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!

  • 26
    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
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 6:15
  • 3
    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
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 9:47
  • @knut I'm curious - did that apply to royalty as well, or just the working classes? Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 18:42
  • Doesn't this fall under Social Sciences? Or am I misunderstanding the question? Commented Oct 2, 2015 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. Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 12:15

1 Answer 1


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"? Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 19:38
  • 5
    @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.
    – MasB
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 0:37
  • Portuguese and Spanish have the word onomástico to designate a person's saint's day. It is written exactly the same in both languages. dicionarioinformal.com.br/onom%C3%A1stico es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onom%C3%A1stico As wiki states, nowadays people also use the word to mean birthday, but up to early XX century it would be only used to saint's day.
    – Luiz
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 13:29
  • my brother was born in June 24, St John's day, well celebrated in Brazil specially by children, impossible to forget (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festa_Junina) As my parents liked the name and the saint, his name is João. So his onomástico and birthday are the same. This was much common, if by chance the parents knew and liked the saint of the day when their child was born.
    – Luiz
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 13:37
  • my great-great-grandmother was born in December 25, and was called Natalina. I also know one guy called Epifânio, because he has born on January 6, feast of the Wise Kings, or Epifania. I also had a great-grand-uncle called Pasquale (italian family, not portuguese name), who was born on Easter day. So, the onomastic concept may be even stretched a bit.
    – Luiz
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 13:48

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