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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Birthdays - Present Giving in the Past

Tomorrow, my middle son celebrates his 9th birthday.

No, that's not quite true.  Tomorrow, we all celebrate his 9th birthday.  The excitement and anticipation is over-powering, and it got me thinking.  Where does the time-honoured tradition of giving presents came from?

Birthday celebrations vary by culture and gender, as does the history of birthday gifts
Beginning perhaps as early as Roman times, traditions were taken from other, often pagan, celebrations and applied to celebrating an individual’s birthday. But, like other holidays, religion influenced these traditions.  
Christianity introduced the calendar of saints, which associated each day with a saint or martyr. This calendar led to the custom of individuals taking for his or her baptismal or confirmation name the name of the saint honored on his or her day of birth. Thus, even today, some Catholics celebrate the saint on his or her “name day” rather than celebrating a “birth day”.  
Some Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays because of the pagan origin of the birthday tradition.

An alternative view is that years ago in Europe, people believed that evil spirits would seek out and haunt someone on their birthday, most importantly the king. 
Therefore, on one’s birthday, people would gather to protect that person and would bring with them good wishes. 
These gatherings became our modern day birthday parties, and over time, people brought more than just good wishes to ward off evil spirits; they brought presents too.

So, there you have it.  Either Christianity, or warding off evil spirits, is, ironically, the birth of birthday present giving.

Now, where did I put the wrapping paper?

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