Matthew 14:6 records a birthday celebration in honour of King Herod. John Calvin in his commentary on this verse makes some very thoughtful comments about birthday celebrations in general. He first writes about the preparations for Herod’s feast:
“It is scarcely possible that such magnificent preparations should not draw luxury, pride, unbridled merriment, and other crimes, and likewise many other evils, along with them. Not that there is anything wrong in the mere act of preparing an expensive banquet; but such is the tendency of the human mind to licentiousness, that when the reins are loosened, they quickly go astray.”
Calvin then adds: “The ancient custom of observing a birthday every year as an occasion of joy cannot in itself be disapproved; for that day, as often as it returns, reminds each of us:
• to give thanks to God, who brought us into this world, and has permitted us, in his kindness, to spend many years in it;
• next, to bring to our recollection how improperly and uselessly the time which God granted to us has been permitted to pass away;
• and, lastly, that we ought to commit ourselves to the protection of the same God for the remainder of our life.
But nothing is so pure that the world shall not taint it with its own vices. A birthday, which ought to have been held sacred, is profaned by the greater part of men with disgraceful abuses; and there is scarcely a single entertainment at all costly that is free from wicked debauchery. First, men drink more freely; next, the door is opened to filthy and immodest conversation; and, lastly, no moderation is observed. This was the reason why the patriarch Job was in the habit of offering sacrifices, while his sons were feasting alternately in each other’s houses, (Job 1:5.) It was because he thought that, when the guests invite one another to mirth, they are far from maintaining due moderation, and sin in a variety of ways.