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Birthday cake with 28 candles and the lettering Happy Birthday
Carl Johann Lasch : We congratulate you on your birthday (children bring a birthday card and flowers, 19th century)
Congratulations from an employer on the 75th birthday of a former employee, 1998

The birthday (raised: cradle celebration ) describes the anniversary of the birth or the actual day of the birth of a person . The first birthday is the first anniversary of the birth.

A common custom is to celebrate your birthday with friends and relatives . For children, in addition to celebrating with relatives, children's birthdays are common. In many countries it is also common to give gifts to the person . Likewise, there is also a custom that a person gives something to others on their birthday. Another popular birthday custom is to decorate a cake or tart with exactly the number of candles corresponding to the birthday .

It is common to congratulate a person on a birthday or sing a birthday song. The English song Happy Birthday is popular in many parts of the world . If it is not possible to congratulate personally, it is customary as a gesture of attention to send a birthday greeting by post, telephone call, e-mail or text message . While in Germany it is supposedly bad luck to congratulate before the birthday, in some regions of Austria the congratulations and the celebration the evening before are common.

Special birthdays are the age of majority or special birthdays (e.g. 30th, 50th, 75th, ...), for which there may be regional further, special customs. These include, for example, the box wreath or sock wreath for the 25th or the cathedral stair sweeping for the 30th birthday.

The term birthday is also used in a figurative sense for (founding) anniversary (of a company, an institution, a building, etc.), e.g. B. " Hafengeburtstag " is used; in this case the foundation, establishment or opening is understood as a "birth".


In terms of cultural history, the modern custom of birthday celebrations goes back to the early high culture of ancient Egypt and the culture of antiquity ( Greeks and Romans ). For the Egyptians, the birthday party was held in honor of the Pharaoh . With the Greeks and Romans, on the other hand, the birthday party was used to invoke guardian spirits to protect the celebrated person from bad things. Birthday presents represented a sacrifice to the guardian spirit. Commemoration of ancestors also played a role. Originally, monthly celebrations, mostly by communities of people born on the same day, were common. A reference to gods supposedly born on the same day was what unites them. Invitations, blessings , gifts, speeches and poems were common. In the Roman Empire, the birthday of the ruler and members of his family was celebrated with thanksgiving festivities.

Not least because of its importance in astrology , the birthday and any special events occurring on it could be associated with numerous mystical - magical ideas about their premeaning for the fate of the person concerned with corresponding apotropaic ('defensive') or customs or rituals . The Judaism was and is the birthday traditions hostile to and including the early Christianity , it was soon, however, the church, the Lord Solemnity of the Nativity '(lat. Sollemnitas in nativitate Domini integrated, "Christmas"). Various birthday customs have been preserved and developed even in contemporary international culture (symbolic birthday gifts, birthday candles, birthday cakes, etc.).

In Christianity

The Christian Bible explicitly mentions birthday celebrations in only three places, one of them in the 2nd Book of the Maccabees belonging to the late writings of the Old Testament , each celebrated by rulers hostile to God:

According to some Christian interpreters, there is also a positive mention of birthday celebrations in the Bible:

  • the "days" of the sons of Job , after which Job - who was not a Jew - makes sacrifices to sanctify his sons every time, in the event that they have sinned during the feast held ( Job 1: 4–5  EU ).

In emerging Christianity, the birthday of Christ was celebrated early. It is known today as Christmas . In the African, Egyptian and Old Palestinian Churches, the birth of Christ was celebrated differently in the 3rd and 4th centuries, namely in January, April or May. Clemens of Alexandria , Augustine and Gregor von Nazianz report on different dates. From Cyprus , Armenia and Mesopotamia in the 4th century, January 6th is documented as the ecclesiastical birthday of Christ. The Armenian Church still adheres to the festival date of January 6th.

In the Christian area, birthday celebrations began gradually on the 4th and 5th. Century on, initially for the partly deified ( divus ) emperors as well as for persons of the Christian cult like Mary and John the Baptist . Due to the tradition of worshiping witnesses of faith ready to die, the so-called martyrs , the day of death , which - interpreted as the entry into true, eternal life - was often referred to as the birthday ( dies natalis ), was more important for cultic practice . Private birthday celebrations remained isolated until the 19th century and only occurred in higher social classes. The celebration of the birthday initially spread more in Protestant areas, while in the Catholic area the name day was preferred . It is only recently that the celebration of birthdays has established itself among Catholics.

Christmas can be seen as a birthday celebration: According to the tradition of many Christian churches, the ' Solemnity of the Birth of the Lord ' is celebrated on December 25th and January 6th . In addition, the “birthday of the church” is traditionally celebrated in various Christian churches at Pentecost .

The Christian religious community of Jehovah's Witnesses , referring to the practice of early Christians, rejects the celebration of birthdays, including Christmas in any form.

In Judaism

The only mention of a celebration to commemorate the day of the birth ( Hebrew יוֹם הֻלֶּדֶת jôm hullædæt ) in the Jewish Bible concerns the birthday of the Egyptian Pharaoh ( Gen 40.20  EU ). Accordingly, birthday celebrations were treated negatively and critically by the rabbis .

The Bar Mitzvah for 13-year-old Jewish boys or Bat Mitzvah for 12-year-old Jewish girls is perhaps the only Jewish celebration that is often held in connection with a calendar birthday. Bar and Bat Mitzvah denote the status as well as the day and the celebration on which religious maturity, i.e. H. the attainment of religious maturity according to Jewish law occurs. Despite modern celebrations where a secular "birthday" element can overshadow the religious rite, the essence of a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah celebration is religious in origin. On the 13th or 12th birthday, the Jewish child becomes a bar mitzvah ('son of the commandment') or a bat mitzvah ('daughter of the commandment') and a possible celebration can take place on that calendar day or on any date thereafter.

In Islam

In some conservative currents in Islam , celebrating birthdays is a Christian or supposedly Jewish custom that is forbidden for Muslims . Only celebrating the birthday of the founder of the religion Mohammed is widespread, by telling his birth story, distributing food and giving presents to children (see Maulid an-Nabī ). But this is seen by some Muslims as un-Islamic and therefore forbidden, since the Prophet himself did not celebrate his birthday and the Muslims would have to follow his example (the so-called Sunnah). However, the Prophet Muhammad is said to have said that it is permissible to introduce something new into Islam if it has a use (narrated by Imâm Muslim, in Sahih Muslim;). The majority of the Muslim community sees the benefit in reminding Muslims of the Prophet's birth story and strengthening their faith accordingly.

This attitude is not shared in other currents of Islam. In Shiite Iran, for example, the birthday of Muhammad's daughter, Fatima bint Muhammad , is celebrated as Mother's Day . Its date according to the civil calendar changes from year to year:

year Civil calendar
2018 09th March
2019 February 25
2020 February 15th
2021 0February 4th

Birthdays of heads of state

Gun salute for Queen's Birthday in Jersey on June 13, 2008

Many countries have made their monarch's birthday a public holiday. When the birthday falls during a time of year when the chance of rain is high and temperatures are low, the holiday is often placed in a more pleasant time of the year.

Until Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated , for example, Koninginnedag , her official birthday, was celebrated on April 30th, the birthday of her mother Juliana , although she was born on January 31st. Their son and successor Willem-Alexander was born on April 27th, so that the Koningsdag is brought forward by three days and thus the real birthday and the date of the official holiday coincide again.

In the Commonwealth of Nations , the monarch's birthday is celebrated differently in each member state, depending on the climate and the location of other holidays in the calendar. The military parade Trooping the Color in honor of the royal birthday has always been held in June (usually on the second Saturday of the month).

Even the dictatorships of the 20th century seldom renounced the public celebration of the birthday of the ruling power as an identity-creating ritual . Thus, in Germany under the Nazi regime the birthday of Adolf Hitler as leader's birthday celebrated in North Korea the birthday of the dictator is Kim Jong-un regularly celebrated with great effort, and to this day the birthday plays Mao Tsedongs in China and for Communist groups in all over the world an important role.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Birthday  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Birthday  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Birthday  Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. See Claudia Englhofer: Birthday. In: The New Pauly. Volume 4, Stuttgart 1998, Sp. 843-845 (also: Brill Online, 2015 DER NEUE PAULY (DNP) - Brill Reference ); Alfred Stuiber : birthday. In: Real Lexicon for Antiquity and Christianity. Volume 9, 1976, Col. 217-243; Christian Petersen : Origin, type and meaning of the birthday celebration among the ancient peoples. In: G. Westermann (Hrsg.): Westermann's illustrated German monthly books. Volume 9, G. Westermann, October 1860 - March 1861, p. 327 ( limited preview in the Google book search) Cf. also the report on Petersen's lecture of the same name in Hamburg on Johann Joachim Winckelmann's birthday in Archäologischer Anzeiger zur Archäologische Zeitung, Volume XIII No. 84 December 1855, column 108-109.
  2. See Kurt Latte : Römische Religionsgeschichte. (= Handbook of Classical Studies. 5, 4). Munich 1960, p. 313f.
  3. See Stuiber: Birthday. Sorrow: birthday.
  4. Stromata I, 21, quoted from Cyril Charles Martindale: entry “Christmas” , in: The Catholic Encyclopedia . Volume 3, Robert Appleton Company, New York 1908.
  5. ^ Augustine, Sermones 202.
  6. ^ A b Cyril Charles Martindale: Entry "Christmas" , in: The Catholic Encyclopedia . Volume 3, Robert Appleton Company, New York 1908.
  7. ^ ML McClure and Charles L. Feltoe (Eds.): The pilgrimage of Etheria . Society for promoting Christian knowledge / The Macmillan company, London and New York [1919], p. 52 f.
  8. This is attested in particular by inscriptions, cf. for example CIL VI 36960.
  9. ^ Klaus Beitl: Birthday. In: Lexicon for Theology and Church. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2009, Volume 4, Col. 335.
  10. Jump up George D. Chryssides: Jehovah's Witnesses. Continuity and Change . Ashgate, Farnham / Burlington 2016, p. 199-201 .
  11. Fatwa on the question of whether birthday celebrations are allowed in Islam. (No longer available online.) In: Archived from the original on January 19, 2015 ; Retrieved January 19, 2015 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  12. ( Memento of the original dated December 2, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  13. Iran marks Mother's Day . April 20, 2014.
  14. Wendy S. DeBano: Music and the Play of Power in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia . Ashgate Publishing . 2009.
  15. Spiegel online from February 16, 2015.
  16. Cf. return to Mao's ideals, values ​​and norms. In: The world . 17th October 2013.