin of BIRTHDAYS William F. Dankenbring
Where did the custom of celebrating birthdays come from? Did holy men of God in the Bible celebrate birthdays? Is it wrong to celebrate the day of one’s birth?
What does the Bible say about birthdays? Here is information you ought to know!
Almost everybody, today, celebrates birthdays. Around the world, friends and relatives hold birthday parties, give gifts to the one being honored, and wish “Happy birthday!” to the one whose birthday is being celebrated.
Where did this universal custom originate?
Though you look in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, you will find no mention anywhere of any of the saints of God observing their birthdays. In fact, strange as it may seem to many, even the exact date of the birth of Jesus Christ is NOWHERE REVEALED in Scripture!
We read in the Encyclopedia Judaica, “The celebration of birthdays is unknown in traditional Jewish ritual” (vol.4, p.1054). It points out that the only reference to a birthday in the Bible is that of Pharaoh of Egypt.
The universal custom of observing Christmas as the birth of Christ, on December 25th, is acknowledged by all the historical authorities as having no basis in actual fact. Jesus Christ was born nowhere near December 25th, in the dead of winter. See our article, “When Was Jesus Born?”
If the very day of Jesus’ birth is deliberately left out of the Bible, doesn’t that fact tell us something? If birthdays should be celebrated, why did God leave the date of His own Son’s birth out of Holy Scripture?
The plain truth is that birth day celebrations are only mentioned twice in the Scriptures — once in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament – and both times in reference to customs being observed by unconverted, pagan people — an Egyptian Pharaoh, and wicked king Herod! Notice what happened on these two instances of “birth day celebrations” recorded in the Word of God.
Pharaoh of Egypt
In the book of Genesis we read: “And it came to pass the third day, which was PHARAOH’S BIRTHDAY, that he made a feast [BIRTHDAY PARTY] unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: but he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them” (Genesis 40:20-22).
Notice! This was a birthday party, nothing less! It was being observed by a pagan Egyptian Pharaoh — not a man of God. This is the only example of a clear cut birthday celebration in all the Old Testament — and it was being observed by a PAGAN KING!
The Origin of Birthdays
This fact, however, should not be overly surprising. Writes Linda Rannells Lewis in Birthdays, “Birthdays have been celebrated for thousands of years. In early civilizations, where the development of a calendar made an organized reckoning of birth dates possible, the horoscopes of ruling monarchs, their successors and rivals had to be cast with care and birthday omens meticulously examined, for the prospects of the mighty would affect the prospects of the entire society. By the time of Ptolemy V this practice was well established: ‘Ptolemy, the ever living, the beloved of Ptah, the son of the two Brother-Gods, was born on the fifth day of the month DIOS, and this day was, in consequence, the beginning of great prosperity and happiness of all living men and women’” (p. 12).
Ptolemy V was an ancient Egyptian king. It was common in his day for kings and rulers to have their horoscopes made by astrologers and their birthdays were considered very important omens of the future.
The false science of astrology, of course, makes a great deal out of the positions of the sun, moon and stars at the moment or day of one’s birth. Astrology teaches that the position of the sun, moon and stars at the moment of one’s birth determines their future destiny, their character, their personality, talents, health, and so forth. They cast horoscopes, or birth charts, to understand the supposed significance of a person’s birthday.
Astrology, as the Word of God plainly shows, is a pagan, false religious deception — a fraud and a mythological pseudo-science.
God Almighty says to the daughter of Babylon (Isa. 47:1), the great pagan religious deception which has engulfed the world, “Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the ASTROLOGERS, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. Behold, they shall be as STUBBLE; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame” (Isaiah 47:13-14).
Writes Lewis, in Birthdays, “Birthday celebrations, even at this early stage, were not strictly reserved for the great rulers. Society adapts for its communal use those practices of the elite which it admires and can afford. In the fifth century before Christ, the Greek historian Herodotus, describing the festivals of the Persians, wrote: ‘IT IS THEIR CUS-TOM TO HONOR THEIR BIRTHDAY ABOVE ALL OTHER DAYS: and on this day they furnish their table in a more plentiful manner than at other times. The rich then produce an ox, a horse, a camel, and an ass, roasted whole in an oven; but the poor produce smaller cattle.”
Lewis continues, “In Egypt households of the same period birthdays were celebrated similarly. A part of the family budget was set aside to buy birthday garlands and animals for sacrifice, just as we might plan to spend a certain sum for balloons, party hats, and an ice cream cake” (pages 12-13).
This author goes on, “Among prosperous Greek families a birth feast, a coming-of-age feast, and feasts after death held on the anniversary of the day of birth were observed, but otherwise there were no annual birthday ceremonials. The birthdays of the immortals were ritually acknowledged once a month, however, the third day of each month being sacred to Athena, Ares, and Saturn, for instance” (ibid.).
The emperors of Rome often went to extreme in their own birthday celebrations. When the first birthday of Drusilla, the daughter of Caligula, approached, the emperor arranged a party suitable for the infant daughter of a “god” (himself). To celebrate her birthday, two days of horse racing were held, and a ritual slaughter of 300 bears, and 500 various beasts from Libya, in the amphitheater of Taurus, was held.
The Command of God
What does Almighty God say to His people about celebrating such days in honor of one’s own self, and one’s own individual ego?
The whole message of God is to teach us to humble ourselves, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves – to get rid of ego and self-centeredness. Birthdays have the opposite effect. They concentrate the attention on the birthday person, glorifying him – not God – and exalting him – not God – and having people bring him presents. Thus paying “homage” to the birthday child. This is the height of conceit and fosters a spirit of get, selfishness, and self-worship. Self, self, self! The whole extravaganza creates pride and lofty conceit in selfishness in a child. The typical birthday party is therefore one of the deceptions of the devil, made to look attractive and nice on the outside, but full of wickedness on the inside.
We have already seen the proof that these celebrations were distinctly pagan in origin. But does it make any difference whether we observe birthdays or not?
If our purpose is to build godly and holy offspring and loving, giving, godly children, then we should want to do NOTHING that would hinder this godly purpose – put no temptations in their pathway – do nothing to encourage them to think too highly of themselves in pride and arrogance. Rather, we should teach them to give, to serve, to be humble, to revere God and His Word, and to love other children and seek to help, serve, and honor them. Giving is much better than “getting.” Cain was named “Get,” for his name meant “gotten,” as Eve said, “I have gotten a man-child from the Lord” (Gen.4:1).
Birthday celebrations were definitely of pagan origin. Should God’s people emulate the pagans and pagan societies around them?
God inspired the prophet Jeremiah to write,I in plain terms, “Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, LEARN NOT THE WAY OF THE HEATHEN, and be not dismayed at the signs of the heaven (astrology!); for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the CUSTOMS OF THE PEOPLE ARE VAIN” (Jeremiah 10:1-3).
Clearly, Almighty God commands His people not to follow in the ways, customs, and practices of the heathen, pagan nations around them! Obviously, therefore, the Word of God does NOT sanction or approve of public birthday celebrations or birthday parties!
God is even more plain in His Word. Celebrating birthdays with lavish birthday parties was a pagan Egyptian custom. God commands His people, “After the DOING OF THE LAND OF EGYPT, wherein ye dwelt, SHALL YE NOT DO: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances” (Leviticus 18:3).
God goes on, in this same chapter, after listing more of the evil practices of the heathen, “DEFILE YE NOT YOURSELVES IN ANY OF THESE THINGS: for in all these the nations are defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself VOMITETH out her inhabitants.”
“Ye shall therefore keep MY statutes and MY judgments” — which did NOT include birthday celebrations! – “and shall NOT COMMIT ANY OF THESE ABOMINATIONS; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these ABOMINATIONS have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you” (Leviticus 18:24-28).
Does this sound strong? Almighty God does not sanction, approve or endorse ANY of the pagan customs of the nations of the world! They are an ABOMINATION to Him! Birthday parties may seem so innocent and good on the surface, for the children, but all is not as it seems on the surface. Parents, beware! If you truly love your children then raise them according to GOD’s customs and teachings! This will protect them from the temptations of the devil, vanity, pride, arrogance, and self-centeredness!
God feels very strongly about these kinds of things which foster selfishness, pride, ego, and arrogance. He commands His people, “Therefore shall ye keep MINE ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these ABOMINABLE CUSTOMS, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 18:29-30). Although the customs being discussed in this chapter of Leviticus dealt primarily with religious worship and pagan religious customs, by extension the same principle would apply to pagan derived birthday customs.
Most of the customs God mentioned in Leviticus 18 were abominable sexual practices common among the heathen, and common in the world around us, today. But verse 3 of this chapter says we are not to do “after the doings of the land of EGYPT.”
This clearly shows that the celebrations of BIRTHDAYS, so common in Egypt, was among the prohibitions of Almighty God! We are not to follow those misleading customs which direct attention to oneself in a frivolous display of VANITY and self-centered egotism and pride! Pride, remember, was the cause for the downfall of Lucifer, the archangel or cherubim who rebelled against God. “Your heart was proud because of your beauty,” God said, “you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” (Ezek.28:17). For his pride and overweening self-centeredness, God says, “I cast you to the ground” (v.18).
Let us fear God and KEEP His commandments!