It is about time: Birthdays as modern rites of temporality

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


What do birthdays mean? Why are they so obligatory for modern people? Based on neo-Durkheimian perspectives on ritual, this article suggests the anthropological history of the western birthday as a key to understand its meaning. The article points at the unique ritual system developed by modern industrial culture, such as birthdays, jubilees, and other anniversaries—designated here as Rites of Temporality—which latch on to the numerical milestones marking the passage of time to which the celebrant (individual, institution, settlement, state, and so forth) is subject. Comparing the birthday with classical rites of initiation then reveals how over and above individualism, consumer culture, state bureaucracy, and historical consciousness, the birthday honors time’s most noticeable markers since the industrial era—numbers—thus objectifying conventionalized time as a central meaning maker for modern people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-99
Number of pages22
JournalTime and Society
Issue number1
Early online date2020
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I would like to acknowledge Dorit Yerushalmi, Galit Ailon, Anat Leibler, Tal Kogman, and Lenn Schramm for useful suggestions during the work. Several versions of the paper were presented at Time is Money, and Beyond: The Temporality of Action and Consequences, the University of Warsaw (May 2019); the Haifa Performance Workshop 2, Haifa University (June 2019); and It’s about Time workshop at Bar Ilan University (July 2019). I am deeply grateful to the participants of these events for many helpful comments, questions, and critiques. Lastly, I am indebted to the editors and the three anonymous reviewers on behalf of Time and Society. The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Birthdays
  • anthropological history
  • rites of initiation
  • ritual
  • temporality


Dive into the research topics of 'It is about time: Birthdays as modern rites of temporality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this