Birthday is a time which comes annually for a person and is considered to be a very special day by his/ her dear ones. To make a person feel happy on the day of his /her birth, the family will held wonderful ceremonies in his /her name and give gifts to him/ her. Apart from being a source of joy for the one having his / her birthday, the time is hold as a moment of much merriment by his / her dear ones as they are the people who will turn the birthday into a festivity or celebration by coming together. In India, birthdays are no less than a festival these days especially those held for children. From holding prayer sessions in the morning to hosting the invited guests in the evening who would came laden with gifts for the birthday boy/ girl, birthdays are nowadays a lavish affair where decorations, food and entertainment similar to the ones in Indian weddings are found in full measure.
In the olden days, or say before the foreigners set their foot in the Indian soil, the birthdays in India used to be simple but special days where a special prayer session was held in the name of the one who has turn a year older. During these unique prayer sessions, special offertory like food items, precious clothes were placed in front of an idol of God in the hope that He blesses the one having the birthday with a long and successful life. After the prayers were over, the person having the birthday was showered with some gifts by his / her dear ones. The prayer sessions were generally hold in temples or mosques. Therefore, the birthday boy / girl would visit the religious place along with his / her family. Some special traditional rituals were also conducted in the honour of the birthday boy / girl. Many Hindus still held the traditional ancient practice of doing arati to the ones having the birthday. To do arati, a special plate, generally of silver or copper, is filled with lighted diyas (lamps) and sindoor (vermillion). After encircling the platter over the birthday boy/ girl, he / she is given a mark of vermillion on his / her forehead following which the custom of seeking blessings from the elders is held. While seeking blessings, the birthday boy / girl is showered with gifts by elders. In ancient times, traditional feasts comprising of special homemade dishes were held and the relatives would eat together. Meanwhile, the elite families of yore or even those who had good income used to donate items in large quantities to the poor and needy during the birthday of a family member. However, the tradition of holding prayers, giving gifts, conduction of special feasts and doing charity were followed everywhere as a routine of celebrating birthdays. Today, the ancient traditional rituals are practiced along with the regular modern trends like cutting a cake in the presence of a large number of guests in a specially decorated hall, gorging on special fares prepared by caterers and dancing to the tunes of a hit song.
There aren’t clear records as to how the origin of blowing out candles and cutting of cakes started on birthdays. It is said that the cutting of birthday cake became a tradition of birthday celebrations in Western European countries in the mid-nineteenth century. The Romans were believed to be the one who commenced the global custom of cutting birthday cakes. The ancient traditional cakes that the Romans used to prepare for weddings and birthdays include flatbreads made with flour and nuts, leavened with yeast, and sweetened with honey. However, the most popular theory is that the Germans were the ones who started the lavish celebration of children’s birthdays with cake cutting and munching on delectable fares which was known as Kinderfest. Meanwhile, there are some interesting stories as to how the origin of blowing candles on birthdays started. According to some, the tradition started from the Greeks who had earlier lit candles on cakes to honour the Greek Goddess of Hunt Artemis. They believed that the smoke from the candles would carry their prayers the Goddess who would in turn fulfill them. The Pagans are of the opinion that birthday candles have symbolic powers. According to the Pagans, evil spirits might come to harm the happiness of a person having the birthday. To prevent the surrounding of evil spirits, they would huddle together in front of the birthday boy / girl as a sign of protection and while he / she blow out the candles in a cake, they would make noise to drive away any sort of negative spirits around him / her. With the advent of the British in India, the lifestyle of the country underwent a huge change as people started adapting to the western way of living seriously. The celebration of birthdays became opulent as evening parties came to be held where cutting of cakes was a compulsory tradition and gossips on various topics were held over munching of solid delights and drinking of various concoctions which was followed by a dance session on some latest music or song.
Modern birthday celebrations can be divided into three phases- planning, execution and after-effects. In order to celebrate a birthday party, a person would first make calls or give messages to guests to invite them. The next part of planning includes purchasing decorative items, plates, cups etc. that are necessary for hosting the party following which a call to a renowned caterer is made. After deciding on a final menu before the big day, the tedious part i.e. doing the decorations would start. By the time the final look is finished, the birthday would arrive. To hold the birthday party in a good way, the hosts decide to ensure that they ask each guest about their feedback as a sign of politeness. On the day of the birthday, the much awaited cake cutting ceremony will commence only after the important guests have arrived. Prior to the cake cutting ceremony, the fancy colourful candles would be lit and inserted in the cake. As soon as the birthday boy / girl would blow out the flame, the song ‘Happy Birthday to you’ will ring out in a loud chorus across the room that will, of course, echo outside the house and a passer-by would know that a birthday celebration is going on. After the cake cutting ceremony is over, the eating of the food items prepared by the caterer would start and this is the time when favourite gossips would be happily shared as the tongue is sinfully indulged with an outburst of fusion flavours. Meanwhile, a dance session on some popular songs would also be held as no party can be considered to be complete without a dose of entertainment and fun. As dance sessions are accompanied by shouts and laughter, the entertainment and fun quotient is, of course, high and a party is considered to be happily over when dance and music is present. Before declaring a birthday party over, return gifts are handed over to the guests. Mixed emotions are the after-effects of a birthday party. A little bit of sadness is always felt after the overwhelming outpouring of joy of the previous day ends. Meanwhile the exercise of gift unwrapping ceremony is accompanied with shouts of glee or satisfaction or murmurs of anger or despair as the contents are investigated one by one. Today, event planners are the ones who plans, hosts and manages birthday parties for some clients who don’t mind spending money on giving extravagant parties for their guests. With just a list of guests who have been invited, event planners are able to host a creatively luxuriant party for a client and his / her guests. However, even if a party is not thrown on a birthday, cake cutting has become a mandatory ritual without which a born day is considered incomplete. With home bakers making good money by baking unique birthday cakes, the trend of purchasing and cutting a intricately decorative cake has become a hit. It has also now become a ritual to upload cake cutting pictures on social media whereas snapshots of the other birthday pictures are not considered so important to be uploaded. However, the cake with the candles, the inserting of the knife into the cake-these pictures occupy a prime spot in every social media feed. Birthdays are a day when pain or sad affairs of life are set aside and a positive vibe surrounds the environment as everyone comes together for merrymaking.