Birthday is the name given to the particular date each year on which many people in many cultures celebrate the anniversary they were born. It is often marked by a birthday party and/or friends when gifts are given to the person celebrating the birthday. It is also customary to treat people specially on their birthday, either generally acceding to their wishes, or subjecting them to a rite of transition.
It is thought the large-scale celebration of birthdays in Europe began with the cult of Mithras, which originated in Persia but was spread by soldiers throughout the Roman Empire. Such celebrations were uncommon previously so practices from other contexts such as the Saturnalia were adapted for birthdays. Because many Roman soldiers took to Mithraism, it had a wide distribution and influence throughout the empire until it was supplanted by Christianity. The Jewish perspective on birthday celebrations is disputed by various rabbis.
The celebration of birthdays is not universal. Some people prefer name day celebrations, and Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate either, considering their origins to be pagan festivals along with Christmas and Easter. Some adults loathe celebrating it as it reminds them that they are getting progressively older.
Birthday cakeThe birthday cake is traditionally highly decorated, and typically covered with lit candles when presented, the number of candles signifying the age of the celebrant. The person whose birthday it is makes a silent wish and then blows out the candles. If done in one breath, the wish is supposed to come true (but only if the person keeps the wish to himself or herself). "Trick" candles have also been used to play practical jokes on the birthday boy or girl. These candles do not go out when blown upon, making it difficult to get the wish associated with blowing out all of the candles. It is also common for the "birthday boy" or "birthday girl" to cut the initial piece of the cake as a newlywed couple might with a wedding cake. If the knife touches the bottom, or when withdrawn from the cake comes out with pieces of cake adhering to it, the birthday boy or girl may have to kiss the nearest person of a different sex.
Birthday cakes date back as far as the Middle Ages when the English would conceal symbolic items such as gold coins, rings and thimbles inside their cakes. Each item was associated with a prediction. For example, a person finding a gold coin in a birthday cake would supposedly become wealthy; a person discovering a thimble would never marry.
For special birthdays and for when the number of candles might be considered impractical or a fire hazard, special candles are substituted for the many individual candles in the shape of a numeral. For example, on the fifth birthday, there may be one candle on the cake in the shape of the numeral five, and on the fiftieth birthday there may be two candles on the cake, one in the shape of the numeral five followed by the other in the shape of the number zero.
TraditionsA birthday is considered a special day for the person, and so the person will often get special treatment from friends and family. This is especially true for children, who eagerly anticipate their own special day. In addition to parties, people often receive gifts on their birthday. Birthday parties for children often include fun games, which are relevant to the local culture, or the visit of a magician to entertain. Typical birthday party decorations include balloons, streamers and confetti. There are also traditions of surprise parties. Not all traditions are equally generous. In certain circles, the birthday boy or girl is expected to treat their party guests; this varies depending on the local culture and may involve party gifts or other nice gesture. In some cultures, the birthday at which the youngster reaches the legal age for alcohol consumption may be celebrated with a party at which free or abundant alcoholic drinks are available.
In most English-speaking countries it is traditional to sing the song Happy Birthday to You to the honored person celebrating a birthday. The Happy Birthday song tune is thought to be the most frequently sung melody in the world. Similar songs exist in other languages such as "Lang zal hij/zij leven" (and several others) in Dutch, "Zum Geburtstag Viel Glück" in German, "Feliz Cumpleaños" in Spanish, "Sto lat" in Polish, "Lá Bhreithlá Shona Duit" in Irish, "Joyeux Anniversaire" in French, "Tanti Auguri a te" in Italian and "Iyi ki dogdun, Mutlu Yillar Sana" in Turkish. This happens traditionally at a birthday party while someone brings a birthday cake into the (often darkened) room. Druze is a religion which celebrate this event
Special birthdaysNotable birthdays can include:
- When the most significant digit changes, for example one's 1st, 10th, or 100th birthdays.
- Certain coming-of-age years often accompanied by an increase in legal privileges and responsibilities; in Western nations these often traditionally happen at ages 13, 16, 18 and 21.
- One's champagne birthday, also called a golden birthday, is the day when the age someone turns is the same as the day in the month he or she was born. It is also common for the birthday individual to have champagne, thus champagne birthday. For example, someone born on January 31st would celebrate his or her golden birthday when he or she turns 31. According to the Dictionary of American Regional English, this meaning is most prevalent in Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota, although it is used elsewhere.
- One's platinum birthday is the birthday when the age matches the concatenated numeric value of the month and the day. For example, somebody turning 43 on 4/3 would be celebrating their platinum birthday. This time-honored tradition originated in east central Minnesota. (This, however, is not advantageous if you were born on, say, December 15, as very few people live to age 1,215.)
- One's Beddian birthday is the day when the age one turns is the same as the last two digits of one's birth year. For example, people born in 1954 would celebrate their Beddian birthday when they turned 54 in 2008. This birthday is named for a NYC firefighter, Bobby Beddia, who noted this coincidence days before he was killed in a seven-alarm blaze near Ground Zero.
- In most legal systems, one becomes a legal adult on a particular birthday (often 18th or 21st), and at different ages gains different rights and responsibilities — voting, certain drug use (for example, alcohol, purchasing tobacco), eligibility for military draft or voluntary enlistment, purchasing lottery tickets, vehicle driving licences, etc.
- Many cultures have one or more coming of
- Jewish boys have a bar mitzvah on or around their 13th birthday. Jewish girls observe a bat mitzvah on or around their 12th birthday, or sometimes on or around their 13th birthday in Reform and Conservative Judaism.
- In some Christian traditions, generally Catholic and Anglican, Confirmation is the ritual by which a young person receives a Sacrament thought to bestow certain gifts of the Holy Spirit. The timing of the reception of this Sacrament serves, on a sociological level, as a sort of "rite of passage" into adulthood.
- In Latin America the quinceañera celebration traditionally marks a girl's 15th birthday.
- Some girls and a few boys in the United States have "sweet sixteen" birthday parties.
- In the United Kingdom 18th and 21st are traditional coming of age birthdays.
- In many Asian countries, the 14th birthday is celebrated as the day one becomes a man, or a woman, in society.
- Many Filipino girls celebrate their 18th birthdays with a cotillion and debutante ball, commonly known as a debut.
- The birthdays of historically significant people, like national heroes or founders, are often commemorated by an official holiday. Some saints are remembered by a liturgical feast (sometimes on a presumed birthday). By analogy, the Latin term Dies natalis 'birthday' is applied to the anniversary of an institution (such as a university).
Official/Alternative birthdays and name daySome notables, particularly monarchs, have an official birthday on a fixed day of the year, which may not necessarily match their actual birthday, but on which celebrations are held. Examples are:
- The King's or Queen's Official Birthday in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom; in Canada this day is known as Victoria Day.
- Jesus of Nazareth's traditional birthday is celebrated as Christmas Day around the world: 25 December. As some Eastern churches use the Julian calendar, 25 December falls on 7 January in the Gregorian calendar every year until 2100.
- The Grand Duke's Official Birthday in Luxembourg: 23 June.
- The King's official birthday in Belgium: November 15 (on saint Leopold, liturgical feast of the dynasty's founder's patron saint).
- The Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia celebrates his federal official birthday on the first Saturday of June.
- Koningsdag or Koninginnedag in the Kingdom of the Netherlands is fixed on 30 April (Queen's Day; celebration of the reigning Queen's accession). Queen Beatrix fixed it at the birthday of her mother, the previous Queen, to avoid the winter weather associated with her own birthday in January.
While it is uncommon to have an official holiday for a republican head of state's birthday, this can become a permanent posthumous honour, especially in the case of a so-called father of the fatherland, for example George Washington (best known as Presidents' Day; also celebrated in the US is Lincoln's Birthday)
In cases where a mythical figure's actual birthday is unknown, it is common for a particular date to be substituted.
People born on leap day (February 29), which occurs only during leap years, often celebrate their birthday in other years on February 28, or March 1 (the first day they have, measured in whole years, a new age).
In some Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox countries such as France, Hungary, or Greece, it is common to have a 'name day'/'Saint's day'. This is celebrated in much the same way as a birthday, but is held on the official day of a saint with the same Christian name as the birthday boy/girl; the difference being that one may look up a person's name day in a calendar, or easily remember common name days (for example, John or Mary); however in pious traditions, the two were often made to concur by giving a newborn the name of a saint celebrated on its birthday, or even the name of a feast, for example, Noel or Pascal (French for Christmas and "of Easter"). In some countries, name days are celebrated with much more elaborate festivities than birthdays; in the past, birthdays often were not celebrated at all in those countries.
In school, a half-birthday or other unbirthday is sometimes celebrated for those whose birthdays do not fall on a school day (especially for birthdays falling during holiday and vacation periods).
All racehorses traditionally celebrate their birthday on (that is, calculate their age in years from) 1 August in the Southern Hemisphere, and on 1 January in the Northern Hemisphere.
Birthday gift symbolism
BirthstonesA birthstone is a gift of a precious material (jewelry, mainly gemstones; themselves traditionally associated with various qualities) that symbolizes the month of birth (in the Gregorian Calendar).
It is sometimes also called birthday stone (cf. infra; but that word is, confusingly, sometimes used as a synonym for an anniversary gift, which is related to the recipient's age, that is, year of birth).
There have been many different sets of birthstones used throughout history and in different cultures. In 1912, in an effort to standardize them, the American national association of jewelers, Jewelers of America, officially adopted the following list; it is currently the most widely used list in the United States and many other locations, including Australia and Thailand. Some alternates have been adopted to be a less expensive substitute for a cut stone.
Tanzanite was added to December by the American Gem Trade Association in 2002. Most organizations do not recognize tanzanite as a December birthstone, however, and the AGTA's move to make it a December birthstone has generally been viewed as a marketing ploy.
The birthstone seems to originate from Biblical times. The Breastplate of Aaron, referred to in Exodus 39:10-14:
- 10 Then they mounted four rows of precious stones on it. In the
first row there was a ruby,
a topaz and a beryl;
- 11 in the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and an emerald;
- 12 in the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst;
- 13 in the fourth row a chrysolite, an onyx and a jasper. They were mounted in gold filigree settings.
- 14 There were twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.
- 11 in the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and an emerald;
The precise list of birthstones however can be found in Revelation 21:19-20 where the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem are listed, in the order of the Roman calendar:
- 19 And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished
with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was
jasper; the second,
sapphire; the third, a
fourth, an emerald;
- 20 The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.
Birth flowersJust as there are alternatives with birthstones, there are also alternatives with birth flowers. For example, October is often listed as Calendula (Marigold) , but is also occasional noted as being rose or camellia.
Technical issuesA person's birthday is usually recorded according to the time zone of the place of birth. Thus people born in Samoa at 11:30 PM will record their birthdate as one day before UTC and those born in the Line Islands will record their birthdate one day after UTC. They will apparently be born two days apart, while some of the apparently older ones may be younger in hours. Those who live in different time zones from their birth often exclusively celebrate their birthdays at the local time zone. In addition, the intervention of Daylight Saving Time can result in a case where a baby born second being recorded as having been born up to an hour before their predecessor (but the time the clock is changed back is such that the second of twins does not have an earlier birthday).
Birthday stonesWhile this word has also been used as synonym of Birth stone (see above), there is a separate list of assignment according to the day of the week of the recipient's birth:
- Various birthdays are mentioned on the pages devoted to each day of the year, from January 1 to December 31
- Birthday paradox
- Birthday attack
- East Asian age reckoning - a different method of age reckoning to birthdays that is used in some Asian countries.
- Death anniversary
- Decimal Birthday
- Sashtiabdhapoorthi, a kind of Hindu meta-birthday for those turning sixty.
- zodiac stones
birthstone in Azerbaijani: Ad günü
birthstone in Czech: Narozeniny
birthstone in Danish: Fødselsdag
birthstone in German: Geburtstag
birthstone in Spanish: Cumpleaños
birthstone in Esperanto: Naskiĝtago
birthstone in French: Anniversaire
birthstone in Western Frisian: Jierdei
birthstone in Korean: 생일
birthstone in Indonesian: Ulang tahun
birthstone in Italian: Compleanno
birthstone in Hebrew: יום הולדת
birthstone in Dutch: Verjaardag
birthstone in Japanese: 誕生日
birthstone in Norwegian: Fødselsdag
birthstone in Norwegian Nynorsk: Fødselsdag
birthstone in Central Khmer: ពិធីខួបកំណើត
birthstone in Polish: Urodziny
birthstone in Portuguese: Aniversário
birthstone in Kölsch: Jebootsdaach
birthstone in Quechua: Wata hunt'ay
birthstone in Russian: День рождения
birthstone in Simple English: Birthday
birthstone in Slovak: Narodeniny
birthstone in Slovenian: Rojstni dan
birthstone in Finnish: Syntymäpäivä
birthstone in Swedish: Födelsedag
birthstone in Thai: วันเกิด
birthstone in Tajik: Рӯзи таваллуд
birthstone in Yiddish: געבורטס טאג
birthstone in Contenese: 生日
birthstone in Chinese: 生日