September 23, 2006

The notion that it's wrong to celebrate birthdays.

I'm interested in the notion that it is wrong to celebrate birthdays. Some religions proscribe the celebration of birthdays. Do you know which ones and why? If you had to develop the argument that it is wrong to celebrate birthdays, what would you say? Have you ever encountered an argument between religious sects or between individuals about the propriety of celebrating birthdays? What was the nature of the argument?


AllenS said...

I've done a lot of geneaology work, and the day you were born was never recorded, but the day you were baptized always was. I'm not sure when things changed.

Jennifer said...

I suppose you could make the argument that we as individuals are not special. That the birth of the savior/prophet/whatever was the only birth that matters. That we, as insignificant beings, have no cause to celebrate our entrance to the world.

We had a friend of the family who was a Jehovah's Witness. They can't celebrate birthdays. It was pointless, IMO, because he would come to birthday parties, we just had to do the cake and presents and put it away before he got there.

Some of my uncles used to argue with him about that. But it was more an argument about whether he should bother being a Jehovah's Witness if he was going to circumvent the spirit of the rule than whether the rule was right.

bearing said...

My late mother was a kindergarten teacher in a district with a sizable population of Jehovah's Witnesses. She reported that many of the JW kids' parents required that the children be excluded from the other kids' birthday cupcakes.

Imagine being five and having to sit and watch! I hope their parents did a good job of explaining the theological basis for this to their children.

knox said...

I think it's wrong when parents throw huge birthday parties for a baby. I've been invited to at least 3 birthday parties for one-year-olds in the last couple years, and it's ridiculous: the kid gets a million presents and all these people come they don't even know.

bearing said...

Yeah, I can easily come up with an argument against the excesses of birthday parties.

No birthday parties for children too young to remember them, that's my house rule. And no ponies.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Worldwide Church of God used to proscribe celebrating birthdays. The best I can recall is that it involved something about that type of self-centered celebration in the Old Testament always brought ill will to the celebrant.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

More here on the WWCG and birthday prohibitions.

ginabina said...

knoxgirl said...
I think it's wrong when parents throw huge birthday parties for a baby.

I lived in places where it was culturally appropriate to celebrate 1st birthdays (Hawaii), 5th birthdays (I think it was fifth...Philapino), and 15th (Hispanic cultures).

In Hawaiian cultures I believe this practice become popular because the survival of babies to their first birthday used to be less certain. A Baby Luau on their first birthday is a HUGE deal.

Personally, I love birthdays! They celebrate God's gift of life and survival.

Joe R. said...

Imagine being five and having to sit and watch! I hope their parents did a good job of explaining the theological basis for this to their children.
I remember asking a Jehovah Witness how her kids felt missing out on presents and the other stuff kids typically get to do at birthday (and holiday) celebrations. Her response was that she would buy them things, just not in celebration of events. She said she recently got her kids a NES (this was a while ago) as a suprise a week or so before our conversation. She had said that celebrating birthdays seemed to be a form of idolatry and that people should be happy and show their love to family and friends all of the time and not just on special occasions.
I'd imagine that the JW parents could send in cupcakes for the other kids 'just because' and not in celebration of birthday.

Jennifer said...

Like ginabina, I grew up in Hawaii. Big luaus/celebrations are expected for a child's first birthday. They aren't really *for* the child, though. They are an opportunity for friends and family to celebrate the child and its place in their lives.

We're back on the mainland now, and won't be having a big party for our daughter's first birthday next month. My family is horrified, but I know people here don't really understand.

tiggeril said...

No birthday parties for children too young to remember them, that's my house rule. And no ponies.

And no clowns!

Maxine Weiss said...


...or prescribe

I truly think those are interchangeable.

Prescribe just means ---to advise.

Whereas 'Proscribe' is more of an order ????

Have no idea, and won't look in a Dictionary.

Peace, Maxine

Joan said...

Personally, I love birthdays! They celebrate God's gift of life and survival.

Yep. I've heard a lot of middle-aged folks gripe about having "another birthday", which gives me the opportunity to remind them that it's better than the alternative.

Eddie said...

For a first birthday in my family there is a party for family. There are presents and a Cake. The Baby gets a piece of cake to feed him or herself with. Then there is a Bath. :)

Christy said...

Didn't the Puritans not celebrate Christmas for some of the same reasons?

I'm with Auntie Mame, any excuse for a big party. First birthdays are for the parents, not the kid.

I'm headed home in early October to celebrate my Mom's 79th. I figure at that age every year should be a big celebration. We've celebrated in restaurants since her 70th when I catered it myself in the fellowship hall at church and gave half the community food poisoning. (Not really. The tests came back negative for food poison, but 2/3rds of the celebrants got sick and they will never eat my cooking again.)

Tibore said...

As a Filipino, I don't remember any one birthday being considered any more important than the other. For Filipino girls in big communities, the 16th or 18th (I've heard it both ways) would also be their "Cotillion", i.e. their Coming-of-Age or Debutante celebration. But nothing unusual for any other birthday.

Regarding birthdays for kids to young to remember them: I can imagine my parents, friends parents, and other Filipino contemporaries reacting in shock, and in some cases actual horror to that idea. To them, the point of the celebration for one so young would be mostly for the attendants, even though the child was the one getting the presents. That attitude extends to any celebration, for example, weddings: You'd meet all sorts of relatives and very close family friends of your parents for the first time at a wedding, but it's because they "had" to be there. The wedding would be as much for the parents as it would be for the bride and groom.

Anyway, birthdays: As Catholic as Filipino's are, if the church hierarchy ever made pronouncements against birthdays - hard to imagine, but if they did - I can't see the older generations as well as much of my own age group taking that quietly. I don't know how it'd work out in the end, but I could definitely imagine the reaction.

Maxine Weiss said...

The argument against birthdays:

MTV's "My Super Sweet Sixteen"

....and this long article---

A case can be made, especially with the more obnoxious sweet-sixteen, and stripper bar-mitzvah 13th birthday parties.

These are the trends in birthday parties.

Peace, Maxine

Harry Eagar said...

I just stopped by this thread because I didn't realize any religions forbade birthday celebrations.

I detest religions of all kinds, but even I had not realized they could be that silly.

Jason said...

I personally dislike birthdays in part because I don't like being the center of attention. But more because I don't like how they make people feel obligated to do things they wouldn't otherwise do sincerely.

(The worse situation is when someone throws a birthday celebration for someone you dislike or even detest.)

(Interestingly, my wife is really into birthdays, but my two boys don't care much about them. My youngest, especially. This can cause problems since I've not only forgotten my own birthday, I've forgotten my wife's.)

Maxine Weiss said...

Well, how do you express a milestone then?

I think 16 is too close to 18....which is a little further away from 21.

It seems like every two years from 13 to 21....parents are having to pay, shell out, for another grand soiree.

Go bankrupt marking off these milestones!

Peace, Maxine

bearing said...

I'd imagine that the JW parents could send in cupcakes for the other kids 'just because' and not in celebration of birthday.

I'd imagine that too, but Mom never mentioned it happening.

jimbino said...

Participation in weddings, funerals, birthdays and such is a form of religion in its basic sense of practicing a rite. Rites consist in fundamentally boring, repetitive and thoughtless behavior like all religion and they are particularly offensive in situations such the passing around of birthday cards in the office. Enlightened and thoughtful folks like Einstein and Francis Crick eschewed such group-think.

Maxine Weiss said...

"Enlightened and thoughtful folks like Einstein and Francis Crick eschewed such group-think."---jim


More birthday cake for me!

Peace, Maxine

Anonymous said...

The less technologically advanced the civilization, the less likely it may be to celebrate the birthdays of its youngest members, because of high mortality rates.

When ekeing out an existence is brutally difficult, who has time for cakes and clowns?

Maxine Weiss said...

Well clowns might be a little more elaborate than need be

... as pressed for time as some people claim to be.....

...but,take a look around.

It's seems that many are finding the time for cake, at the least.

Hey, what about the traditional birthday spankings?

Are we all ready to give those up?

Peace, Maxine

Garry said...

Seems there is a fair amount of conjecture about the Jehovah's Witnesses proscription of celebrations for birthdays; maybe I can shed a little light, having been raised in a family that was about half Witnesses-and half snake-handling Baptists (no joke; made life reaaalllly interesting-and the theological discussions! Oy gevalt!)

The Withesses do not believe in celebration ANY holiday or special event, save one-the Last Supper. Reason? Because that is the only event Christ commanded the faithful to celebrate. (Luke 22:19, "[19] And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.")

It has nothing to do with idolatry-other than among some very old-line/hard-line Withesses, who hold any 'raising up' of individual notice can lead to such situations. The Withesses don't pledge allegiance, sing the National anthem, or perform any act that could be perceived as worship-other than to God.

They celebrate no holidays; no Christmas, no Easter, no political/patriotic holidays-nothing except the Last Supper. And they do give gifts, just because; kinda nice, if you think about it-when yoiu do get a gift, it's because someone was moved to show appreciation for you, not just making a pro forma gesture.

BTW-I'm probably best described as a very spiritual agnostic, nowadays; my decidedly odd theological upbringing seems to have inoculated me against most organized forms of worship.

And, yes, I do celebrate birthdays and some holidays. They're fun, and for me have no theological implications.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of getting an 'F' I will ignore your question and answer a different question, one I am more comfortable answering: Why is it good and right to celebrate birthdays?

It is good and right to celebrate birthdays because life is sacred and human beings are the most sacred of all living things and the birth and continuing life of a human being is cause for celebration.

For similar reasons, weddings are grand events in every culture I know of, as are harvest festivals, and sometimes even funerals.

Life is fleeting. The fact that we have been given the gift of life at all is an excellent reason to throw a party.

Hey, maybe that's why we have birthday parties: They distract us from impending death!

Jim: Such thinking isn't stupid. It is wise beyond your limited comprehension. Einstein and Crick were smart guys but I suspect they knew less about human nature than your average bartender.

phillywalker said...

My Most Memorable Birthday

It was my seventh. I had never before had a big birthday party. My mother, for some unknown reason, invited my entire grade school class to our home - and we rarely had people over to visit.

I was in absolute shock. I could not believe that my classmates would come all the way out to my house (we lived in a rather isolated rural area, away from most of the other kids) for my birthday. I had barely spoken to most of them.

I was enchanted. Everyone who came brought a gift - and my little family (mother, brother, me) usually had such tiny celebrations (for all holidays) that seeing more than four gifts at one time was magical.

I was embarrassed. Our house was small (at that time, I slept on a cot in the living room), and I had been to classmates' parties, and knew how they lived.

I was thrilled. My favorite present was a stuffed toy tiger, which I wish I still possessed, but which has been lost. I can still see it, though, every detail.

The oddest present was a floral arrangement, which I now recognize was just something someone's mother thrust into her daughter's hands at the last minute. At the time I thought it was an amazingly mature, if somewhat mystifying, gift.

I have never since had a better, or more mortifying, birthday.

Anyone else have birthday memories?

Freeman Hunt said...

My Most Memorable Birthday

What an excellent story. I really enjoyed reading that.

John Burgess said...

Certain salafist strains in Islam proscribe birthday celebrations. But they proscribe all celebrations except for the two 'Eids following Ramadan and Hajj.

Some of the Saudi salafists have their noses out of joint because the new King decided that National Day was worth celebrating publicly.

Mickey said...

Interesting topic. Birthdays are rather arbitrary. If the Earth went around our Sun a little slower, relative to the Earth's rotation, we'd all be younger, but in number only. Birthday's mark no achievement or particular reason for celebration other than survival. That might have been important at one point, actually!

Also, iVlog survived the recent elimination round at Just a heads up, if you still want to look at the contest! It's like American Idol, but for Mac program ideas.

Harry Eagar said...

I brought this up to three women I work with and was treated to an hour of horror stories.

Amazing and disgusting.

Andrew Shimmin said...

I don't celebrate birthdays but not for any religious reason. It's just not much of an accomplishment, not dying. Several billion people manage it, every day. Having been born is even less of one, as everybody, ever, was once.

Abraham Lincoln's birthday is actually worth celebrating, because he is. MLK Jr., Washington, depending on one's proclivities, Jesus. But me? Who the hell am I that anybody should care what day I was born? I impose enough on my friends and family; demanding tribute once a year, over happenstance, seems like too much to ask.

Anonymous said...

I think that cultural ritualisms such as birthday celebrations provide a critically needed impetus for economic activity in society. It seems logical that the origin is superstitious and occultic, providing yet another means of extracting money from the general population through psycological manipulation. We call that stimulating the economy these days.

Naturally, to question the need for such meaningless self-agrandizing activities is unpopular because of the intricate and invisible weave of riualism that quietly tells us what to think and what not to think.

eds said...

It is good to be thankful for what you have in life and what you have accomplished. But open your eyes to the larger picture. If we are to appreciate the fruits of life, we must first appreciate the tree that bears the fruit: birth itself.

Birth is your beginning. It is a window to the chance of a lifetime, the chance to fulfill your unique mission. So a birthday is a momentous occasion, to be commemorated just as a nation commemorates its birth or as an organization celebrates its founding. Still, it is much more than an occasion to receive gifts. It is a chance to remember the day that a major event occurred, to celebrate and give thanks and to reflect upon how well we are fulfilling our calling.

Because time itself is like a spiral, something special happens on your birthday each year: The same energy that God invested in you at birth is present once again. It is our duty to be receptive to that force. How do we do so? By committing to a life guided by God's will, and by using the abilities and resources we were born with to perfect ourselves and society, and to make the world a good and sacred home for God.

A birthday is a time to celebrate birth itself, the joy of life. It is also an occasion to rethink your life: How great is the disparity between what I have accomplished and what I can accomplish? Am I spending my time properly or am I involved in things that distract me from my higher calling? How can I strengthen the thread that connects my outer life and my inner life?

A birthday can also teach us the concept of rebirth. To recall our birth is to recall a new beginning. No matter how things went yesterday, or last year, we always have the capacity to try again. Your birthday is a refresher, a chance for regeneration--not just materially, but spiritually.

On your birthday, gather with family and study something meaningful together.

There is no better way to celebrate a birthday than to commit a special act of goodness. It is easy enough to say you are thankful; it is far better to show it by doing a kind deed, something that you did not do yesterday. Not because someone is forcing you. Not because someone suggests it. But simply because your inner goodness, your soul, wants to express its thanks for being born and alive.

Such an act of kindness gives God great pleasure, because He sees that the child in whom He invested, the particular child he wanted to be born on a particular day, is living up to its potential. And nothing, of course, gives a parent greater joy. This is the true experience of birth, the true beginning of a life of meaning.

DENNIS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DENNIS said...

celebrating birthdays ..nothing new and i've never considered it an issue period.birthday celebrations have been done forever and i only see questions and issues being raised about such holidays only recently..what's up with that??are certain cultures threatening the demise of such celebrations in general?

a notion that a person cannot or should not celebrate holidays of any nature,is a legalistic attitude based on nothing but bunk.people celebrate to be's a joyous thing,period!! family gatherings on memorial days are holiday events wherein many don't actually celebrate the day itself,but just use it as an excuse to get together and picnic or group and socialise.pagan?give me a break.wrong?not by any means.some people just have their heads up their arse..let me be happy and celebrate