Updated: Aug 28
Most parents in western countries celebrate their children’s birthdays by giving gifts, however, birthdays weren’t always celebrated in this way. The tradition of giving gifts to celebrate birthdays, how it started, and how it differs in other nations is very interesting.
Who Started the Tradition of Giving Birthday Gifts to kids?
It has been speculated that the act of giving gifts goes as far back as the time of cavemen, perhaps even right to the origin of our species. Of course, gifts at that time weren’t the kind of goods we’d like to receive nowadays! Cave people typically would have given items from nature, such as animal teeth, perhaps with a hole in it to be worn as a necklace.
In ancient Greek times, gifts were given to those celebrating their birthday as a way to get rid of evil spirits. They also used noisemakers to help scare away the bad spirits – perhaps this is where the use of party poppers to celebrate birthdays came from. In Roman times, gifts were only given to men on their birthday. Women started celebrating their birthday sometime around the 12th century.
Adding candles to a birthday cake is something else we can thank the ancient Greeks for – they started this tradition as a way to honor their gods and goddesses, however, birthday cake as we know it today was developed by Germans towards the end of the 18th century. This was the same time when ‘Kinderfeste’ first started taking place – the 18th century equivalent of a child’s birthday party.
Over the years, the types of gifts given has changed. Coins, livestock, and other things of value that were both practical and honored the person receiving the gift were the norm in ages past.
Nowadays, gifts can be just about anything. For adults, it’s common to receive a household gift such as a candle, flowers or a favorite food item. Teenagers can be difficult to buy for – gifts can range from anything from gadgets and tech - to make up or clothes. Great birthday gifts for boys and girls can be small but powerful these days thanks to technology. Most commonly given gifts for children are toys and games, although clothes, chocolate, candies and things for their room are also popular.