Where did birthday celebrations come from? This tradition is so common that we rarely stop to think about it. People have celebrated birthdays—everywhere—for thousands of years. But to understand why and how, or whether, to celebrate birthdays, we need to consult the Holy Bible.
The Bible’s first chapter shows that God established day and night, planetary rotations and revolutions “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years.” He created a weekly Sabbath (Genesis 2). He ordained that certain days be kept “by an ordinance forever,” and that we keep certain days “to the Lord throughout your generations” (e.g. Exodus 12:14-16).
But it does not state, “Thou shalt celebrate birthdays,” or, “Thou shalt not celebrate birthdays.” So then, is it up to you?
Whether or not you celebrate birthdays is your prerogative. But whether or not it is right is God’s prerogative. If you want to truly be a Christian and fulfill the purpose for which your Creator made you, you have to look further into the Bible.
There are two places where the Bible mentions birthdays. First is Genesis 40:20-22: “And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them.” Second is Mark 6:21-27: “Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. … And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. … And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison.”
Here you find no direct command regarding birthdays, but you notice that the only two birthdays mentioned in the Bible were also death days. God obviously did not record these gruesome celebrations to show us why or how to keep birthdays. Looked at honestly and humbly, this is not an indication to keep birthdays but an indication not to.
The Bible does not record birthday celebrations of great servants of God like Abraham, Moses, David or the apostles. It does not even record when those days occurred. It does not record birthday celebrations or even the actual birthday of the God Being who was born as a human being to undertake one of the greatest possible endeavors in eternal history. (Read “Was Jesus Born on December 25?”).
Yet the Bible does record, emphasize and command Christians to keep certain other days. Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which?shows that the Bible does not command us to keep Christmas as the supposed birth of Jesus, but does command us to keep Passover, the memorial of His death. Ecclesiastes 7:1 states, “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” Why? Job 14:14 states, “If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” God wants us to focus on believing and obeying Him to the end of our lives, when ultimately we will be “changed” spiritually. The purpose of life is to work toward becoming born into real, spiritual life.
The Creator of days, nights, Sabbaths, seasons and years commands seven holy days. That is where the term holiday comes from. But almost no one today keeps these annual holy days, observances that teach the seven major steps of God’s plan for human beings.
This shows that most Christians are not reading the Bible enough, and not reading it with the right attitude. True Christians must humbly yield to and live by what the Bible actually teaches. And the more you read the Bible with a submissive attitude, the less you have the subtle attitude of, As long as God doesn’t say “Thou shalt not,” I will do what I want. As you become a “doer of the word,” deceptions of others and even our own thinking disappear and we understand more and more of what the Bible teaches about observances and other aspects of life (James 1:22).
It is not wrong to acknowledge that someone has turned a year older and perhaps reached a milestone. But celebrating birthdays with guests, gifts and treats is wrong because it comes not from biblical commands or principles but from non-Christian customs practiced by pagans influenced by Satan, “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). This tradition accentuates flattery and vanity, and turns a person’s attention onto himself in a wrong way, as you may have discerned at birthday parties. Such selfishness is the opposite of God’s nature, and it ultimately leads to an unhappy, meaningless life apart from Him. That is why God commands against it (Psalm 24:3-4; 1 Corinthians 5:6; Colossians 2:18; Galatians 5:26; 2 Peter 2:18).
Understand how God wants you to approach birthdays. Open up your Bible and open up your mind, and God will fill it. Deemphasize the importance of preferences and traditions, and emphasize the importance of the specifics and spirit of what the Bible shows you. Live by every word, as Jesus Christ did, in this and every other aspect of your life. You will discover there is much to celebrate besides birthdays. To know where in the Bible to look, read Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which?