When we imagine time travel — because all of us do — few of us decide the Dark Ages would be a great time to visit. Monty Python make it look funny in The Holy Grail, but funny from the outside watching from the comfort of our couches. We don’t actually want to live there.
There’s reference in Genesis to Pharoah celebrating a birthday. The Ancient Egyptians set aside money for garlands and animals to sacrifice to mark births. Rich Greeks celebrated the birth of a child, the child’s coming of age, and then marked an individual’s death with festivities on the anniversary of the person’s death. Plus, I already mentioned in a previous post, Caligula going a little crazy over his daughter’s first birthday. Julius Caesar also further pissed people off when he decided his birthday was a holiday fit for the gods (Oh, Caesar…when will you learn?).
But, then came the Dark Ages and the Christian Church decided celebrating one’s self was pagan. So, for about 1500 years people didn’t have birthdays. In fact, most people wouldn’t even have known when their birth date was. Lewis (1976) tells us it wasn’t until the 16th century that parish priests started recording birth dates.
So, along with your ideas of pestilence, illiteracy, disease-riddled hovels (if you were lucky), and other Dark Ages treats, add the absence of a birthday. I’d say a day without birthday candles is truly dark indeed.