LCG Article

Why Birthday Parties Are Not Christian

God does not want us to commemorate our birthdays with parties and customs rooted in paganism.

Rod McNair

It is a fact of life that everyone grows older, and that for each of us there is one day each year when we are considered a year older than we were the day before—our birthday. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the passage of time as another year of life goes by. We know, for example, that Moses certainly knew how old he was. Scripture records that, toward the end of his life, he told the Israelites, “I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. Also the Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan’“ (Deuteronomy 31:2).

Did “one hundred and twenty years old today” mean that Moses was making this statement on the exact anniversary of his birth? Perhaps, but what we know for sure is that there is no hint of a birthday party marking the anniversary of Moses’ birth, like those in the household of Pharaoh (cf. Genesis 40:20–22).

Moses simply acknowledged his age. By contrast, many in the world today have grown used to the idea that their birthday is an occasion on which friends, family members, and coworkers are expected to lavish them with attention, gifts, and revelry.

What can we learn from Scripture and history about celebrating birthdays? After all, we are to follow Jesus Christ’s example in all things, and Jesus did not celebrate His birthday, nor did He make any biblical reference to it—nor did any of the Apostles so much as mention the dates of Christ’s birth or their own in any biblical passage.

It is interesting to note the teaching and tradition of the Jews in general around the time of Christ. Jewish historian Shmuel Safrai noted the following:

As some laws were concerned with a child’s exact age, it may be assumed that Jewish families usually remembered the date of birth, but birthdays were not celebrated. Josephus even informs us that the Torah forbids the practice of turning the occasion of one’s birth into an opportunity for celebration and drink…. The gospels note the birthday celebrations of Herod Antipas… but tannaitic literature [from about AD 10 to approximately AD 220] mentions the celebration of birthdays only as a Gentile practice (The Jewish People in the First Century, 1976, vol. 2, p. 767).

Certainly, birthday observance as a celebration and party was not a part of Jewish tradition or teaching during the time of Christ or the New Testament Church.

The Bible mentions only two clear instances of birthday celebrations, both of which ended in tragedy (Genesis 40:20–22; Mark 6:21–28). One was a major festival for Pharaoh’s household, which could have included hundreds of revelers. The other was King Herod’s celebration in Galilee for all the nobles of his domain. On these occasions of carousing, which included massive consumption of food and alcohol, individuals were put to death for the celebrants’ amusement.

Does the book of Job indicate that Job’s sons celebrated their birthdays? Some point to Job 1:4 to support that idea: “And his sons would go and feast in their houses, each on his appointed day, and would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them.” Is “his appointed day” a vague reference to a birthday? Scripture does not say. However, we should also note that, if this does reference birthdays, it is not necessarily positive regarding the idea of birthday celebrations. We see that Job offered sacrifices after these celebrations, on the assumption that his sons may have “sinned and cursed God in their hearts” while feasting (v. 5). We note, as well, that either Job was not invited to these celebrations or he chose not to attend them.

Birthday Parties Originated in Pagan Customs

People are sometimes surprised to discover just how many traditions have religious roots that are contrary to God’s ways. Yet even some casual observers have noticed that the early Church taught against participation in the sort of birthday celebrations that are so common in the world today. For example, writer Norm Schneider points out the following:

During the Christian era, the early followers of Christ didn’t believe in celebrating birthdays…. Their belief was that only in death was there true deliverance worthy of honoring… [a reference to Ecclesiastes 7:1, where Solomon asserts that the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth]. They also believed that Egyptian and Greek birthday celebrations were pagan festivals and should not be duplicated (“The Strange Origins of Our Modern Birthday Customs,”, August 13, 2008).

Concerning the world’s “Christianity,” Schneider goes on to observe that by “the fourth century, Christians—having generally agreed on the date of Christ’s birth—began celebrating the event, ergo Christmas.”

Indeed, the observance of Christmas and the celebration of birthdays went hand in hand as the vast majority of “Christians” fell into false teachings. Today, billions of Trinitarian “Christians” have, in effect, a sort of “birthday party for Christ” each year as they celebrate Christmas. However, when we read what Scripture tells us about the young Jesus Christ, we find no precedent for such celebration.

Instead, what do we find? When they saw the young Jesus—months after His birth—the wise men from the East “fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). This was a momentous event, but it was not a birthday party—these were prominent men coming to visit the King. The custom of bringing a gift when coming before a king is still in practice today.

Birthday Parties Contradict Christian Values

How should we view the milestones in our lives, as we make progress toward the Kingdom of God? The Bible reveals that God places far more importance on the development of spiritual character and our eventual spiritual birth into His Kingdom than on observing the beginning of our physical life (Ecclesiastes 7:1; Revelation 21:7; Romans 2:7; John 12:24–25). Accordingly, God does not want His people to become involved in worldly practices that lead to the destruction of character. Of course, God makes it plain that Christians are not to take part in “lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3). But even when we believe we are avoiding such “extremes,” birthday festivities are often focused on an element of greed—the desire for gifts and attention—as well as on vanity, selfishness, and a spirit of competition. Such attitudes are certainly inappropriate for Christians in any situation. We know from Scripture that covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

Yet we can mark important milestones in our lives in a godly manner if we focus on the larger picture. The right perspective on this issue has been explained in the past by the late Dr. Roderick C. Meredith. He mentioned in his July 21, 2008 sermon, titled “Building Faith and Courage,” that he had just turned 78 years of age. Significantly, he added, “but without a birthday party.” On the other hand, he also explained that “Mr. Armstrong gave his mother a dozen red roses on her birthdays, occasionally, and sometimes took her out for a nice dinner at the restaurant simply to honor her on such an occasion.”

It was not a “birthday party” with candles, exchanging of presents and so forth. It was simply noting that God had given her another year of life and encouraging her and honoring her in that way. Often, we have stated that our own people may have a special meal prepared by the mother in the home for a child on his or her birthday and express thanks that our child has had another year of life (“Focus on the Big Picture!,” Ministerial Bulletin, January–February 2011).

Certainly, it can be appropriate for parents to reminisce with their children about past joys and challenges of a child’s life, as well as discuss future plans and goals, when the child grows a year older. It’s a totally different matter to have a birthday party “with candles, exchanging of presents and so forth,” as Dr. Meredith explained.

The Living Church of God’s Presiding Evangelist, Gerald Weston, has continued that teaching, as evidenced in his Living Church News article “What Drives Your Decisions?”

It is evident from the scriptures that people knew how many years they lived…. However, not once do we read of a birthday party for any of God’s servants…. Are we able to understand the difference between marking or recognizing the day of one’s birth and celebrating it in a party atmosphere? Are we able to make wise judgments, based on the word of God? Do we follow the customs of this world, as sheep going to the slaughter? Or can we savor the things of God? (September–October 2017).

In the Living Church of God, we recognize and encourage activities that are supported by Scripture and cultivate righteous character and a loving spirit within our families. We should avoid activities that contradict these values. As we come out of a sinful and self-focused world, we must each strive to develop God’s mind so that we may make good decisions, as wise Christians “who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).