Birthdays in Medieval Times

Birthdays are a cherished tradition, a time to celebrate the anniversary of our birth and mark the passing of another year. However, the way birthdays were celebrated in medieval times is very different from our modern celebrations. In this article, we take a journey back in time to explore what birthdays were like in the Middle Ages. From religious customs to cultural practices, we delve into the fascinating and sometimes surprising traditions surrounding birthdays in the Middle Ages.

Religious significance and saints’ days

In medieval Europe, birthdays as we know them today did not have the same level of importance. Instead, the focus was often on religious celebrations tied to the feast days of saints. The Catholic Church had considerable influence during this period, and saints’ days were widely observed. People often celebrated their “name day” rather than their actual date of birth, honoring the saint for whom they were named. These name days were marked by special church services, prayers, and sometimes feasts or gatherings with family and friends.

Rituals and superstitions

Medieval birthday celebrations were often filled with ritual and superstition. For example, it was believed that the person celebrating their birthday should wear a special charm or amulet to ward off evil spirits and protect themselves from harm in the coming year. Some traditions involved lighting candles as a symbol of purification and protection. The number of candles lit would correspond to the person’s age, and it was customary to make a wish and blow out the candles in one breath, similar to our modern practice.

Celebrations and festivities

Birthdays of nobility and royalty were grand affairs in medieval times. Lavish feasts and banquets were organized, often with multiple courses and extravagant delicacies. These celebrations were not limited to the birthday person, but extended to the entire court or noble household. Music, dancing, and entertainment were common features of these celebrations, with troubadours and minstrels providing the entertainment.

Gift Giving and Charitable Acts

While gift-giving was not as prevalent in medieval birthday celebrations as it is today, some forms of gift-giving did exist. Close family members might exchange tokens of affection or small gifts, such as handmade crafts or personalized items. In addition, acts of charity were considered an important part of birthdays. Wealthy individuals often distributed alms to the poor and less fortunate as a way of expressing gratitude for another year of life and seeking blessings for the future.

Astrology and Birthdays

Astrology played an important role in medieval society, and birthdays were often associated with astrological beliefs. People believed that the alignment of the stars and planets at the time of a person’s birth influenced their characteristics and destiny. Astrologers would create birth charts and provide interpretations based on the positions of celestial bodies that would influence the individual’s life path and personality traits.

Courtly Celebrations

The birthdays of royalty and nobility were elaborate affairs. These celebrations were not limited to a single day, but often extended into weeks of festivities known as “birthday weeks. The nobility would host grand feasts, tournaments, masquerades, and other forms of entertainment to honor the birthday person. These events were not only occasions for celebration, but also served as displays of wealth, power, and prestige.

Religious Rituals

Religious rituals were intertwined with birthday celebrations in the Middle Ages. It was common for individuals to attend religious services on their birthdays to offer prayers and seek blessings for the coming year. The church played a central role in these celebrations, with special masses or prayers dedicated to the birthday person. These religious observances were seen as a way to express gratitude for life and to seek divine protection.

Folklore and Omens

Medieval society was steeped in folklore and superstition, and birthdays were no exception. Certain omens and superstitions were associated with particular birthdays or birth dates. For example, people born on a Sunday were believed to be lucky, while those born on a Friday were considered to be unlucky. These beliefs influenced how birthdays were perceived and celebrated, with certain days considered more auspicious than others.

The importance of age milestones

While the concept of celebrating birthdays in a sequential manner was not as prevalent in medieval times, certain age milestones did have significance. Coming of age ceremonies, such as reaching adulthood or becoming a knight, were often celebrated with special rituals and ceremonies. These milestones marked important transitions in a person’s life and were accompanied by elaborate celebrations and feasts.

Social Hierarchy and Birthdays

The way birthdays were celebrated varied according to social status. While royalty and nobility enjoyed lavish celebrations, commoners and peasants would typically have simpler gatherings with family and close friends. The festivities often revolved around shared meals, storytelling, and traditional dances that reflected the cultural practices of the region or community.


Birthdays in the Middle Ages were marked by a mixture of religious customs, rituals, and cultural practices.The emphasis on saints’ feasts and name days, rather than the actual date of birth, shows the influence of the Catholic Church during this period.Rituals, superstitions, and feasts added a sense of mystique and celebration to these occasions, especially for the nobility and royalty. While the concept of modern birthday celebrations with cakes, gifts, and specific birth dates was not common in medieval society, these historical traditions provide us with a fascinating glimpse into the past and the ways in which people honored and marked the passing of another year of life.


What were birthdays like in Medieval times?

Birthdays in the Middle Ages were very different from today’s celebrations. The focus was often on religious observances rather than personal celebrations. Instead of celebrating the actual date of birth, people often celebrated their “name day” in conjunction with the feast day of the saint for whom they were named. Services, prayers, and sometimes feasts were held to honor the saint and seek blessings. Birthdays of the nobility involved elaborate feasts, tournaments, and entertainments as a display of wealth and power. Simple gatherings with family and close friends were more common among commoners, with communal meals and traditional dances reflecting local customs. Overall, medieval birthdays had a strong religious and communal emphasis, with less emphasis on individual recognition and personal gifts.

How were birthdays celebrated during the Middle Ages?

Not usually at all. Most children were given a saint’s name at their baptism (which might be the saint on whose feast day the child was born, but this was by no means always so) and they celebrated ‘their’ saint’s day every year.

Did they celebrate birthdays in medieval times?

In the medieval times it was only people of the high nobility like Richard who would have actually properly celebrated birthdays. Typical of the nobility to have all the fun. Initially this would have only been the men, evidence suggests that women did not start to celebrate their birthdays until the 12th century.

What was a birthday called in medieval times?

Medieval. Ordinary folk celebrated their saint’s day (the saint they were named after), but nobility celebrated the anniversary of their birth.

How were birthdays celebrated in ancient times?

Birthdays first started as a form of protection.

They, like many other pagan cultures, thought that days of major change, such as these “birth” days, welcomed evil spirits. They lit candles in response to these spirits almost as if they represented a light in the darkness.

Did peasants have birthdays?

In medieval times, nobility began to celebrate their actual birthdays, while the peasants celebrated their ‘Saint’s Day,’ which was the saint they were named after. Most research points to Rome as the first society to begin celebrating birthdays for non-religious figures.

Did people date in medieval times?

Romance isn’t dead, but it might be nine centuries old, according to an Oxford University academic. Laura Ashe, Associate Professor of English at Worcester College and the Faculty of English has described the invention of romantic love in the literature of the Middle Ages.

How did people get birth in medieval period?

At that time, the land was measured by the length of hand called “haat”. All the land belonged to the kings. The kings used to hand over his land to Brahmins and the higher officials as Birta land for their contribution in administration. Birta was tax-free land.

When did birthdays become a tradition?

Industrialization changed that. The idea that everyone should celebrate their birthday is, weirdly, not very old itself. Not until the 19th century—perhaps around 1860 or 1880—did middle-class Americans commonly do so, and not until the early 20th century were birthday celebrations a tradition nationwide.

Where did celebrating birthdays originate from?

While many cultures developed birthday celebrations separately, the Egyptians were the first ones to get the party started. When Egyptian pharaohs were crowned gods, they were “birthed.” That means the first birthday celebration wasn’t marking the birth of a human, but rather the birth of a god.

How did they celebrate birthdays in the 1500s?

How were birthdays celebrated during the Middle Ages? Not usually at all. Most children were given a saint’s name at their baptism (which might be the saint on whose feast day the child was born, but this was by no means always so) and they celebrated ‘their’ saint’s day every year.

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