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Origin Of Birthday Traditions
Around The World

"Birthday traditions began many thousands of years ago and evolved in step with man's ability to tell time."

 

Celebrating birthdays became popular almost universally because birthdays give people a reason to gather in friendly groups, share food, and enjoy kinship.

The records we have of ancient birthday celebrations suggest that the birthday feasts of kings and nobles were sometimes extravagant, in proportion to the size of their fortunes.

Many dozens, even hundreds of guests feasted, danced, and were entertained by their host for one or more days. In great contrast, ordinary folk enjoyed modest celebrations befitting their social status and means.


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The Calendar

Aztec Calendar

Early tribes marked a person's age by counting the passage of seasons.

Later, scholars divided the year into lunar months, and into specific days.

Only then did it become possible to celebrate the anniversary of our birth on a certain day.

 

Family Celebrating Child's Birthday

In America,

the most memorable birthdays are often those spent with brothers and sisters, mom and dad, huddled around the kitchen table with cheeks full of air, ready to help the birthday child blow out his or her candles.


Origin Of Cards, Cakes, Candles and More...

Birthday Cakes

Birthday Cake History
There are several theories about the origin of birthday cakes.

Both early Greeks and Romans observed celebrations with honey-sweetened cakes, sometimes with candles.

Later during the Middle Ages, Germans also served sweet cakes in layers, decorated with a candle.

Cakes, pies, sweet breads and candies of all kinds are served at birthday parties around the world.


Birthday Cards

Birthday Card History
Whether sent by stone carvings, woodcuts, papyrus scrolls, rice paper, or modern materials, greetings of good will have been exchanged by every culture since earliest times.

Elaborate, handmade greeting cards were circulated in Europe durng the 1400s, with New Year's Day and Valentine's Day being the most popular occasions. The advent of printing and postage during the 1800s allowed an explosion in the gifting of cards, both in Europe and America.

Send a free, printable birthday ecard anytime:

Preview or send a red rose birthday flowers ecard.
Preview or send a blue daisies birthday flowers ecard.
Preview or send a birthday month flowers ecard.


Birthday Candles

Birthday Candles History
Religious symbolism suggests that lighting candles opens a channel for prayers to the unseen world above.

This concept has been borrowed to convey the idea that blowing out birthday candles sends a birthday wish to heaven.

On the one hand, we tell children that they must blow out all the candles in one breath, so their wish will come true.

But we know it is perfectly all right to help little tykes blow out their candles.


Birthday Parties

Birthday Parties History
The origin of birthday parties may be twofold:
  • First, we know that some pagan tribes believed unseen spirits were close at hand during times of change, such as day to night, summer to fall, birth, marriage, and death.

    So, becoming a year older means change, a time when evil spirits might hover nearby. To celebrate life as well as frighten malevolent spirits away, perhaps friends and family gathered to surround their loved one with merriment.

  • But the more plausible reason birthday parties are commonplace around the world is they satisfy our love of communing with others, and sharing life's milestones with family and close friends.

Happy Birthday Song History

Happy Birthday Song... In 1893, Kentucky schoolteachers Patty Hill and Mildred Hill wrote a song called "Good Morning To You" for their students.

Over time, the catchy tune evolved into "Happy Birthday To You."

The song has been translated into many languages and adopted nearly worldwide as the birthday song.


Birthday Customs and Traditions

Quicklist

Africa America Australia
Canada China Eqypt
England Germany India
Ireland Japan Mexico
Russia    
New Countries
France Scotland Asia Europe Central & South America

English Birthday Traditions

National Flag of England
As in America, both children and adults enjoy birthday parties, giving gifts, sending cards and flowers, and singing "Happy Birthday."

Some may also make or purchase cakes with are baked with special fortune-telling trinkets or coins inside.

The birthday boy or girl may receive a clue from the object found inside a slice of cake, as to how wealthy, lucky, or healthy he/she is destined to become in life.

The custom of sending birthday cards began in England about a hundred years ago.

Read English Birthday Stories


American Birthday Traditions

National Flag of the United States
Children are definitely in the birthday limelight, beginning with their very first birthday. They and their parents invite friends to a party to share cake, ice cream, punch, and other sweet snacks.

Guests are expected to bring a small gift, but rarely leave the celebration empty-handed themselves. Party favors, toys and small prizes insure that each child receives something new.

Birthday parties often have a theme based on the child's favorite animals, characters, or stories. For example, boys and girls may choose from perennial favorites such as dinosaurs, Winnie the Pooh, Barbie, Batman, or cowboy/cowgirl themes.

They may choose a party theme based on a current popular movie, television show, or book such as Harry Potter or Hannah Montana.

Party games may be simple as "pin the tail on the donkey," balloon-toss, or tag. While affluent families may hire live clowns and pony rides, or rent outdoor inflatable games and carnival rides.

Read American Birthday Stories

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Australian Birthday Traditions

National Flag of Australia
Birthdays in Australia are celebrated with parties and cakes, accompanied by the singing of "Happy Birthday."

The occasion is often a good excuse to have a traditional Australian barbeque or "barbie."

Read Australian Birthday Stories

 


Canadian Birthday Traditions

National Flag of Canada
Canada has several cultural regions, each with its own customs. Birthday parties are customary and popular, with gifts, birthday cakes, games, and contests.

In the Atlantic region, the birthday child's nose may be rubbed with grease so bad luck cannot cling, a Scottish tradition.

In the French region, children receive a soft punch for each year of age, plus one for good luck.

Read Canadian Birthday Stories

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Irish Birthday Traditions

National Flag of Ireland
An Irish lad or lassie's birthday is celebrated with a party of family and friends. Plenty of hearty food and drink is accompanied by singing, dancing, and story-telling.

A small child might be treated to gentle "bumps," held upside down and touched to the floor once for each year of age, plus one for good luck.

A young adult may receive a coming-of-age symbol, a key to the house.

Read Irish Birthday Stories


German Birthday Traditions

National Flag of Germany
A child's birthday is a special occasion in Germany, a reason to have a kinderfeste, a child festival.

At sunrise, the birthday candles on the cake are lit...a candle for each year of age, plus one for good fortune. They are allowed to burn all day.

In the evening the family and guests gather to sing "Happy Birthday," the child blows out the candles, and the party begins.

The birthday child receives gifts and everyone enjoys the special cake.

Read German Birthday Stories

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Egyptian Birthday Traditions

National Flag of Egypt
Birthday parties in Egypt are apt to be large, noisy affairs with music, singing, and dancing.

The home is made festive with decorations of garlands, candles, flowers and fruit.

Plenty of food is served, both hearty and sweet, including one or more birthday cakes.

Read Egyptian Birthday Stories


Indian Birthday Traditions

National Flag of India
In the Hindu tradition, an "aarti" ceremony is performed for the birthday child.

The ritual is to ward off evil spirits, and at the same time salute fire, a symbol of the sacred sun.

The child is presented with an oil lamp or vessel containing a burning wick. He cups his hands close to the flame to absorb the warmth and energy of the symbolic sun.

Whether a small or large gathering, each celebrant sprinkles a few grains of rice over the birthday child's head for prosperity.

The celebration includes singing special "aarti" songs, and sharing of small candies and sweets.

Read Indian Birthday Stories

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Chinese Birthday Traditions

National Flag of China
The first important birthday in a child's life is the 30-day celebration. Family and friends gather to rejoice that the bloodline has been extended.

Gifts of red-colored eggs, chicken, pork, and sweet cakes are given by the baby's parents to family and friends attending the party. Guests offer useful household gifts, or money

Birthdays for the next 59 years are all celebrated on the first day of each Chinese New Year, until a person reaches 60 years of age.

On that happy occasion, a person is said to have completed one full cycle of life. He or she expects to be surrounded by a large family of children and grandchildren.

A truly grand celebration takes place. Among the meats, birds, vegetables, eggs and wine of the feast, two foods representing long life are also served:

  • peaches, often artificially made from dough
  • extra-long noodles

The grand party is held every ten years: at 70, 80, and 90 years of age.

Read Chinese Birthday Stories

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Japanese Birthday Traditions

National Flag of Japan
Each year on November 15, boys and girls who are three years of age, boys who are five, and girls who are seven years old....all celebrate a special birthday called "shichi-go-san" which means "7-5-3."

Before modern times, children were often lost to disease and infection before reaching these tender ages, so survival was cause for a family's rejoicing.

Thanks were given at Shinto and Buddhist shrines for the continued health and prosperity of the birthday children.

The children were immaculate, accompanied by their families at temple, and dressed in beautiful new clothes for the occasion.

In olden times, everyone's birthday was celebrated on the first day of each New Year.

But Japan has adopted many Western ideas, and it is customary now to celebrate individual birthdays with parties, flowers, and gifts on the actual date of birth.

Read Japanese Birthday Stories

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Russian Birthday Traditions

National Flag of Russia
Children's birthdays are celebrated with small gifts, a party of friends, and an afternoon of games.

Birthday pie is traditionally served instead of cake. The pie may have a birthday greeting carved into the top crust. The first piece goes to the birthday youngster.

Read Russian Birthday Stories


Mexican Birthday Traditions

National Flag of Mexico
Birthday parties are typically large, multi-generational celebrations full of children of all ages.

Music, singing, dancing, and lots of spicy food provide a backdrop for the children's traditional pinata game.

The pinata is a colorful paper mache container in the shape of an animal or toy, large enough to hold hundreds of small, wrapped candies, trinkets and coins.

It is suspended over the heads of the children, who are blindfolded and take turns trying to strike the pinata with a stick to break it open and free the treats.

Read Mexican Birthday Stories

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National Flag of KenyaNational Flag of NigeriaNational Flag of GhanaNational Flag of CongoNational Flag of NamibiaNational Flag of Burundi

African Birthday Traditions

Birth days are celebrated less in Africa than are life's milestones: boys reaching manhood, girls reaching maturity and fertility.

Initiation rites and customs are causes for joyful celebration, upon reaching each cultural milestone.

Many colorful initiation rites are specific to just one of dozens of African tribes of the continent.

Read African Birthday Stories

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