Ancient Roots, Modern Holidays for Kids - Birthdays Illustration

Ancient Roots, Modern Holdays for Kids - Birthdays

For Kids: Nobody knows when birthday parties started.

Early humans had no calendars to keep track of things like birthdays. When people began to settle down in communities and began to farm, many ancient civilizations invented calendars to help them keep track of planting times and harvest times. Once they could keep track of things, many civilizations in ancient times celebrated the birth of a child in special ways. Some celebrated each year on the date a child was born. Others celebrated everyone's birthday on the same day each year. Some celebrated only on certain years.

Ancient Sumer: The first recorded record of a birthday party was in ancient Sumer, written in cuneiform, on an ancient tablet. The tablet listed how many sheep and goats and lambs had been made for the party. It also said the daughter, that historians assume refers to the baby, had been born in the "day of the sunlight weakening", which historians think means probably in October or November. This tablet, now on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, is over 4,500 years old. It appears birthday parties have been around for quite a while.  

Ancient Egypt: In ancient Egypt, if a family could not have a child of their own, they gratefully adopted a child. No child grew up without a loving home. All children in ancient Egypt were treated with care. Children were important. They were the heart of the home.  The ancient Egyptians believed in curses and good and bad magic. Naturally, before the birth of a child, they went to the marketplace and bought charms and papyrus scrolls filled with good luck and happiness magic. The Egyptians invented a calendar with 365 days, with an extra day thrown in once every four years, just as we do today. The birthdays of children were carefully marked as special days of celebration, and were accompanied of course with a trip to the market to buy special charms to give their children to carry or wear to keep them safe. They also said prayers in the temples and received gifts from family and friends.

Ancient Greece: When a baby was born in ancient Greece, it was a cause for celebration. The Greeks loved dance. So of course they had a special dance the father did, holding his new baby. The mother made a wreath for the door so everyone would know they had a new baby. Friends and family brought gifts, usually gifts of food, but sometimes gifts for the baby of embroidered clothing and blankets.

Ancient Rome:  Not only was daily life in ancient Rome considerably different for the rich and poor, which is true for nearly every culture, daily life was also different when Rome was a Kingdom, a Republic, and then an Empire. In all three stages of Roman history, the birth of a child remained important. In ancient Rome, the birth or start of anything was important. Temples, cities, and people were remembered on the day of their "birth". Like other ancient people, the Romans believed in many gods. The ancient Romans believed that each baby received the attention of a little god for one year. Each year, to keep their little god looking after them, they had to make a sacrifice, usually of food, occasionally of a toy, which was then given to a sibling.

Ancient China: As in other ancient cultures, the ancient Chinese loved celebrations. People today still quote and study the many sayings and ideas (rules) that Confucius taught his students about 2,500 years ago. Today, each year the people of China celebrate Confucius Birthday (Teacher's Day) in honor of their ancestor, Confucius, the great teacher. They also have a very old celebration called Zhuazhou. For a child's first birthday, friends and family are invited to share a meal. Long noodles are served to guests as a wish for the child to have a long life. Then, certain objects are placed in front the infant. Today, they are things like thread, coins, flowers, food, cooking utensils, paper, books. stamps, and more. Legend says .. Whatever the child grabs first will determine their future career and life interests. The ancient Chinese held an annual birthday party for ghosts, so ghosts would be honored and remembered, and as far as we know, they still do. The first year birthday, the birthday of very famous people in China's long history and the birthday party for the ghosts of their ancestors are not the only birthdays celebrated. The seventh day each year of the Chinese New Year is called Yan Yat, "Everybody's Birthday." 

Birthday history and customs around the world. Cake, candles, song, and gifts - when did it all start?

Birthday traditions around the world

Ancient Calendars

Birthday Cake Cones

Here's a great birthday party idea for home or school. Make a cake recipe as usual. Fill ice cream cones 3/4 full with the cake mix. Bake per directions on the cake mix. Decorate with icing or however you wish.

For Teachers
Birthday Lesson Plans & Activities

Birthdays Mini-Unit

Birthday Lesson Plan with activities