Our family loves parties. We really do. We have tons of traditions that make each holiday and event special. Our Christmas is spread out from St. Nicholas Day on December 6th to Epiphany on January 6th, with many fun events in between (not the least being our traditional daily hunt for Joseph and Mary on their way to the Nativity scene).
Birthdays are no exception. We have traditions for how and what we eat for each meal (including breakfasts and desserts). We have traditions for our decorations, from the banner on the cake, to the scene on the table (generally with moss, ivy, ribbons, and origami characters).
We love to give gifts too. 80+ were given just to each other one Christmas, but we toned down after that.
We love to go all out, but… it gets expensive, and it is tiring to have massive parties at every birthday. Seriously.
So we picked two birthdays that were our BIG birthdays. Those are the big party ones. The ones where we can have a bit of a bigger budget.
But which birthdays had valuable meaning that would justify it?
Traditionally, in a large number of nations, and historically, the 13th birthday had great significance, and rightfully so. That was when the child (supposedly) begins to put away childish things and become a man. That is when his body begins to kick in and mature, and his mind and spiritual development begin to develop more as well. So that was an easy choice for one.
But the other?
16 is when you get to drive (in the US at least). 18 you get to vote, sign contracts, (have legal adultery :P), join the military, etc. 21 you get to drink (in the old days you got to homestead too, but those golden ages are gone… * sniff *).
Bleah. Pretty poor reasons to have a big birthday if you ask me (even if you don’t ask me).
Does the Bible have anything to say on this point though?
Actually, it does. It names a specific age that is special to God in some way (it is rather obscure as to why it is special and exactly how it is special, but it is special).
The Bible has several different ways that it points twenty out as special.
Exodus 30:11-16 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
12 When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when [thou] numberest them.
13 This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel [is] twenty gerahs:) an half shekel [shall be] the offering of the LORD.
14 Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the LORD.
15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when [they] give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.
16 And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.
(Notice that this is not a tax of any sort: it is a ceremonial offering, just to be clear on that hehe.)
Over and over again twenty is the age from which men were expected to go forth to war (with exceptions for fear, betrothal, marriage, etc.).
Numbers 32:10-12 And the LORD’S anger was kindled the same time, and he sware, saying,
11 Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me:
12 Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the LORD.
This is perhaps the most important mention of the age of twenty. This time it was a matter of life and death. God was perfectly able to divide it based on plenty of other things, but He chose to divide the nation evenly by this age.
So twenty is an age of maturity, of manhood, of responsibility, and of achievement.
Thirteen is when we are to begin to put away childish things, and begin to become a man.
Twenty is when we are to finish putting them away, and become a man.
So we have seven whole years to learn, to grow, to cast off, and to build up. We don’t wait until we turn twenty to become a man: we finish a seven year process. And a very arduous and grueling process it can be.
But it is not only worthwhile. It is essential, it is crucial, it is vital.
So does becoming twenty make you more mature? No. It is merely a date to measure your maturity by.
And a handy birthday to have a really BIG party on.