Waylon Leathers celebrates his second birthday (here and below).


It was a Saturday, and the relatives had been invited to celebrate my grandson Waylon’s second birthday. I stood outside the front door of his home and waited until he saw me. When he did, he ran to the door, opened it, and greeted me with “Nana! Nana!” while giving me hugs.


     Balloons of various sizes, shapes and colors also greeted me. With a loud squeal and hands in the air, Waylon took off running — the balloons dispersed, and he chased them. He was one happy boy!


     Have you ever thought about why we celebrate birthdays? When and how did birthday cakes, candles, cards and birthday parties evolve?



Are birthday parties in the Bible?


     The word “birthday” is mentioned twice in scripture, first in Genesis 40. Some commentaries believe this birthday celebration was to honor Pharaoh (v. 20) as a god. The second reference is in Matthew 14:1-12, “when Herod’s birthday was celebrated … ” (v. 6).


     At both of these “birthday parties,” men were killed. Could it be that these two celebrations demonstrate a selfish pagan mindset?


     However, when it comes to the “birthday” of Jesus, there’s no mention of a date or a birthday party. If there are no birthday celebrations mentioned for the King of Kings, and we don’t know the exact day He was born, why do we celebrate His birthday on December 25?


History’s answers


     In a John MacArthur sermon entitled “Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem,” I learned that during the fourth century, the bishop of Rome selected December 25 as Christ’s birthdate — an arbitrary choice, but he had a purpose for doing it in December.


     His reasoning centered on an annual pagan festival that began before Christ. In the bleak winter, the people held a party anticipating spring — the sun’s return and the new growth of plants and trees. There were parties, gifts, feasting, and decorating their houses with evergreens.


     By the fourth century, this festival was called Saturnalia for the god of agriculture, Saturn. The bishop wanted to bring a sanctifying influence into this pagan celebration. He hoped people’s attention would be drawn away from paganism and toward how and why Jesus came.


     MacArthur states, “The heathen festivities never missed a beat. They kept on going at the same pace they were always going at. The church, which frowned on them and wanted to change them, finally accepted them and let them be assimilated into the celebration of Christmas so that today Christmas is a conglomeration of all that is distinctively Christian and biblical and all that is distinctively pagan.”


Celebrating Christ’s ‘birthday’


     How can you and I make the birthday of Jesus the Messiah different from all the commercialism that Christmas has become?


     When I lived in Germany, I loved how they distinguished between the visit of Saint Nicholas and the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Eve, our German neighbors would have a meal, light the candles on the tree, sing “O Tannen Baum,” and open a few presents.


     The following day, church bells would ring throughout the community. People went to church for worship. It was a way to focus attention on the Savior’s birth.


     Today, Christ followers have found various ways to separate from the secularism surrounding Christmas. Some have a birthday cake for Jesus, sing “Happy Birthday” and read Luke 2. There might be a special present set aside for Jesus under the tree, or a donation to an organization, or the serving of a meal. What are some ways you celebrate the birth of Jesus?


How should we celebrate our birthdays?


     The “birthday parties” mentioned in the Bible were pagan. So what should we as Christ followers do about our own birthdays?


Here are a few thoughts.


Celebrating birthdays provides a time to reflect on the Giver of life. Celebrate the years He has given to you and His faithfulness through those years. Express your gratitude to God because He has created you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139).


Mark the milestones of your life. The essential ages for me are 12, 16, 21, 50 and 65; for the years that follow after, I want to be grateful, flourish, and finish well.


Celebrate your spiritual birthday. Compose a letter of thankfulness to God and note your spiritual mile markers from the past year.


When you send a birthday card to someone, make it personal by sharing a blessing, prayer or scripture.


     Happy Birthday, King Jesus! We celebrate who You are, God’s one and only Son. We celebrate Your resurrection. And we look forward to the celebration to come — Your return.


Laura Lee Leathers loves to touch lives and encourage others through words and biblical hospitali-tea. She is an award-winning freelance writer, encouragement coach and speaker, and a contributing writer for several newspapers, magazines and online publications. Connect with her at or, or join her Facebook group, “Teacups, Mugs, and Friends.”