Definition: The day of one’s birth or the anniversary of that day. In some places the anniversary of one’s birth, especially that of a child, is celebrated with a party and the giving of gifts. Not a Biblical practice.
Do Bible references to birthday celebrations put them in a favorable light? The Bible makes only two references to such celebrations:
Gen. 40:20-22: “Now on the third day it turned out to be Pharaoh’s birthday, and he proceeded to make a feast . . . Accordingly he returned the chief of the cupbearers to his post of cupbearer . . . But the chief of the bakers he hung up.”
Matt. 14:6-10: “When Herod’s birthday was being celebrated the daughter of Herodias danced at it and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Then she, under her mother’s coaching, said: ‘Give me here upon a platter the head of John the Baptist.’ . . . He sent and had John beheaded in the prison.”
Everything that is in the Bible is there for a reason. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) Jehovah’s Witnesses take note that God’s Word reports unfavorably about birthday celebrations and so shun these.
How did early Christians and Jews of Bible times view birthday celebrations?
“The notion of a birthday festival was far from the ideas of the Christians of this period in general.”—The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries (New York, 1848), Augustus Neander (translated by Henry John Rose), p. 190.
“The later Hebrews looked on the celebration of birthdays as a part of idolatrous worship, a view which would be abundantly confirmed by what they saw of the common observances associated with these days.”—The Imperial Bible-Dictionary (London, 1874), edited by Patrick Fairbairn, Vol. I, p. 225.
What is the origin of popular customs associated with birthday celebrations?
“The various customs with which people today celebrate their birthdays have a long history. Their origins lie in the realm of magic and religion. The customs of offering congratulations, presenting gifts and celebrating—complete with lighted candles—in ancient times were meant to protect the birthday celebrant from the demons and to ensure his security for the coming year. . . . Down to the fourth century Christianity rejected the birthday celebration as a pagan custom.”—Schwäbische Zeitung (magazine supplement Zeit und Welt), April 3/4, 1981, p. 4.
“The Greeks believed that everyone had a protective spirit or daemon who attended his birth and watched over him in life. This spirit had a mystic relation with the god on whose birthday the individual was born. The Romans also subscribed to this idea. . . . This notion was carried down in human belief and is reflected in the guardian angel, the fairy godmother and the patron saint. . . . The custom of lighted candles on the cakes started with the Greeks. . . . Honey cakes round as the moon and lit with tapers were placed on the temple altars of [Artemis]. . . . Birthday candles, in folk belief, are endowed with special magic for granting wishes. . . . Lighted tapers and sacrificial fires have had a special mystic significance ever since man first set up altars to his gods. The birthday candles are thus an honor and tribute to the birthday child and bring good fortune. . . . Birthday greetings and wishes for happiness are an intrinsic part of this holiday. . . . Originally the idea was rooted in magic. . . . Birthday greetings have power for good or ill because one is closer to the spirit world on this day.”—The Lore of Birthdays (New York, 1952), Ralph and Adelin Linton, pp. 8, 18-20.
Wholesome gatherings of family and friends at other times to eat, drink, and rejoice are not objectionable
Eccl. 3:12, 13: “There is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good during one’s life; and also that every man should eat and indeed drink and see good for all his hard work. It is the gift of God.”
See also 1 Corinthians 10:31.