“Birthdays are the one day of the year that everyone has to be nice to you.”

— Liza, age 7

The birth of birthdays

The idea of celebrating the date of your birth is actually a pagan tradition.

In fact, the reason historically that devout Christians didn’t celebrate birthdays is because of the link to paganism.

This might explain why hosting “Happy Birthday, Jesus” parties in December didn’t catch on in the 1st century church.

Ancient pagans thought that evil spirits were especially active on days of major changes, such as the day you turn a year older. That concept sounds to me like it was originally invented by a 2nd century husband trying to explain why he forgot his wife’s birthday.

“Honey, I was going to throw you a big party, shower you with gifts, have a bakery make you a special cake, and take you to your favorite French restaurant for dinner but then I thought, “Oh no, I can’t do any of that because all the attention and commotion might alert an evil spirit to drop a cow on her head.”

The ancient Greeks borrowed the idea of birth celebrations from the Egyptians, and offered moon-shaped cakes to Artemis, as a tribute to the lunar goddess. To recreate the radiance of the moon Greeks lit candles and put them on the cakes for a glowing effect. Making a wish and blowing out the candles (i.e. spewing germs all over a dessert to be served and eaten) did not become a custom until much later.

Men have been in trouble ever since

We have the Romans to thank for bringing birthday celebrations down from revering the gods to honoring the common man. Emphasis on man. Because it wasn’t until around the 12th century that women’s birthdays were celebrated. Ouch! This probably explains why women get so bent out of shape when husbands forget their birthdays, or remember but do very little.

Women have a global sorority that goes back eons and they know their sisters got stiffed on their birthdays from the dawn of creation until the first Hallmark commercial aimed at men in the year 1157. So, guys, when you forget your wife’s birthday (or your Mom’s) you are paying not only for your own sin but you are taking on part of the multi-generational debt passed onto us by our forefathers.

That brings us to the song

In 1893, sisters Patty and Mildred Hill wrote a song they called, “Good Morning to All,” for Patty’s kindergarten class in Kentucky. The song eventually caught on across America and gave rise to a number of variations thanks to its brevity and catchy tune.

Robert Coleman published a songbook in 1924, substituting a set of lyrics that quickly came to overshadow the original lines. (Apparently copyright infringement and intellectual property suits had not yet caught on with Nashville attorneys in 1924.) The new rendition became the version we all know today as “Happy Birthday To You.”

However, it wasn’t until 2016 that a federal judge declared the song to be in the public domain, much to the dismay of Warner Music which sought to hold the copyright until 2030 and keep banking an estimated $1.2 million a year. I guess that means that up until two years ago every time Happy Birthday was sung in a home, at a bar, or in a Chuck E Cheese the place could have been raided and everybody thrown in the slammer for not paying royalties.

Well, I think it’s time for a new birthday song. Sure, it won’t be as easy to sing as the traditional one but I believe it’ll catch on. It actually doesn’t have a melody yet but I’m working with a well-known Music Row producer to put music to these profound and inspiring lines written in 1959 by the renowned American poet, Theodore Geisel.

Happy Birthday
by Dr. Seuss

If we didn’t have birthdays,
you wouldn’t be YOU.
If you’d never been born, well
then what would you do?
If you’d never been born, well
then what would you be?
You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!

You might be a doorknob! Or
three baked potatoes!
You might be a bag full of
hard green tomatoes.
Or worse than all that… Why,
you might be a WASN’T!
A Wasn’t has no fun at all. No, he doesn’t.

A Wasn’t just isn’t. He just isn’t present.
But you…YOU ARE YOU!
Now isn’t that pleasant?

Today you are you! That is truer than true!
There is no one alive who is you-er than you!
Shout loud, “I am lucky to be what I am!
Thank goodness I’m not just a clam or a ham
Or a dusty old jar of sour gooseberry jam!
I am what I am! That’s a great thing to be!
If I say so myself, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) and the author of several books. Reach him at ramonpresson@gmail.com. To read Presson’s previous columns go to www.franklinhomepage.com/?s=ramon+presson