Birthday (יוֹם הֻלֶּדֶת, Ge 40:20; τὰ γενέσια, Mt 14:6; Mr 6:21). The observance of birthdays may be traced to a very ancient date; and the birthday of the first-born son seems in particular to have been celebrated with a degree of festivity proportioned to the joy which the event of his actual birth occasioned (Job 1:4,13,18). The birthdays of the Egyptian kings were celebrated with great pomp as early as the time of Joseph (Ge 40:20). These days were in Egypt looked upon as holy; no business was done upon them, and all parties indulged in festivities suitable to the occasion. Every Egyptian attached much importance to the day, and even to the hour of his birth; and it is probable that, as in Persia (Herodot. i, 133; Xenoph. Cyrop. i, 3, 9), each individual kept his birthday with great rejoicinrs, welcoming his friends with all the amusements of society, and a more than usual profusion of delicacies of the table (Wilkinson, v, 290). In the Bible there is no instance of birthday celebrations among the Jews themselves (but see Jer 20:15). The example of Herod the tetrarch (Mt 14:6), the celebration of whose birthday cost John the Baptist his life, can scarcely be regarded as such, the family to which he belonged being notorious for its adoption of heathen customs. In fact, the later Jews at least regarded birthday celebrations as parts of idolatrous worship (Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. ad Matthew 14:6), and this probably on account of the idolatrous rites with which they were observed in honor of those who were retarded as the patron gods of the day on which the party was born.
The proper Greek term for a birthday festival is τὰ γενέθλια (and hence in the early writers the day of a martyr's commemoration), but τὰ γενέσια seems to be used in this sense by a Hellenism, for in Herod. 4:26, it means a day in honor of the dead. It is not impossible, however, that in Mt 14:6, the feast to commemorate Herod's accession is intended, for we know that such feasts were common (especially in Herod's family, Josephus, Ant. 15:11, 3; see Blunt's Coincidences, Append. vii), and were called "the day of the king" (Ho 7:5). The Gemarists distinguish expressly between the יוֹם גּנוּסָיֵא שֶׁל מלָכַים, dies γεννέσια regni, and the יוֹם יִלדָּא, or birthday (Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. 1. c.).
Treatises on birthday celebrations have been written in Latin by Braen (Hafn. 1702), Esenbreck (Altdorf, 1732), Funcke (Gorliz. 1677), same (ibid. 1695), Hilde1trand (Helmst. 1661), Rhode (Regiom. 1716), Roa (Lugd. Bat. 1604), Spangenberg (Gothle, 1722), Weber (Vimar. 1751), Wend (Viteb. 1687).