Although many who profess Christ celebrate birthdays, did you know that birthdays were simply not celebrated by those in the early church? Interestingly, there is no hint in the Bible or early writings that Jesus, the apostles, or any true Christians ever celebrated birthdays.
This article will begin with an introduction on the origin of birthdays, discuss some ancient and modern Judaic views of birthdays, discuss the Bible and early Gentile views of birthdays, and discuss how birthdays became to be celebrated amongst those that profess Christianity. A related sermon video is available and is titled: Birthdays, Christians, and December 25th.
So what is the origin of birthdays? Where did the idea of birthdays celebrations come from?
“Originally the idea [of birthday greetings and wishes for happiness] was rooted in magic. The working of spells for good and evil is the chief usage of witchcraft. One is especially susceptible to such spells on his birthday, as one’s personal spirits are about at that time. Dreams dreamed on the birthday eve should be remembered, for they are predictions of the future brought by the guardian spirits which hover over one’s bed on the birthday eve. Birthday greetings have power for good or ill because one is closer to the spirit world on this day. Good wishes bring good fortune, but the reverse is also true, so one should avoid enemies on one’s birthday and be surrounded only by well-wishers. ‘Happy birthday’ and ‘Many happy returns of the day’ are the traditional greetings” (The Lore of Birthdays, Linton, p. 20)...
The giving of birthday gifts is a custom associated with the offering of sacrifices to pagan gods on their birthdays. Certainly the custom was linked with the same superstitions that formed the background for birthday greetings. “The exchange of presents… is associated with the importance of ingratiating good and evil fairies… on their or our birthdays” (ibid.).
The traditional birthday cake and candles also have their origin in ancient pagan idol worship. The ancients believed that the fire of candles had magical properties. They offered prayers and made wishes to be carried to the gods on the flames of the candles. Thus we still have the widely practiced birthday custom of making a wish, then blowing out the candles. The Greeks celebrated the birthday of their moon goddess, Artemis, with cakes adorned with lighted candles...
“The Egyptians… discovered to which of the gods each month and day is sacred; and found out from the day of a man’s birth, what he will meet with in the course of his life, and how he will end his days, and what sort of man he will be” (Herodotus, Persian Wars, Book II, ch. 82)
Since it was believed that the positions of the stars at the time of birth influenced a child’s future, astrological horoscopes came into being, purporting to foretell the future, based on the time of birth. “Birthdays are intimately linked with the stars, since without the calendar, no one could tell when to celebrate his birthday. They are also indebted to the stars in another way, for in early days the chief importance of birthday records was to enable the astrologers to chart horoscopes” (The Lore of Birthdays, p. 53). Rawlinson’s translation of Herodotus includes the following footnote: “Horoscopes were of very early use in Egypt… and Cicero speaks of the Egyptians and Chaldees predicting… a man’s destiny at his birth"...
When we examine the principles of God’s law closely, as they relate to birthday celebrations, we can understand why neither Christ, nor His Apostles, nor their true followers, observed their birthdays. As noted earlier, the practice has its origin in idolatry and the worship of the sun, moon and stars...Some may view birthday customs as purely secular, lacking any religious significance. Yet we need to be aware of the broader perspective of their origins, and the religious significance they have had—and still have—for vast multitudes of people. (Reynolds, Rod. Should Christians Celebrate Birthdays? LCN, May-June 2002. pp.16-18).
Furthermore, the book The Lore of Birthdays (New York, 1952) by Ralph and Adelin Linton, on pages 8, 18-20 had this to say:
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...
Thus it appears that birthdays had their origin in mythology and magic, with horoscopes also probably playing a role. Astrology is a really big proponent of birthdays.
For more on astrology, check out the article The Bible and Astrology.
The ancient Romans enthusiastically celebrated birthdays with hedonistic parties and presents (Argetsinger K. "Birthday Rituals: Friends and Patrons in Roman Poetry and Cult." Classical Antiquity 11 (2), 1992: pp. 175–193).
Followers of Buddha celebrate his birthday each year (generally in May).
But what were early Jewish practices?
The first century Jewish historian Josephus noted that Jewish families did not celebrate birthdays:
Nay, indeed, the law does not permit us to make festivals at the birth of our children, and thereby afford occasion of drinking to excess (Josephus. Translated by W. Whiston. Against Apion, Book II, Chapter 26. Extracted from Josephus Complete Works, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids (MI), 14th printing, 1977, p. 632).
Now although there is no specific command against the celebration of birthdays in the Bible, the Jewish custom in those days was apparently based on the negative occurrences in the Bible surrounding birthdays, as well as the astrological implications of the celebration of birthdays (pagan practices, like astrology, were specifically prohibited in the law--see also OMENS? DIVINATION? HOROSCOPES? THE ORIGIN OF ASTROLOGY).
Since nearly all of the first Christians were Jewish, this may partially explain why the celebration of Jesus' birth would not be consistent with that early custom.
Notice two reports that would seem to support that:
"There is no tradition in Judaism of celebrating birthdays as holidays, otherwise we would expect holidays for the birthdays of Moses and Abraham, among others, but there is no such thing. The Bible does not even record their birthdays, just as the New Testament does not record the date of Yeshua’s birth." http://www.amfi.org/mailbag/messiahmas.htm
The interesting thing about birthday celebrations is that, for much of our history, they were not a very "Jewish" custom.
...as a rule, Jews did not celebrate their birthdays. Indeed, while the dates of passing (yahrtzeit) of the great figures of Jewish history are recorded and commemorated, their dates of birth are mostly unknown. (Your Jewish Birthday. Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2527/jewish/What-Happened-on-Your-Birthday.htm)
In their essay titled "Birthdays, Jewishly," Lisa Farber Miller and Sandra Widener point out that the Encyclopedia Judaica is very blunt on this topic:
"The celebration of birthdays is unknown in traditional Jewish ritual."
Notice what the Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies reported:
The Encyclopedia Judaica could not be more blunt: "The celebration of birthdays is unknown in traditional Jewish ritual." In fact, it says, the only birthday party mentioned in the Bible is for Pharaoh! (Genesis 40:20).
The tradition also holds that your birth alone is not as significant as the way you live your life. After all, King Solomon is thought to have said, "The day of death is better than the day of one's birth (Ecclesiastes 7:1). As a midrash explains, 'When a person is born, it is not known what he will be like when grown and what his deeds will be – whether righteous or wicked, good, or evil. http://www.ritualwell.org/lifecycles/babieschildren/firstmilestones/BirthdaysJewishly.xml/view?searchterm=birthdays
Here are some passages in the Old Testament that the Jews tended to looked at in order to come to their conclusion about birthdays:
Now it came to pass on the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. Then he restored the chief butler to his butlership again, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand. But he hanged the chief baker (Genesis 40:20-22).
There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels; Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, And the monthly prognosticators Stand up and save you From what shall come upon you. Behold, they shall be as stubble, The fire shall burn them; They shall not deliver themselves From the power of the flame (Isaiah 47:13-14).
After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job spoke, and said:
"May the day perish on which I was born, And the night in which it was said, 'A male child is conceived.' May that day be darkness; May God above not seek it, Nor the light shine upon it. May darkness and the shadow of death claim it; May a cloud settle on it; May the blackness of the day terrify it (Job 3:1-5).
Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house; and a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided them and took them away--indeed they have killed the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you!"...If your sons have sinned against Him, He has cast them away for their transgression (Job 1:13-15; 8:4).
Although, I have heard some say that the "day" referred to in Job 1:13 was a birthday celebration, the passage in Job is not explicit and Job himself indicates he was more concerned with what his sons might have said, than done, in their other celebrations (Job 1:4-5). However, it should be noted that there are no positive statements in the Old Testament related to birthdays.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote:
14 Cursed be the day in which I was born!
Let the day not be blessed in which my mother bore me!
15 Let the man be cursed
Who brought news to my father, saying,
"A male child has been born to you!"
Making him very glad.
16 And let that man be like the cities
Which the LORD overthrew, and did not relent;
Let him hear the cry in the morning
And the shouting at noon,
17 Because he did not kill me from the womb,
That my mother might have been my grave,
And her womb always enlarged with me.
18 Why did I come forth from the womb to see labor and sorrow,
That my days should be consumed with shame? (Jeremiah 20:14-18)
The Hebrew calendar itself makes the celebration of birthdays somewhat difficult when one attempts to superimpose it on our modern (essentially Roman-derived) calendars. And the reason for this is that it is about 11 days shorter than the annual orbit around the sun, and hence it adds a thirteenth month seven times in every nineteen year cycle. Thus, one's "birthday" on a modern calendar will vary 11 or so days from year to year--and the positions of the constellations in the sky would always to some degree be different. Therefore, from an astrological perspective, one's alleged "sign" would often be different. If God wanted birthdays celebrated, He probably would have given the children of Israel the type of calendar which would have made it possible to for the "birthday" to fall on the same solar calendar day each year--instead that basically cannot happen but a relatively few times in a life.
It may also be that one of the reasons for circumcising males at eight days (see Genesis 17:12), as opposed to the day of birth (which is what tends to often happen in modern societies who circumcise), would be to change the emphasis from the date of birth to other events as important.
Of course, it should be noted that since the ages of many people in the Hebrew Bible are recorded, some type of acknowledgement of when people were born apparently did take place.
Acknowledgement of years to some degree had to take place as the Old Testament categorizes various people at various times based upon age (e.g. Leviticus 27:3-7; Numbers 4:2-3). But there is no recorded example of the Hebrews actually celebrating their dates of birth.
If you search the scriptures you will notice that many people are mentioned being born, but that the precise date (either with a lunar or solar calendar reference) is not given. If God wanted birthdays to be celebrated, than perhaps He would have given specific birth dates in the Bible--but He did not.
In older times, various Jews marked their age based upon the Feast of Trumpets or the Passover seasons:
There is a view put forth by the rabbis in the Talmud that the day of Rosh Hashanah coincides with the sixth day of creation, when humanity was created. According to this view, Rosh Hashanah becomes the birthday of all peoples, and of course, one celebrates a birthday. (Rosh Hashanah Theology and Themes. The Jewish Federation of North America. http://www.jewishfederations.org/page.aspx?id=46318 viewed 09/10/14)
We have learned in a Boraitha R. Eliezer says: Whence do we know that the world was created in Tishri? From the scriptural verse, in which it is written [Gen. i. 11]: "And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree,'" etc. In what month does the earth bring forth grass, and at the same time the trees are full of fruit? Let us say Tishri, and that time of the year (mentioned in Genesis) was the autumn; the rain descended and the fruits flourished, as it is written [Gen. ii. 6]: "But there went up a mist from the earth," etc. R. Jehoshua says: Whence do we know that the world was created in Nissan? From the scriptural verse, in which it is written [Gen. i. 12]: "And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed, and the tree yielding fruit," etc. In which month is the earth covered with grass (and at the same time) the trees bring forth fruit? Let us say Nissan, and at that time animals, domestic and wild, and birds mate, as it is said [Psalms, lxv. 14]: "The meadows are clothed with flocks," etc. Further says R. Eliezer: Whence do we know that the patriarchs were born in Tishri? From the passage [I Kings, viii. 2]: "And all the men of Israel assembled themselves unto King Solomon at the feast, in the month Ethanim" (strong), which is the seventh month; i.e., the month in which Ethanim, the strong ones of the earth (the patriarchs), were born. How do we know that the expression ethan means strength? It is written [Numb. xxiv. 21] ethan moshabhekha, "strong is thy dwelling-place," and it is also written [Micah, vi. 2]: "Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord's controversy, and (ve-haëthanim) ye strong foundations," etc.
R. Jehoshua, however, says: Whence do we know that the patriarchs were born in Nissan? From I Kings vi. 1, where it says: "In the fourth year, in the month Ziv (glory), which is the second month," etc., which means in that month in which the "glorious ones" of the earth (the patriarchs) were already born. (Babylonian Talmud, Book 2: Tracts Erubin, Shekalim, Rosh Hashana, tr. by Michael L. Rodkinson, , pp. 16-17. http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t02/ros03.htm#page_36 viewed 09/10/14)
Since according to one source everyone had the same 'birthday' and it was always on a Holy Day, the type of celebrations commonly associated with birthdays basically did not occur. The second source gives a couple of options, but the end result was basically not the type of birthday celebrations that we commonly see today.
While many modern rabbis still do not endorse the celebration of birthdays, some do. However, it appears that some believe that there is stronger support in both their traditions and writings to not celebrate them.
Notice the following from a Jewish writer:
In Jewish theology, much importance is attached to the day upon which one dies, one's yahrtzeit, but little is mentioned about one's birthday. Some Torah authorities, such as the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoelish Teitelbaum (1887-1979) are opposed to any sort of celebration of one's birthday, while other authorities, such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994) and the Rebbe from Piaczezna, Rabbi Kalonymos Kalman Shapiro, permit and encourage such celebration on one's birthday as means of inspiring self-reflection and introspection. Rabbi Matis Blum explains that the rationale of those who oppose birthday celebrations is based on a statement of King Solomon, who said, "A good name is better than good oil, and the day of death [is better] than the day of birth." He also explains this opposition is seemingly supported by the Talmud which determined that it is better than man not have been born than man having been born. A third reason for opposing birthday parties is simply the fact that the Torah only mentioned such a party in conjunction with the Pharaoh celebrating his own birthday. This implies that only such morally degenerated people as the sovereign of Egypt would celebrate a birthday, but not Torah True Jews...
Cursing one's birthday is an expression of one's dissatisfaction in one's situation. The Midrash says that two people cursed the day on which they born. Job cursed the day he was born as a reaction to all the suffering to which he was subjected. Jeremiah also cursed the day of his birth as a means of conveying the message of his bitterness in having to foretell the destruction of the Holy Temple, and worse, his knowing that prophecy was destined to be fulfilled. (Happy Birthday! Reb Chaim HaQoton, April 17, 2007. http://rchaimqoton.blogspot.com/2007/04/happy-birthday.html verified 7/12/07).
Thus, many Jewish leaders have acknowledged that the celebration of birthdays was not something that was historically endorsed (though many Jews do celebrate them in modern times).
Did the Magi Give Presents on the Day of Jesus' Birth?
But some have felt, basically by seeing certain alleged manger scenes, that the Magi/wise men came from the East and gave Jesus presents on the day of His birth.
Well, there are a few issues with this.
First, the wise men definitely were not with Jesus on the day of His birth. The Bible is clear that He had already been born:
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. (Matthew 2:1-2)
Furthermore, notice that they came to worship Him, not celebrate His birthday. It was customary in those times (and still is today) to provide gifts when meeting royalty. Thus, the wise men meeting Jesus and providing presents should not be construed as a birthday celebration.
There is a variety of speculation about who the wise men were, but one that makes the most sense is that they were among the part of Israel. The Apostle James wrote to the "tribes which are scattered abroad" (James 1:1). The first century Jewish historian Josephus stated that some of the tribes of Israel were "beyond Euphrates" (Josephus. Wars of the Jews, Chapter 2. Extracted from Josephus Complete Works. Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids (MI), 14th printing), which is East of Jerusalem.
Another reason to believe that the wise men were of Israeli origin is that they may have had access to at least part of the Hebrew Bible and likely responded because of verses such as the following:
17... A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel (Numbers 24:17).
And since the wise men may have been of Israelite origin, they like the Jews, may not have had a tradition of celebrating birthdays.
But the focus of this article is early Christianity--which while it certainly includes the fact that Jews, including Christian ones, did not celebrate birthdays in the first and second centuries A.D. What were the practices of the non-Jewish (Gentiles) converts to Christianity?
But before getting to later Gentile practices, first perhaps we should look at the teachings of the New Testament itself.
It is interesting to note that while the New Testament is clear about the specific time of certain holy days such as Passover (Matthew 26:17-20) and Pentecost (Acts 2:1), it never mentions the date, nor even the precise month, of Jesus' birth (see Matthew 1 and Luke 1;2:1-20). Nor does it ever specifically endorse the celebration of birthdays. Not does it ever give the date (with either a solar or lunar calendar reference) for any one being born.
The Statement of Beliefs of the Continuing Church of God states:
Birthdays were not celebrated by early Christians. (Statement of Beliefs of the Continuing Church of God. http://www.ccog.org/statement-of-beliefs-of-the-continuing-church-of-god/).
There is no recorded instance of any of the apostles or other early Christians celebrating the birth of Christ (see also the article Did the Early Church Celebrate Christmas?).
There is, however, one birthday celebration mentioned in the New Testament, and it was not a good one. Actually, it was so bad, that the one Jesus had called the greatest "among those born of women" (Matthew 11:11) was killed because of it:
But when Herod's birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, "Give me John the Baptist's head here on a platter." And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother (Matthew 14:6-11).
(The same account is also described in Mark 6:21-28).
Originally, even as more and more Gentiles began to profess Christ (so much so that they outnumbered those of Jewish heritage that did), the early Gentile leaders also did not endorse the celebration of birthdays. No early church writer endorsed the observance of birthdays by Christians, nor are they ever listed in the early observances of the Christian church.
Therefore, the celebration of birthdays, was clearly not part of:
... the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
No early religious/church writing from the second century that I have seen (and I have read most that are available) seems to endorse (or even suggest) the celebration of birthdays by any who professed Christ.
Although he was not part of the Church of God, the writings of the early third century Catholic theologian Origen of Alexandria show that, even that late, Orthodox Catholics were against the celebration of birthdays. The Catholic Encyclopedia states:
Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday (Martindale C. Christmas, 1908).
Here is some of what Origen wrote:
...of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world below (Origen, in Levit., Hom. VIII, in Migne P.G., XII, 495) (Thurston H. Natal Day. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to Margaret Johanna Albertina Behling Barrett. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
The writings of the late third century Catholic theologian Arnobius show that, even that late, Catholics objected to the celebration of birthdays as he wrote:
...you worship with couches, altars, temples, and other service, and by celebrating their games and birthdays, those whom it was fitting that you should assail with keenest hatred. (Arnobius. Against the Heathen (Book I), Chapter 64. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 6. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
Thus birthday celebrations, even of gods and leaders, were condemned as far as the late third century by even Roman Catholic leaders.
It does not seem that the celebration of birthdays became common among those that professed Christ until the fourth century. During that century, infant baptism started to become customary and the celebration of Christmas became standard practices for the majority that professed Christ. Also, the fact that Roman emperors tended to celebrate their birthdays was undoubtedly another factor as it was in the fourth century that Roman emperors began to accept some form of Christianity.
History of celebration of birthdays in the West It is thought that the large-scale celebration of birthdays in Europe began with the cult of Mithras, which originated in Persia but was spread by soldiers throughout the Roman Empire. Before this, such celebrations were not common; and, hence, practices from other contexts such as the Saturnalia were adapted for birthdays. Because many Roman soldiers took to Mithraism, it had a wide distribution and influence throughout the empire until it was supplanted by Christianity (Wikipedia. Birthdays. July 12, 2007 version).
Christmas is also relevant because December 25th was the day of celebration of the birthday of the sun-god Mithra. Perhaps it should also be mentioned that one of the key features of Mithraism was Sunday observance. The reason that this seems to be relevant is that the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to make a profession of Christ, was also the first Emperor to make Sunday laws--which he began to do on March 7, 321. Also, a few years later, the Council of Nicea that Constantine convened in 325 A.D. declared Sunday to be the "Christian day" of worship (for more information, please see the article Europa and the Book of Revelation).
Notice also the following:
The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December. (Why is Christmas Day on the 25th December? http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/25th.shtml accessed 12/07/15)
The eventual choice of December 25, made perhaps as early as 273, reflects a convergence of Origen's concern about pagan gods and the church's identification of God's son with the celestial sun. December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman "birth of the unconquered sun"), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian "Sun of Righteousness" whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers. The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier. Seeing that pagans were already exalting deities with some parallels to the true deity, church leaders decided to commandeer the date and introduce a new festival.
Western Christians first celebrated Christmas on December 25 in 336, after Emperor Constantine had declared Christianity the empire's favored religion. (Coffman E. Why December 25? For the church's first three centuries, Christmas wasn't in December—or on the calendar at all. Christianity Today, August 8, 2008. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2000/dec08.html accessed 12/07/15)
According to the fourth century historian Epiphanius, some who observed Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month, claimed that Emperor Constantine mandated a Sunday observance of it in the Council of Nicea in 325 in order to somehow honor his birthday:
"You changed the Passover to Constantine's birthday" (Epiphanius. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III (Sects 47-80), De Fide). Section VI, Verse 9,4. Translated by Frank Williams. EJ Brill, New York, 1994, pp. 410-411).
The World Book Encyclopedia notes,
Christmas...In 354 A.D., Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered the people to celebrate on December 25. He probably chose this date because the people of Rome already observed it as the Feast of Saturn, celebrating the birthday of the sun (Sechrist E.H. Christmas. World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 3. Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, Chicago, 1966, pp. 408-417).
Hence, it would seem to follow that since those who professed Christ as late as the third century did not celebrate birthdays, that it was not after a Roman Emperor implemented Sunday, that perhaps he and others were amenable to adopting other practices of Mithraism--one of which was birthday celebrations. This is apparently how birthdays became to be celebrated amongst those that professed Christianity. A celebration for the date of Jesus' birth in Rome probably began near this time, but was mandated no later than 354 A.D.
Thus it appears that the "birthday of the sun" festivities were a major factor in the date chosen for followers of Greco-Roman Christianity to celebrate. And once those that professed Christ began to widely celebrate that "birthday," other birthday celebrations became more common.
In modern times, it seems that one reason that people like to claim that they are celebrating Jesus' birthday (which they are not doing) is to justify celebrating their own, which many do. The argument basically goes something to the effect, "If we celebrate our own birthdays, certainly we should celebrate Jesus' birthday."
Of course, since the Bible does NOT teach that God's people are to celebrate birthdays, and if God wanted Christians to celebrate Jesus' day of birth, He would have instructed Christians to do so, or at least tell us the date. But He did neither.
Actually, the Bible is clear that God does NOT want His people to make up additional religious days to celebrate, especially if they have any ties to paganism:
29 "When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, 30 take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
32 "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:29-32)
Yet, most people who profess Christ do the opposite of what God says here. They celebrate Christmas which is not a biblical holy day, but a renamed pagan one with pagan symbolism, and also celebrate their own birthdays.
Consider also the following scriptures:
2 Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
5 They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.
6 Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. (Jeremiah 10:2-6, KJV)
16 They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; With abominations they provoked Him to anger. 17 They sacrificed to demons, not to God, To gods they did not know, To new gods, new arrivals That your fathers did not fear. (Deuteronomy 32:15-17)
Celebration of birthdays of various heathen gods and rulers was common the pagans. Some of the practices are still used today.
The Apostle Paul warned Christians to NOT combine pagan observances with Christian ones:
20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? (1 Corinthians 10:20-22)
Christians are not to provoke God by observing pagan practices. Birthday celebrations, including Christmas, came from paganism.
Back in 1969 Anton Lavey wrote The Satanic Bible.
On page 96 on the 1976 version, it mentions birthdays:
THE highest of all holidays in the Satanic religion is the date of one's own birth. This is in direct contradiction to the holy of holy days of other religions, which deify a particular god who has been created in an anthropomorphic form of their own image, thereby showing that the ego is not really buried.
The Satanist feels: "Why not really be honest and if you are going to create a god in your image, why not create that god as yourself." Every man is a god if he chooses to recognize himself as one. So, the Satanist celebrates his own birthday as the most important holiday of the year. After all, aren't you happier about the fact that you were born than you are about the birth of someone you have never even met? Or for that matter, aside from religious holidays, why pay higher tribute to the birthday of a president or to a date in history than we do to the day we were brought into this greatest of all worlds?
Despite the fact that some of us may not have been wanted, or at least were not particularly planned, we're glad, even if no one else is, that we're here! You should give yourself a pat on the back, buy yourself whatever you want, treat yourself like the king (or god) that you are, and generally celebrate your birthday with as much pomp and ceremony as possible.
After one's own birthday, the two major Satanic holidays are Walpurgisnacht and Halloween (or All Hallows' Eve).
(Lavey A, Gilmore P. The Satanic Bible. Avon, September 1, 1976, p. 96--note it is on page 53 of an online version I found also).
It is interesting that birthdays are considered the most important holiday to these Satan worshipers. Walpurgisnacht (Witches' sabbath) and Halloween are the other ones of importance to them. This comes as no surprise.
An article titled Birthdays and God's Church by Rod McNair stated:
Should Christians celebrate birthdays? What does the Church teach on this topic? What does your Bible say? It is a fact of life that everyone grows older, and on one day a year we are considered a year older than the day before. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the passage of time, as another year of life goes by. We know, for example, that Moses certainly knew his birthdate...
Moses simply acknowledged his age. By contrast, many in the world today have grown used to the idea that their day of birth is an occasion on which friends, family members and coworkers are expected to lavish them with attention, gifts and revelry. What can we learn from Scripture about observing birthdays? Jesus Christ did not mark the anniversary of His birth, nor did He make reference to it in any such fashion. Nor did any of the Apostles so much as even mention Christ’s birth date or their own...
Does the book of Job indicate that Job’s sons observed their birthdays? Some point to this verse to support that idea: “And his sons would go and feast in their houses, each on his appointed day” (Job 1:4). Is “his appointed day” a vague reference to a birthday? Scripture does not say. However, we should also note that, if this is a “birthday” example, it is not entirely positive regarding the idea of birthday celebrations— we see that Job offered sacrifi ces afterward, on the assumption that his sons may have “sinned and cursed God in their hearts” while feasting (v. 5)...
But even some casual observers have noticed that the early Church taught against participation in such birthday celebrations as are so common in our world today. As writer Norm Schneider points out: “During the Christian era, the early followers of Christ didn’t believe in celebrating birthdays, preferring—as was the case in earlier eras—of honoring one’s death. Their belief was that only in death was there true deliverance worthy of honoring one’s ‘death day’ [a reference to Ecclesiastes 7:1, where Solomon asserts that the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth]. They also believed that Egyptian and Greek birthday celebrations were pagan festivals and should not be duplicated” (“The Strange Origins of Our Modern Birthday Customs,” August 13, 2008, www.associatedcontent.com).
Schneider goes on to observe that by “the fourth century, Christians—having generally agreed on the date of Christ’s birth—began celebrating the event, ergo Christmas.” Indeed, the observance of Christmas and the celebration of birthdays went hand in hand as the vast majority of professing Christians fell into apostasy. Today, billions of people who call themselves “Christians” are keeping Christmas to have, in effect, a sort of “birthday party for Christ.” However, when we read what Scripture tells us about the young Jesus Christ, we find no precedent for such celebration. What do we find? When they saw the young Jesus, the wise men from the East “fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). This was a momentous event, but it was not a birthday party—these were prominent men coming to visit the King. The custom of bringing a gift when coming before a king is still in practice today...
Accordingly, God does not want His people to become involved in worldly practices that lead to the destruction of character. Worldly birthday festivities, under the guise of a “party spirit,” are often focused on greed—the desire for gifts and attention—as well as on vanity, selfishness and a wrong spirit of competition. Such attitudes are inappropriate for Christians as part of any celebration, not just birthday celebrations! God makes it plain that Christians are not to take part in “lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3). We know from Scripture that covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5)...
it can indeed be appropriate for families to acknowledge a child’s growth and development on a birth date, just as it can be worthwhile to honor an elderly person at a milestone in his or her life—in a Christian spirit of true love and respect, without getting caught up in the spirit of carnal celebrations that often go far beyond what is appropriate.
The most faithful in the Church of God believe that acknowledgement of aging is appropriate, but birthday parties are not.
Although birthdays were to some degree acknowledged, the celebration of birthdays was not something that original Christians did and should not be done by true Christians today. Nor did Jews anciently celebrate birthdays. Nor does the Bible ever give the precise date with either a lunar or solar calendar of any persons' birth.
Birthdays apparently originated in magic and mythology. They were traditionally also celebrated by followers of Mithra. The Apostle Paul and Jesus warned about following false traditions:
8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
3 He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? … 7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
8 "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Matthew 15:3-9)
Birthday celebrations are NOT a biblical tradition, though acknowledging age is.
It was in the fourth century, after a sun-worshipping emperor made a profession towards Christ and passed the first Sunday law, he and/or apparently his followers probably did not consider that there were problems with celebratory aspects of Mithraism/Saturnalia as long as Christ and believers, and not Mithra, were the focus of celebrations. Birthdays became more acceptable to people who professed Christ because of a sun worshipping emperor--birthday celebrations were not enjoined on God's people anywhere in the Bible.
Jesus said God wanted to be worshiped in truth:
24 God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24, NJB)
Repackaged demonic holidays do not honor the true God.
Should we be following the example of the Romans who mixed practices of Mithraism into their religion or of those who first accepted Christ? Recall that Christians are advised to:
...contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Jesus' birth was not celebrated by early Christians. Actually, practices now associated with it were condemned as idolatry by the end of the second century. More can be found in the article What Does the Catholic Church Teach About Christmas and the Holy Days? More on what happened to the early Christian church can be found in the article The History of Early Christianity. And for Mithraism, please see Do You Practice Mithraism?
Notice also the following articles:
The Bible and Astrology Should Christians avoid participating in astrology or did God inspire it? Does the Bible encourage astrology? What does the Bible actually teach? What is astrology? How does astrology differ from astronomy? Should Christians Be Involved In Astrology?
OMENS? DIVINATION? HOROSCOPES? THE ORIGIN OF ASTROLOGY Where did astrology come from? Should you read your horoscope?
Does Astrology Work? Many believe and follow astrology--but does it work?
A related sermon video is available and is titled: Birthdays, Christians, and December 25th.
Thiel B, Ph.D. Did Early Christians Celebrate Birthdays? www.cogwriter.com 2006/2007/2008/2010/2011/2012/2013/2014/2015 1207
Back to History of Early Christianity page Back to COGwriter home page
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