Paganism and the Celebration of “Birthdays”
Muhammad ‘Abd al-HAqq
Bismillah. Alhamdulillah wa salatu wasallam ala Rasulillah.
The following is a list of quotes from writings and writers, ancient and modern, religious and secular, attesting to the Pagan origins and nature of celebrating one’s supposed day of birth. Of course many contemporary, secularized people will object and say that “birthdays” no longer have any religious significance(despite the fact that all the ancient pagan rituals are maintained and preserved in the modern celebrations). However if you profess to be a Muslim, a Jew, or a Christian, you should not be doing this; Especially after you become aware that the word “secular” has the same definition as `irjaa(separating beliefs from actions, i.e. separating public actions from privately held beliefs(religion)). Yet “religion” is, from the Latin “religare”, “that which binds”, thus making Secular Humanism a religion in its own right.
“Shaytan has gained the mastery over them, and caused them to forget Allah’s Remembrance. Those are Shaytan’s party; why, Shaytans party, surely, they are the losers!,” –[Qur'an: Surah al-Mujadilah: 58:19].
109:1 Say: O Kafirun!(disbelievers)
109:2 I do not worship what you worship
109:3 and you do not worship what I worship.
109:4 Nor will I worship what you worship
109:5 nor will you worship what I worship.
109:6 You have your deen and I have my deen.´
—[Qur'an: Surah al-al-Kafirun]
“Whoever imitates a people is from them,” –[Sunan Abu Dawud]
“Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: ‘You would tread the same path as was trodden by those before you inch by inch and step by step so much so that if they had entered into the hole of the lizard, you would follow them in this also. We said: Allah’s Messenger, do you mean Jews and Christians (by your words)” those before you”? He said: ‘Who else (than those two religious groups)’?,” –[Sahih Muslim].
“The Prophet sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam also said: ‘The Day of Judgment will not come until my Nation closely imitates the nations before them.” It was asked: “Like the PERSIANS and ROMANS, Messenger of Allah?” He, sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam replied: “Who are the nations (I could mean) except those?” [Sahih Bukhari].
“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 (more) 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…” -[Should Christians Celebrate Birthdays?: Do Birthdays Have Pagan Origins?, Bob Theil].
“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 Chaldeans predicting a man’s destiny at his birth”…
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(jinn) 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”.
Narrated Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, radyAllahu anhu:
“Allah’s Apostle, may Allah’s peace and blessings be on him said: ‘There is none amongst you with whom is not an attache from amongst the jinn (devil). They (the Companions) said: Allah’s Apostle May Allah’s peace and blessings be on him with you too? Thereupon he said: Yes, but Allah helps me against him and so I am safe from his hand and he does not command me but for good’”, –[Sahih Muslim 6757, similar narration 6759 by 'Aisha, radyAllahu anha].
“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 dead Sufi master for the Sufis). . . . 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 birthdays had their origin in mythology and magic, with horoscoping also playing a role.
“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].
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.”
“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].
“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,” -[Should Christians Celebrate Birthdays?: Do Birthdays Have Pagan Origins?, Bob Theil].
Well, there are a few issues with this.
First, the wise men definitely were not with `Isa, alayhi salam, 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”.
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].
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.”
“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).”
“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,” -[Should Christians Celebrate Birthdays?: Do Birthdays Have Pagan Origins?, Bob Theil]:
“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 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,” -[Should Christians Celebrate Birthdays?: Do Birthdays Have Pagan Origins?, Bob Theil].
“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”"-[Should Christians Celebrate Birthdays?: Do Birthdays Have Pagan Origins?, Bob Theil].
CONCLUSION: Celebrating “Birthdays” originated in magic and Pagan mythology. Besides the fact that we humans are spiritual beings having a human experience and not vice versa, and thus do not know the date of our actual birth, rather what we know is our “earth” day, “birthdays” were traditionally celebrated by followers of Mithra. After a sun-worshiping emperor(Constantine) made a profession of Christ and passed the first Sunday law, he 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 the celebrations.
“But should we be following the example of the Romans who mixed practices of Mithraism into their religion or of those who first accepted Christ?, “-[Should Christians Celebrate Birthdays?: Do Birthdays Have Pagan Origins?, Bob Theil]
“Whoever imitates a people is from them,” -[Sunan Abu Dawud].