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Happy Birthday to You

By rob taylor  |  Posted: January 03, 2013

Birthday card from long ago.

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THE thing is, it's my birthday today, and there has come a time in this girl’s life when "the number of years that have passed" really scares me. Yet another year older and not a jot wiser. Have I got the Birthday Blues? I blame them on my parents, they brought me up to appreciate the finer things in life.

Now some of them are taboo. I am frightened to eat rich food or drink expensive wine in case double my hip measurement equals my age, making it difficult to wear a slim fitting dress or get a size K diamond ring on my finger.

I suppose you are all thinking, why care about your age, just have a good old fashioned birthday blow out with two slices of cake and say "happy birthday to me" with a bottle of the most expensive bubbly I can find? And of course forget what the tape measure says.

I love birthday cake, a rich fruit cake, but it seems not to have much of a history before the reign of Queen Victoria, though Mrs Beeton gave a recipe for a fruit cake in her cook book of 1859.

However, by the turn of that century the concept of a birthday cake had made a timely appearance on greetings cards, to tempt the birthday boy or girl to over indulge.

This rosy cheeked little girl (below), with the greeting "we hear you're having a regular Birthday!" was sent on December 10th 1922 to Miss Annie Williams at 87, Ada Road, Smethwick. "Just a card wishing you many happy returns of the day" had been despatched with love from Annie's mother and sister Elsie. They had obviously thought the theme of a huge chocolate birthday cake would suit a young lady with a sweet tooth perfectly. Vanilla sponge, chocolate hundreds and thousands, and oozing with cream, how could she resist a second slice? A heavily fruited iced cake has always appealed to our menfolk, consequently when a young gentleman named Geoff selected a birthday card for his sweetheart's birthday on April 16th 1911, there may have been even more to the greeting. He chose a card representing a birthday party table with a crystal centrepiece piled high with fruit, fairy cakes and a top tier crowned with a magnificent fruit cake with Royal icing.

An imaginative young man was Geoff as before he sent his "Many Happy Returns" on April 15th at 10.30pm to his Miss Dorothy White at 179, Leicester Street, Wolverhampton he wrote this little poem....

But, of course he may have copied it! "Time has come when we must bake Once again your birthday cake May each candle in it be A candle of prosperity And when you slice it, may you find The plums of Love and Peace of mind."

 I believe he may have been a very clever young "beau;" was he suggesting that Dorothy should make her own birthday cake? Now, that's "having your cake and eating it."

 Although, when reflecting on that saying, the 1970s was hardly a time for doing so as the country had seemed to have lost it's way. Yet this young lady (below) celebrating her 13th birthday at the Redhill Fete during this time was determined to have a slice of whatever was happening when she was celebrating being a teenager. It was lucky thirteen; perhaps her mother would let her wear bell bottoms, flares in the age of flower power and psychedelia, and listen to Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen or Bye, Bye Baby sung by the Bay City Rollers? Which did they play at her birthday bash? There was once a time when it was thought people celebrating their birthday were particularly vulnerable to acts against them by evil spirits.

Any gesture of goodwill or token to protect them from damage or hurt was believed to work. Prayers were said for the safety of the person, however if a little one attended Sunday School a special card was always given to the birthday boy or girl.

On the case of this illustration (right), "Many Happy Returns of the Day," "The Lord Bless Thee and Keep Thee" numbers VI 24, was the kind message given to Thomas Williams who attended "The Bradley Wesleyan Sunday School at Bilston."

 It was given to young Thomas when he celebrated his birthday on May 8th 1916. Was it actually a poignant message, as his father could have been serving in the conflict raging on the Western Front.

At the beginning of W.W.I many young men were called to arms; a chance to perform feats of great patriotism. After the realisation that it was not an adventure, there were desperate attempts by families to keep in touch.

Prayers Cards were sent from back home with prayers for the safety of these young men who had rushed to take "the king’s shilling," and by return beautifully embroidered picture postcards were despatched with greetings that didn't hint or give any idea of the horrors the soldiers were enduring.

One such card was sent from "somewhere in France" to Miss Alice Smith at 27, Bromsgrove Street, Halesowen, with this birthday message.

"To My Dear Sister Alice, With Best Love on your birthday, from your Brother Fred."

 Although "Happy Birthday" has only four short musical phrases, and a single repetitive line of words, it has become part of our special day - even if more often than not it is sung out of tune; but that all adds to the fun.

How did this little tune come about? Let's take a look at the origins of one of the world's most popular melodies. “Happy Birthday” began in 1893 when Mildred Hill, a Kindergarten teacher in Louisville, Kentucky put pen to paper and wrote a simple little tune, with her younger sister Patty adding the words. However, at the time it had absolutely nothing to do with birthdays as they called it "Good Morning to All."

 "Good morning to you, good morning to you, good morning dear children, good morning to all," was sung by the teachers to welcome the children every morning, however when it was published later in a book of songs it became a favourite of children to sing to their teacher. Eventually with it's popularity at parties "Good morning" was changed to "Happy Birthday."

 Cards Strange, isn't it, I still feel like the same girl I felt fifty years ago. I still like the same expensive perfume, the company of intelligent men, and I'm still terrified of snakes.

Funnily enough, I still collect Victorian greetings cards, which began fifty years ago.

Well, well, guess what, the first one I purchased was this beautiful birthday token which must have been posted in about the 1890's to Mrs G.T.

Waite at 172, High Street, West Bromwich. I'm thinking, will a certain someone send me such a pretty card, just to stop me moaning about my age? Hope he doesn't stick a birthday number on it.

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