What is the right Zarthushti way of celebrating birthdays?
Us Parsis generally copy the Western style of celebrating a birthday or anniversaries… we get a cake, light candles and blow them out, as we sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song. The symbolism behind this ritual is to show that one more year has passed off and we are a year older.
This is not in line with our Zarthushti tenets. We should never blow out a light. By blowing out a lit candle, we unwittingly insult fire, blindly imitating the Western culture. Additionally, blowing out a candle holds a negative connotation – it’s not about having grown a year older. Blowing out light is not a gesture of health, longevity or happiness. It is a gesture of terminality or death.
Blowing out a lighted candle releases foul breath and spit onto the fire, thereby inadvertently desecrating the very fire which we revere as the son of God: ‘Aathro Ahurahe Mazdaao Puthra, Tava Aatarsh Puthra Ahurahe Mazdaao’. There are many instances given in ‘Patet Pashemani’ of repentance for defiling fire.
An appropriate and meaningful mode for Zarthostis to celebrate birthdays or anniversaries, is to ask the person to light an oil lamp (divo) while reciting the ‘Yatha’ or ‘Ashem’ prayer, wishing that the ensuing year be as bright as that light, full of happiness and good health. And we must let the divo die out on its own. This also symbolises that one more year has ensued, as opposed to passed away.
If you are at a place where lighting a divo is not possible, you could light a small candle, so that by the time the celebrations are over, the light has died down of its own accord. In case of lack of time, you can also light a very small divo, which would die out in a few minutes.
If ever it gets absolutely necessary to extinguish a divo, candle or an incense stick, the right way is by fanning out the flame with the hands. Neither should it be blown out or immersed in water.