When did we start celebrating birthdays? Who sang the song “Happy birthday” first? Is there really a relationship between disease and date of birth? What does the birthday paradox say?
1 GOETHE “INVENTED” IT
According to Jean-Claude Schmitt, French historian and author of “The Invention of the Birthday”, it was Johann Wolfgang Goethe who “invented” the birthday celebration as we know it today, in 1802 to celebrate his 53rd birthday. Schmitt also tells us that the arrival of birthdays was facilitated by the French Revolution, which promoted the state registry and birth certificates.
2 IN ANTIQUITY
Although the birthday party is so “recent”, the traditions that accompany it comes from much more distant times. Let’s take the dessert, for example, it seems to be of Egyptian origin. In fact, tradition has it that on the occasion of the pharaoh’s birthday the subjects celebrated with exquisite food. The Persians did the same, preparing a special cake, reserved for the king, to be offered also to the gods and nobles. All, however, without candles.
In the Bible, there are two “birthday celebrations”: that of Pharaoh and that of Herod.
3 WHERE THE CANDLES COME FROM
According to some historical reconstructions, the idea of celebrating the birthday with candles comes from the ancient Greeks. They would be linked to the cult of the goddess of the hunt, Artemis, sometimes symbolized by the crescent moon and its light. She was offered round sweets, decorated with candles to make them, in fact, as bright as the moon. Just as we do today with candles, the ancients turning off those lights made requests to the divinity: the ancestors of the desires that accompany the “blow” on the candles today.
4 ALSO DISCOVERED BY MARCO POLO
Marco Polo discovered the custom at the court of the emperor of China, the Qubilai khan solemnly celebrated on the day of his birth, and described it with great amazement in the Million, a sign that in medieval Italy it was not a widespread practice. Moreover, the Chinese count the years from conception and rounding up. So 9 months of pregnancy adds one year to the Western count.
5 NAME DAY VS BIRTHDAY
If in Mesopotamia and Egypt it was important to record the day of one’s birth because thanks to that data the astrologers could make the horoscope, the Romans – like the Egyptians and the Persians – paid homage only to the birth of those with a certain social position: for example the emperors. Until the sixteenth century, however, very few knew their date of birth.
In the Middle Ages it was preferred to celebrate the name day, until, as the historian Giuseppe Galasso explained, the Protestant Reformation questioned the cult of the saints and promoted the adoption of names other than those canonized.
6 WHEN DID WE START CELEBRATING THE BIRTHDAY?
Schmitt has no doubts: the rites that accompany the birthday (wishes, cake, gifts, etc.) saw the light only in the nineteenth century, between the bourgeoisie and the wealthy classes. Only in the following decades did the custom begin to penetrate all social classes, until in the second half of the century in Germany the Kinderfest was born: the little one celebrated was awakened at dawn with a cake decorated with candles, one more than the real age. The candles were lighted all day, to represent the “light of life”.
7 THE MOST FAMOUS SONG
The song “Happy Birthday” was born in 1893, when teachers Mildred and Patty Hill composed the song, entitled “Hello everyone”, hoping that it would be sung by the children of a Kentucky school, at the entrance to the classroom.
But the 6 note ditty, growing in popularity soon became “Happy Birthday to You”. A song – strange but true – protected by copyright until at least December 2016, which has often ended up in court for authorial disputes (it has been calculated that on average it guarantees at least 2 million dollars in annual revenues) and which was sung in the very charming way by Marilyn Monroe to US President John Kennedy.
8 THE DAY WITH fewer BIRTHDAYS
According to a study by Amitabh Chandra of Harvard University on American birth dates (between 73 and 1999), February 29 (leap) is the day when on average fewer children are born. It follows on December 25th. While the day in which the most are born is September 16th.
9 BIRTHDAY DATE FORECAST DISEASES?
A study by Columbia University in New York has identified many coincidences between the month of the year in which one is born and the predisposition to a series of diseases. For example, the study tells us that one in 40 cases of atrial fibrillation could be influenced by being born in March, and bruising in December suffers more. But it is good to take the data with caution. As we explain here, the reason for these correlations has not yet been revealed.
10 THE BIRTHDAY PARADOX
How many people does a group have to make up for at least two of them to celebrate their birthday on the same day? At least 23, according to mathematician Richard Von Mises, who formulated the birthday paradox in 1939: in a group of 23 people the probability is about 51%; with 30 people it exceeds 70%, with 50 people even 97%. Even if at least 366 people are needed to get to the event (367 in leap years), the theory of probability tells us that in reality, it takes much less.