Birthdays around the world

by Ruth Griffiths

Today is my birthday. It’s the 68th anniversary of my birth, a very important event … at least in my life. I’ve noticed that women of a certain age are no longer reluctant to announce their age. And when you reach a century, you begin to announce your age is fractions again, like the very young do. You are 99 and a half or 100 and a quarter.

One of the oldest recorded birthdays was over 4,000 years ago when King Pharaoh celebrated his birthday by making a feast for his court followers. Another Bible story tells how King Herod made a birthday supper for his lords, high captains and other special friends in Galilee.

Today most people celebrate their birthday with greeting cards and a decorated cake. Birthday celebrations in the European tradition evolved as attempts to fend off the evil spirits that people believed were attracted to a person celebrating a birthday.

Centuries ago, birthdays were considered a time when the bad spirits, as opposed to the good spirits, were able to harm you. It was believed that the only way to keep the bad spirits at bay was to have your friends and family surround you with their good wishes.

 The custom of lighting candles originated with people believing that the gods lived in the sky and by lighting candles and torches they were sending a signal or prayer to the gods so they could be answered. When you blow out the candles on your cake and make a wish this is another way of sending a signal and a message.

I remember getting the birthday bumps as a child at school. Apparently this tradition originated in Ireland and where the birthday child is lifted and “bumped” on the floor for good luck.  The number of bumps given is the age of the child plus one for extra good luck.

Different cultures celebrate in different ways.

In Brazil, well-wishers pull on the earlobes of the birthday girl or boy for good luck. The party includes candies shaped like fruits and vegetables.

In Australia, a children’s birthday feast includes “Fairy Bread”… buttered bread covered with colourful candy sprinkles. (I’ll bet someone invented this when the cake flopped.)

In India, children wear new clothes on their birthday.

Mexican children smash piñatas at their large birthday gatherings. The piñata is a decorated container for candy. The piñata actually originated in China where they were used to celebrate New Year’s.

I plan to celebrate my birthday with a quiet meal with family, but if I really wanted to keep my birthday secret I would have thought up a different topic to my column, wouldn’t I.

Statistically there are more birthdays at this time of year, so a “happy birthday” wish to all you other spring lambs.