Sunday, December 11 is Janelle the Intern’s (http://www.beinggirl.com/expert-bios/janelle-wichmann/?utm_source=wordpress&utm_medium=NursePlummer&utm_content=link20111210&utm_campaign=comm_mgr) birthday. Janelle is a beinggirl.com expert and a great resource for teens when it comes to supporting them through the chaos that adolescence brings. In honor of her birthday, I thought it would be fun to look at the history and culture of how birthdays are celebrated globally and throughout time. Since December is also a very distinctive birthday month, it seems that Janelle’s birthday comes at a very opportune time to talk about this very special topic.
I was searching the Internet for a site that would provide the content for this post about birthdays and think that Wikipedia has the most robust info to use. While I can’t attest on a stack of Bibles that all in this post is totally factual, Wikipedia does have references for their content, so I am hoping that all I am sharing is true. Please let me know if there is something that is in error or if you have contradicting information that I should know about.
According to Wikipedia:
The ancient Romans celebrated birthdays with hedonistic parties and generous presents. The early Christians rejected that practice as being pagan. I like that today’s birthday celebrations can include generous gifts and fun parties, but there are also other ways to make the birthday person feel special without spending a fortune. For example, I got all mushky over the Facebook birthday wishes I received, as I loved being remembered by so many people I usually don’t get to see or talk with. Also, just bringing the birthday boy or girl a special home baked treat may suffice as a way to help celebrate their day.
In Judaism, it doesn’t surprise me that various rabbis dispute the perspective on birthday celebrations. Rabbis are learned scholars and learned scholars always debate stuff and how it should be handled even birthdays – go figure! In any case, it seems that the one single mention of birthdays in the Old Testament is for an Egyptian Pharaoh in Genesis 40:20 (I checked my Bible and there is mention of the birthday celebration.) The Bar Mitzvah of 13-year-old boys or Bat Mitzvah for 12-year-old girls is the only Jewish celebration connected with birthdays. Both are recognitions of religious maturity and don’t have to fall on the exact birthday of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child (or very young adult). I actually had a Bat Mitzvah way back when in the days of yore. If I remember correctly, I was the second woman in my Conservative Temple to have a Bat Mitzvah. My Russian immigrant instructor felt I could do it and, I believe in the spirit of feminism, she encouraged me to prepare for this. I was undecided until my parents offered (bribed is more like it) a puppy as a gift. I said YES. It was such a big deal at my synagogue, that there were more attendees than usually come for the high holy holidays. They had to open the back overflow areas. I still remember the passages I recited and am truly happy that I had the experience.
The early Christians didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth because they considered the celebration of anyone’s birth to be a pagan custom. In medieval times, ordinary people celebrated their saint’s day that they were named after. Obviously, celebrations have changed greatly today and I am very glad. Though, still today, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate birthdays on the basis that they are portrayed negatively in the Bible have historical connections with magic, superstitions and Paganism. By the way, since I have been throwing the word pagan about, I thought I would define it: from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: One who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods – OY!
In Islam, while Conservative clerics consider the celebration of a birthday to be a sin, a few Muslim clerics issued a statement saying that the celebration of a birthday is permissible (check out birthdays on Wikipedia for the reference). In the US, some Muslims celebrate birthdays of children mostly.
Hindus celebrate the birth anniversary that is related to the lunar month or solar month and star alignment, etc. It is very astronomically controlled, which makes it seem, to me, as a celebration of ones part in the universe. I really like that bigger than ourselves out-of-the world type of connection.
Cultural Birthday Celebrations:
In Africa, some families commemorate a girl’s sixteenth birthday with a sweet sixteen celebration.
In some Hispanic-American countries, the quinceanera celebration marks a girls 15th birthday.
Hindus, in India, celebrate a boy’s 12th or 13th birthday with a grand “thread ceremony.” In a ceremony, called a Upanayana, The child has a blessed thread to wear that symbolizes his coming of age.
In the Philippines, girls on their 18th birthday celebrate a debut.
In Japan, there is a Coming of Age Day to celebrate the 20th birthday.
While I only covered celebrations that I found in Wikipedia, I know that there are so many more that are interesting. I would love to hear how other cultures celebrate birthdays. Please share!
Before ending this post, and in celebration of Janelle’s birthday (and because I love history), below are some key events that happened in history on December 11:
1946: The United Nations General assembly established the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
1941: Hitler and Mussolini announced they are at war with America and then America announced it is at war with them!!
1936: Great Britain King Edward VIII abdicates the throne to marry an American twice-divorcee, Wallis Warfield Simpson.
1866: First yacht race across the Atlantic Ocean (wonder why they would begin this in December!!)
1844: First dental use of nitrous oxide, Hartford, CT (so glad about this one!!)
1620: 103 Mayflower pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock
Happy birthday JANELLE and many, many more happy and healthy celebrations!