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11 Super Surprising Facts About Birthdays From Throughout History

by Kate Taylor
Kate is a writer who laughs at her own jokes and likes to pour too much hot sauce on her food.

Like death and taxes, a birthday is one of those things that is guaranteed in life. Modern humans have lived here on planet Earth for some 200 million years, which adds up to a lot of people… and a lot of birthdays.

However, it wasn’t until fairly recently that people even had the time-keeping capability to track birthdays.

Even when days as we know them began existing, birthdays weren’t always the big affairs they are today. It’s not uncommon for people now to celebrate their big event over a number of days, or claiming a whole “birthday week” — and some have even embraced celebrating the occasion for their dog.

However, many of the concepts we’re familiar with and associate with birthdays (like parties, cakes and presents) were not always the norm.

Here are some of the weirdest things about birthdays throughout history that you probably never knew before.

Do you know of any other surprising birthday traditions? Please SHARE them in the comments below!

Thumbnail Sources: Flickr / Wystan, Wikimedia Commons / Benvenuto Tisi

1. Egyptian Pharaohs Celebrated Birthdays, But Not On The Day They Were Born

1. Egyptian Pharaohs Celebrated Birthdays, But Not On The Day They Were Born

The first record of a birthday celebration was by the Egyptian pharaohs, but it wasn’t on the day they were born. Rather, they celebrated on their coronation day because it was thought that Egyptian kings became gods once they were crowned. Thus, they were reborn.

2. The Greeks Were The First To Put Candles On Cakes

2. The Greeks Were The First To Put Candles On Cakes

It is thought that the birthday-candle tradition originated in ancient Greece because people used to make offerings to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt in the form of moon-shaped cakes with candles on them. The moon is a symbol associated with the goddess.

3. Alexandria Was Built So It Would Align With The Sun On Alexander The Great's Birthday

3. Alexandria Was Built So It Would Align With The Sun On Alexander The Great's Birthday

It is thought that the Egyptian city of Alexandria was erected in a specific spot that aligned with the rising sun on Alexander the Great’s birthday, for whom the city was named.

4. The First Birthday Invitations Were Written On Roman Slabs

4. The First Birthday Invitations Were Written On Roman Slabs

The first known birthday invitations were sent by the wife of a Roman commander in 100 AD. Paper wasn’t in use yet, so they were sent on slabs like these.

5. The Most Expensive Birthday Party To Date Cost $27 Million

5. The Most Expensive Birthday Party To Date Cost $27 Million

We all know birthday parties can be expensive, but nothing compares to the Sultan of Brunei’s $27 million bash in 1996 for his 50th. Apparently, $16 million of the budget went toward Michael Jackson performances.

6. Only Men Were Allowed To Celebrate Their Birthdays In Ancient Rome

6. Only Men Were Allowed To Celebrate Their Birthdays In Ancient Rome

In Ancient Rome’s highly patriarchal society, only men were allowed to acknowledge or celebrate their birthdays. It wasn’t until the 12th century that the first records in Europe of a woman’s birthday celebration can be found.

7. Christians Initially Thought Celebrating Birthdays Was An Unholy Pagan Tradition

7. Christians Initially Thought Celebrating Birthdays Was An Unholy Pagan Tradition

During the Dark Ages, most Christians considered celebrating birthdays to be a pagan and unholy practice. They made an exception only for the birthday of Jesus. However, the church slowly became more supportive of the tradition, and birthday celebrations became more widespread.

8. "Happy Birthday To You" Had Very Different Lyrics At First

8. "Happy Birthday To You" Had Very Different Lyrics At First

The song we are all so familiar with is actually a remix of sorts, and it initially had different lyrics. In the late 1800s, a school teacher named Mildred Hill helped write a song called “Good Morning to All,” which was meant to be sung in classrooms. However, the melody was adapted to be the song we know so well today.

9. The Modern Birthday Cake Didn't Show Up Until The 1700s

9. The Modern Birthday Cake Didn't Show Up Until The 1700s

German bakers were responsible for the invention of the modern birthday cake during the 18th century. They were made as part of a way to celebrate children’s birthdays with “Kinderfeste.”

10. Few People Had Sweet Cakes Until The Industrial Revolution

10. Few People Had Sweet Cakes Until The Industrial Revolution

Until the Industrial Revolution, most people couldn’t afford the ingredients to make a sweet-tasting or good-looking cake. Therefore, the birthday cake tradition wasn’t as widespread as it could have been, until after these ingredients became accessible.

11. Longevity Noodles Became A Traditional Birthday Meal In The Tang Dynasty

11. Longevity Noodles Became A Traditional Birthday Meal In The Tang Dynasty

Although many Chinese birthdays these days do involve birthday cakes, a longstanding tradition developed in the Tang Dynasty to eat what are known as longevity noodles. As the name suggests, the noodles themselves are very long and are supposed to ensure a lengthy and healthy life.

Do you know of any other surprising birthday traditions? Please SHARE them in the comments below!