“There was a birthday cake for Swedenborg, and one little boy couldn’t understand why Mr. Swedenborg was not present at his own birthday party” (Church News: Toronto, Canada, in New Church Life 1921, 376).
For more than a century, New Church schools and congregations around the world have been celebrating the birthday of Emanuel Swedenborg (January 29th, 1688) with parties, banquets, and other activities. A detailed account of an 1892 Swedenborg’s birthday celebration at the Academy of the New Church in Philadelphia was published in New Church Life:
“ANNIVERSARY OF SWEDENBORG’S BIRTHDAY
IT has been customary in the Philadelphia Schools for several years past, to celebrate Swedenborg’s birthday in some way. First, by a few remarks at the opening exercises in the morning. Then by a lecture on Swedenborg’s life and mission, and once by an evening social with appropriate toasts and speeches.
But last year’s celebration by a school dinner was so eminently satisfactory, that it was the universal desire that the day should be annually celebrated in that way. Accordingly there assembled in the Boys School building at noon, on January 29th, a company of about one hundred, including all the pupils of the school, old and young, with the teachers, some of the Councillors of the Academy, and some other invited guests. At a given signal, all went up to the hall, and were shown to their respective seats at the tables, which were arranged in a quadrangle. The children had a long table to themselves across the end of the room.
The principal viands had been placed upon the tables beforehand, so that those who served were enabled to sit down with the rest after the Chancellor had asked the blessing.
After an interval in which to satisfy the cravings of the natural man, the toast-master, Prof. Odhner, arose, and, remarking that this feast of charity was to celebrate the most remarkable human life on earth, I proposed the first toast to ‘EMANUEL SWEDENBORG, the Servant of the LORD.’ To this toast the Chancellor responded.
At the conclusion of his remarks the affection of the schools for their venerable Chancellor found vent in a favorite song to his honor.
The toast-master pleasantly referred to the presence of the muses, and announced that Mr. Schreck would read some lines composed for the occasion by an anonymous author or authoress.
The presence of the muses was also attested by a poem composed and read by the Rev. L. G. Jordan, treating of ‘The Most Wonderful Thing in the World.’
The toast-master then proposed, in order, the following series of toasts, with special references to Swedenborg’s life:
1. The Home; its influence upon the life of man and upon Emanuel Swedenborg. Responded to by Mr. J. E. Boyesen.
2. The School; the education and preparation for a life of usefulness. Responded to by the Rev. T. F. Robinson.
3. The Country; the highest natural object of love to the neighbor, and the plane on which the Church is to be built. Responded to by Mr. John Carswell.
4. The Church; the mission of Swedenborg, and the mission of the life of every man. Responded to by the Rev. J. E. Bowers.
5. Heaven; Swedenborg an angel of the New Heaven conjoined with the New Church. Responded to by Mr. Alfred Acton.
The toasts were interspersed with, appropriate songs, two of which, composed especially for the occasion by Prof. Odhner, have been secured for publication in The Bulletin. Copies printed on the school press had been placed under the plates, and were kept by the guests as mementos.
The children were permitted to leave the table during the latter half of the programme, to disport themselves elsewhere, but returned in time to take part in the expressions of sympathy for one of their teachers and several pupils whom illness prevented from being present.
Among the impromptu toasts was one to the Concordance, responded to in happy terms by the Rev. J. F. Potts.
After the supper, the room was cleared by the young men, and a brief hour devoted to dancing, the stately minuet, which has lately been introduced into the school, being the prominent feature.
Thus ended a happy, instructive, and encouraging celebration of the birth of the man through whom the LORD has made His Second Coming” (New Church Life 1892, 41).
Illustration: 19th century engraving of Emanuel Swedenborg at the age of 80 by W. Holl, “From the original picture in the possession of the Exegetic Society at Stockholm.” Published by A. Fullarton & Co. From a private collection.