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I considered putting this question on Worldbuilding SE, but decided it would be better suited here, as it is about history. I am doing some research for a fantasy medieval novel, and I was wondering what birthdays were like in Medieval times.

Obviously the answer will change depending on whose birthday it was (royalty, peasant, etc.). Because I am writing a fantasy novel, and not using the Feudal System, I can't ask about any particular class (because villeins, freemen, and knights don't exist in my novel). Therefore instead, I'd like to know how Medieval birthday celebrations differed from each other, depending on class. Hopefully I can gain a sense of what they were like from that, and then determine what they would be like for the people within my novel.

Question: How did Medieval birthday celebrations differ from each other, depending on class?

Thanks in advance for your time!

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    I have no source, so it's only a comment: The birthday was not so important, most people even didn't know the day. The saint's day was more important. – knut Sep 29 '15 at 6:15
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    As an example, Russian Tsar's birthday has an official status only from 1676. At the same time, the saint's day of ruling monarch had much longer history; there's even a special term for it: "тезоименитство". – Matt Sep 29 '15 at 9:47
  • @knut I'm curious - did that apply to royalty as well, or just the working classes? – Thomas Myron Sep 29 '15 at 18:42
  • Doesn't this fall under Social Sciences? Or am I misunderstanding the question? – FiringSquadWitness Oct 2 '15 at 5:01
  • Just a thought: back then, infant mortality was very high, so, for young children, they having survived another year was genuinely, meaningfully something worth celebrating. – Emilio M Bumachar Aug 12 at 12:15
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This is an interesting Reddit I found on the celebration of birthdays. It talks about the origins of all the traditions associated with modern birthdays.

From reading Wikipedia and other articles, it seems that only the highest-up nobles celebrated their birthdays. The vast majority of everyone preferred to celebrate name days. Judging from the book War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, name days were celebrated by inviting all of the family and friends over and having a big feast. Birthday celebrations for the high nobles would've been similar to that, or much like the festivals described here.

Whether or not a person celebrated birthdays also depended on their religion. According to that Reddit article, pagan people like the Romans and Celts did celebrate birthdays, but Catholic and Orthodox Christians did not. Of course, that's not a general rule, either - many Orthodox Christians still don't worship birthdays today, but many do. Same with Catholics.

  • Could I get a definition for a "name day"? – Thomas Myron Feb 15 '16 at 19:38
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    @Tommy Myron , it's the feast day of the saint in honor of whom you were named. For exemple, my "name day" is August 20th, the feast of St Bernard of Clairvaux. – Bernard Masse Feb 16 '16 at 0:37
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Long before the birth of the first calendar, the ancient Abyssinians had a confusing deal with trying to figure out the ages of their nation, so they looked for a solution which was expected from the intellectuals of the time, men who had been studying nature day and night, most of them had been studying astrology. So, the solution came out to be directly related to astrology, and the God of light, the Sun. They believed that there is a newly born Star which sparkles on the sky on the date of each child’s birth, (that is where the horoscopes relation with the date of birth came). The star gives light as a sacrifice to the God (the Sun) to help the mother on delivery and to protect the baby from the spirits of the Satan (the darkness), which was believed to be against fertilization in general, and a birth of a first born baby son in particular. Hence, one was expected to give devotion to the star which controls the relationships of the baby with the God, and this devotion was expected to be celebrating the date usually at night, firing light to the star, getting dressed in white, singing, dancing and giving presents to family and friends. The baby’s symbolic gift, especially made by his family was decided to be collected every year, and be kept safe, so that one can measure how old one was depending on the celebrated birthdays, and the accumulated souvenirs, usually made of wood, or silver depending on the family.

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    Hi Mekdes Workneh and welcome to History SE. This doesn't seem to answer the question concerning medieval practices. If what have posted has some relevance, please make that evident. Also, note that it is good practice to provide sources for answers. – Lars Bosteen Oct 21 '18 at 2:39
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    Doesn't answer the question in any way. – Jos Oct 21 '18 at 3:12
  • Nor is it supported by evidence, AFAIK :-) – jamesqf Oct 21 '18 at 3:16

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