- In Canada and the United States, families often mark a girl’s 16th birthday with a “sweet sixteen” celebration.
- In some Hispanic countries, as well as in Portuguese-speaking quinceañera (Spanish) or festa de quinze anos (Portuguese) celebration traditionally marks a girl’s 15th birthday. Often included on this day is a religious ceremony at church, at which the young woman pays tribute to her heritage and acknowledges the start of a spiritual journey. Many Quinceaneras include a candle-lighting ceremony, where the young woman lights her parents’ candles using the flame of her own, a process that is then continued through the generations present.
- In India, Hindu male children of some castes like Brahmins have the 12th or 13th birthday replaced with a grand “thread ceremony.” The child takes a blessed thread and wears it, symbolizing his coming of age. This is called the Upanayana. This ceremony is practiced among boys in the Hindu Brahmin culture. Also, in India a child’s first birthday, his or her head is shaved while being held by a special fire. Removal of the hair cleanses the child of any evil in past lives, symbolizing a renewal of the soul.
- In the Philippines, girls on their 18th birthday or boys on their 21st birthday celebrate a debut.
- In Korea, many celebrate a traditional ceremony of Baek-il (Feast for the 100th day) and Doljanchi (child’s first birthday).
- In China the Chinese people believe that the spirit of tigers protects children, and so newborns are bestowed with gifts decorated with tigers by their family. Another custom is to surround a child on its first birthday with a variety of objects pertaining to various vocations. It is believed that the object a child picks up, or is attracted to be a symbol reflecting their future occupation.
- In Hong Kong and various Chinese communities, special noodles, which are very long, are served in honor of the birthday child to symbolize a long life.
- In Japan, when children become 7, 5, or 3 years old, they participate in the annual Shichi-go-san (meaning “Seven-Five-Three”) Festival, celebrated annually on November 15. According to Japanese tradition, these numbers are especially lucky, and so during this festival, children and their families visit sacred place to give thanks, and ask to be blessed in the future. Families will then often have a party for the child. The Chinese count age without zero; a newborn’s age is one, a 12-month old is two, and so on.
- In some Asian countries that follow the Zodiac calendar, there is a tradition of celebrating the 60th birthday.
- Ghana, on their birthday, children wake up to a special treat called “oto” which is a patty made from mashed sweet potato and eggs fried in palm oil. Later they have a birthday party where they usually eat stew and rice and a dish known as “kelewele”, which is a fried plantain chunk.
- Sudan the children who live in the cities celebrate their birthday whereas in the country they don’t.
- Ancient Rome – The Romans enthusiastically celebrated birthdays with hedonistic parties and generous presents.
- Judaism – In Judaism, the perspective on birthday celebrations is disputed by various rabbis. In the Hebrew Bible, the one single mention of a celebration being held in commemoration of someone’s day of birth is for the Egyptian Pharaoh which is recorded in Genesis 40:20. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein always acknowledged birthdays. The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged people to celebrate their birthdays, by gathering friends, making positive resolutions, and through various religious observances.] According to Rabbi Yissocher Frand, the anniversary of a person’s birth is a special day for that person’s prayers to be accepted. The bar mitzvah of 13-year-old Jewish boys, or bat mitzvah for 12-year-old Jewish girls, is perhaps the only Jewish celebration undertaken in what is often perceived to be in coalition with a birthday. Despite modern celebrations where the secular “birthday” element often overshadows the essence of it as a religious rite, the essence of a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah celebration is entirely religious in origin (i.e. the attainment of religious maturity according to Jewish law), however, and not secular. With or without the birthday celebration, the child nevertheless becomes a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, and the celebration may be on that day or any date after it.
- In America we celebrate the candle-magic ritual. A candle-lit cake (usually with a candle for each year lit on the top of the cake) is presented to the celebrant, accompanied by the song “Happy Birthday to you”, (which was written as a classroom greeting in 1893 by two American teachers, sisters Mildred J. Hill, and Dr. Patty Smith Hill, and was originally called “Good Morning To All.”). Once the song has been sung, a silent wish is made and the candles blown out. (Some of you wont’ like what follows, says Sandra 🙂 )This custom dates back to worship of Artemis, Greek Goddess of the Moon. To celebrate her day, cakes were baked in the shape of a crescent moon and decorated with candles. It was believed that the Goddess would look upon the worshippers with favor if they could blow out the candles in a single breath.
Christianity (Sandra’s note: I found it interesting that under this heading there was no mention of main line Christianity’s celebration of birthdays.)
- Christianity: Early centuries – Origen in his commentary “On Levites” writes that Christians should not only refrain from celebrating their birthdays, but should look on them with disgust. Orthodox Christianity still prefers the celebration of name days only.
- Christianity: Medieval – Ordinary folk celebrated their saint’s day (the saint they were named after), but nobility celebrated the anniversary of their birth. The “Squire’s Tale,” one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, opens as King Cambuskan proclaims a feast to celebrate his birthday.
- Christianity: Modern – Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Sacred Name groups refrain from celebrating birthdays. They believe that birthday celebrations are portrayed in a negative light in the Bible and have historical connections with magic, superstitions, and Paganism.
- Islam – Some clerics consider the celebration of a birthday to be a sin, as it is considered an “innovation” of the faith, or bi’dah while other clerics have issued statements saying that the celebration of a birthday is permissible. Some Muslims (and Arabian Christians) migrating to the United States adopt the custom of celebrating birthdays, especially for children, but others resist. There also is a great deal of controversy regarding celebrating Milad-ul-Nabi – the anniversary of the birth of Muhammad. While a section of Islam strongly favors it, others decry such celebrations, terming them as out of the scope of Islam.
- Hindus – Hindus celebrate the birth anniversary day every year when the day that corresponds to lunar month or solar month (Sun Signs Nirayana System – Sourava Mana Masa) of birth and has the same asterism (Star / Nakshatra) as that of the date of birth. That age is reckoned whenever Janma Nakshatra of the same month passes.
- Buddhism – Main article: Buddha’s birthday – Many monasteries celebrate the anniversary of Buddha’s birth, usually in a highly formal, ritualized manner. They treat Buddha’s statue as if it were alive, bathing and “feeding” it.
- Sikhism – Sikhs celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak.
- North Korea – In North Korea, people do not celebrate birthdays on July 8 and December 17 because these were the dates of the deaths of Kim Il-sung & Kim Jong-il, respectively. More than 100,000 North Koreans celebrate displaced birthdays on July 9 or December 18 to avoid these dates. A person born on July 8 before 1994 may change their birthday, with official recognition.
The birthdays of historically significant people, such national heroes or founders, are often commemorated by an official holiday marking the anniversary of their birth. Catholic saints are remembered by a liturgical feast (sometimes on a presumed birthday). The ancient Romans marked the anniversary of a temple dedication or other founding event as a dies natalis, a term still sometimes applied to the anniversary of an institution (such as a university).
In many cultures and jurisdictions, if a person’s real birthday is not known (for example, if he or she is an orphan), then their birthday may be considered to be January 1.
According to a public record births database, there tend to be more births in September and October. This may be because there is a holiday season nine months before, or from the fact that the longest nights of the year happen in the Northern Hemisphere nine months before as well. Based on Harvard University research of birth records in the United States between 1973 and 1999, September 16 is the most common birthday in the United States and December 25 the least common birthday (other than February 29, because of leap years).
Until next time,
Each resource sited below has more information than shared above; if you would like more Birthday tidbits be sure to check them out.