Today, Tuesday, May 16, 2017, is my birthday! I turned 29 years old, and I’m optimistically looking forward to my thirties while doing the best I can to grasp all the lessons of my twenties. Wish me luck in that endeavor, by the way.
As my day progressed, texts, calls, and notifications on social media from family and friends wishing me a happy birthday never ceased. It made me smile to think that so many people had taken a moment out of their day to think of me and wish me well, but it also made me wonder how these traditions developed over time. Send in Google to the rescue!
Apparently, finding a reputable source on the development of birthday traditions is kind of difficult, but I managed to latch on to a few interesting facts. Celebrating birthdays actually comes from various pagan traditions. The act of noting one’s day of birth was typically for purposes of astrological calculations, which many monotheist groups did not, and still do not, approve of. To this day, some religious groups refuse to acknowledge their birthdays; hell, even I know a few people like that.
The old pagan beliefs held that on your birthday, you were far more likely to be visited by spirits because of the importance of the day. It was their opinion that these could be either good or bad spirits, so people banded around the individual with the birthday for their protection by surrounding them with laughter and positivity. You know, the whole strength in numbers routine? Even the tradition of saying, “Happy birthday!”, is along those same lines. The saying is meant to wish a person good luck and provide protection from those bad spirits. The act of giving birthday gifts echoes back to the days of offering sacrifices to the pagan gods on their birthdays.
Birthday spankings are also shrouded in superstitious tradition. Each spank is meant to ward off those evil spirits, and I’m pretty sure you’d get one spank for each year of life, so one could rationalize that the general assumption is that you get more evil with age. And if there’s one thing that evil spirits just won’t tolerate, it’s violence, apparently?
Even the typical birthday games are actually symbolic traditions having to do with paganism. Pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey is one of the oldest birthday celebration games. The blindfold is truly the centerpiece of the symbolism in this case. It represents the unknown, and the child uses their intuition or “magic” to pin the tail correctly, and represents their navigation through the coming year. Surely, these activities are meant to express well-wishing, like many of the other traditions.
Thankfully, I’m past my spanking years now. I didn’t pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey this year, either. But, with all the birthday wishes that I received today, I should be able to successfully ward off any evil spirits until next year!