As legends and traditions go, those associated with a birthday party have to do with a warding off evil spirits on the date of a person's birth. This was usually brought about by family and friends bringing good wishes and cheer to the honored person. This gesture evolved into bringing gifts and this gesture evolved into having a birthday party. But nothing is that simple.
Originally only the rich rated a birthday. And who had more money and material goods than the King? As time passed, children were recognized as meriting a birthday party as well. Who knows for sure when certain birthday traditions started or what their impetuous was. In Germany, where the birthday party purportedly started, you can find many traditions that are more or less still honored today. For example, the Germans lit a candle for each day of a person's life.
Usually a member of the birthday child's family would arise at dawn and light a candle on a cake of pie and allowed the candles to burn all day long. That's a lot of damn candles. Anyway, after a special dinner meal, the family would gather together and sing a birthday song and then the child would blow out all the candles. Sound familiar? And you guessed it, the birthday person was told to make a wish before blowing out the candles. And the wish would come true if all the candles were blown out.
Sounds like most of our traditions started right there in the Hinterland whether we want to admit it or not! Not to be outdone, in America we spank a child once for every year of their age. But in Brazil the child gets his earlobe pulled or yanked. That is -- the birthday child receives a pull on the earlobe for each year they have been alive. The child also gets a cake during his or her birthday party and they give the fist slice of cake to a parent.
Meanwhile in Cuba - they celebrate in a way very similar to the United States. The Cubans have a birthday party with lots of music, people and gifts. They sing a kind of good luck/happy birthday song of sorts.
Holland celebrates the birthday party in an interesting way: There are special "birthday years" that are referred to as "crown years" on these special birthdays -- the 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th, 21st - the birthday boy or girl is given a large present or a crown. The family of the child usually prepares a special meal and makes the child feel special with a cake and paper hats and other fun things of that nature.
I'm not sure how many years passed between the first attempt at a birthday party and the next. All I known is that news of this phenomenon apparently traveled fast and traveled all over the world. Because it seems like in less than 50 years most countries were doing variations of the birthday party.
Maybe some traditions didn't translate well. For example, the Irish don't give birthday spanks to the child; they give "birthday bumps". The birthday boy or girl gets turned upside down and bumped on the floor once for each year of their age. They even get an extra bump for good luck.
I'm not sure where birthday party invitations originated from, but it seems that the habit of inviting over family and friends to wish the birthday person good luck, evolved into a more complex party that invited classmates and other, so naturally birthday party invitations were needed.
It's easy to see that wherever the country the traditions of birthday celebrations honor the young with hopes for a long life. And that just may be the most precious gift of all.