The importance of celebrating one’s birthday in Zoroastrianism
The oldest document referring to birthday celebration and the importance of celebrating one’s birthday is in the sacred book of the Zoroastrians, the Avesta; more specifically in the Farvardin Yasht. Herodotus (1.133), also notes that the ancient Persians celebrate their birthdays with much festivity, a special meal, lots of desserts (epiphorḗmata) and sumptuous wines; for the Persians like Wine very much.
In the Shāh-nāmæ, the bible or the epic poem book of the Iranian people, there is description of extensive festivities on the occasion of hero Rostam’s birth.
In the early Islamic period the festive birthday celebrations were still popular among the Iranian people. For example, Buyid ruler, ʿAżod-al-Dawla (q.v.; 338-72/949-83) celebrated his birthday according to the ancient Persian solar calendar and customs. A magnificent banquet was prepared, and he was congratulated by his family and leading citizens. ʿAżod-al-Dawla, was very much interested in the rejuvenation of ancient Iranian culture, and has taken the pre-islamic Sássánian dynasty as his model. There is little evidence of birthday congratulations during the succeeding Islamic periods until the latter half of the 19th century.
According to the Zoroastrian tradition, a person’s birthday is a special day for that person’s prayers to be accepted. It is virtuous to light candles, be generous, to give and receive gifts on one’s birthday. Presents are bestowed upon or given on behalf of the individual appropriate to his/her age. Furthermore, it is exceptionally meritorious to plant a tree or have a tree/fruit tree planted on behalf of an individual on one’s birthday.
Yet, blowing out candles is strictly forbidden; for it is believed that extinguishing light on one’s special day shortens life and diminishes success.
In the Hebrew Bible, the one single mention of a celebration being held in commemoration of someone’s day of birth is for the Egyptian Pharaoh which is recorded in Genesis 40:20. In Judaism, the perspective on birthday celebrations is disputed by various rabbis, but looked upon favorably after the Babylonian exile.
Yet, the early Christians rejected the practice of celebrating one’s birthday as inherently pagan. Origen in his commentary “On Levites” writes that Christians should not only refrain from celebrating their birthdays, but should look on them with disgust. The early Christians did not even celebrate Christ’s birth.
Jehovah’s Witnesses refrain from celebrating birthdays on the basis that they are portrayed in a negative light in the Bible and have historical connections with magic, superstitions, and Paganism.
In Islam, more specifically sunni Islam, conservative clerics consider the celebration of a birthday to be a sin, as it is considered an “innovation” of the faith, or bi’dah. There is also a great deal of controversy regarding celebrating Milad-ul-Nabi – the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad among conservative sunni clerics. While a section of Islam strongly favors it, others decry such celebrations as out of the scope of Islam.