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Gift inspi­ra­tion
HR & culture

Birthdays: about their history, traditions and birthday gifts

By Isabel
28 Jul 2022

birth·day (noun; plural: birthdays): the anniver­sary of the day on which a person was born.’ That’s what it says in the Oxford English Dictionary. But what do we say? It’s the day when you receive birthday gifts, cake and candles to celebrate the fact that you’ve turned another year older. But where do those gifts, cake and candles come from? Do people celebrate birthdays everywhere? And when did it all start?

Western birthday history

Long live the pharaoh

To celebrate a birthday, you of course need a calendar, and this dates back to ancient times. The Egyptians are said to have started the tradition by cel­e­brat­ing the pharaohs birthday. They didn’t actually celebrate the day the pharaoh was born, but the day he was crowned. This custom was then adopted by the Greeks who celebrated the birthday of the Gods. It was also the Greeks who introduced birthday candles. They were used as part of a ritual to drive away demons.

Then along came the Romans with their calendar and they started cel­e­brat­ing the birthday of the common man. And I delib­er­ate­ly say man because women’s birthdays have only been celebrated since the 12th century(!)

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the birthday tradition was also lost. During the Middle Ages, the Church considered cel­e­brat­ing a birthday to be a pagan tradition. So it wasn’t until the 4th century AD that birthday parties were accepted. Hurrah! 

Children’s parties and candles

In the 17th century, the Germans introduced the Kinder­feste. Parents organised children’s parties to celebrate their children’s birthdays. The birthday cake with candles was also introduced at these children’s parties. This is where the tradition of one candle a year originated. But the Germans always added an extra candle to symbolise the hope of another year.

And what about the rest of the world?

Birthdays aren’t celebrated in the same way everywhere. For example, there’s the Mexican piñata or the buttered noses in Canada. In Vietnam, all birthdays are celebrated on the same day, namely Tet, New Year’s Day. In both North and South Korea, they celebrate a first birthday 100 days after the birth.

This Korean birthday tradition came about because in the past newborn babies often didn’t live past 100 days. During the birthday party, rice cakes are handed out that need to be eaten by at least 100 guests to bring good luck. But what if you don’t have 100 guests at the party? Then the rice cakes are delivered to people’s homes or elsewhere.

In some countries, the name day is also celebrated in addition to the birthday. Your name day cor­re­sponds to the saint’s day that your name comes from or is derived from. So in these countries you get to celebrate twice!

About birthday gifts

We’ve already heard about demons being chased away on your birthday when the Greeks used to ward off evil spirits using candles. But over time, objects were given to the person cel­e­brat­ing their birthday as a way to protect themself from the demons. And ta-da, that’s where birthday presents come in. We don’t really believe in evil spirits and demons anymore, but we definitely still believe in birthday gifts!

Surprise an employee and support FEESTvarken vzw? With Kadonation you can!

What could be more fun than letting an employee know you’re thinking about them on their special day by surprising them with a present? If as a company you decide not to let this special occasion pass by unnoticed, then you’re definitely one step ahead.

In our experience, quite a few companies don’t dare to take this step. For fear of forgetting an employee. So at Kadonation we’ve come up with something to prevent that: our Happy Birthday Service. An automated service where we surprise each employee with a digital Kadonation Gift Card on their birthday, entirely according to your wishes. Besides that, we’ve prepared a digital birthday guide with a checklist to help you get started.

And what’s more, for every €500 of Kadonation Gift Cards given on this occasion, we donate €1 to FEESTvarken vzw. This is a non-profit organ­i­sa­tion committed to children in poverty, because every child deserves to celebrate their birthday.

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