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Subject: Entertainment, Hebrew birthday, List of Prime Ministers of Canada by longevity, World Thinking Day, Beth Catlin
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Candles spell out the traditional English birthday greeting

A birthday is an occasion when a person or institution celebrates the anniversary of their birth. Birthdays are celebrated in numerous cultures, often with a gift, party, or rite of passage.

Many religions celebrate the birth of their founders with special holidays (e.g. Buddha's Birthday, Christmas).

Note the distinction between birthday and birthdate: The former occurs each year (e.g. December 6), while the latter is the exact date a person was born (e.g., December 6, 1997).

Legal conventions

In most legal systems, one becomes designated as an adult on a particular birthday (usually between 12 and 21), and reaching age-specific milestones confers particular rights and responsibilities. At certain ages, one may become eligible to leave full-time education, or become subject to military conscription or to enlist in the military, to consent to sexual intercourse, to marry, to marry without parental consent, to vote, to run for elected office, to legally purchase (or consume) alcohol and tobacco products, to purchase lottery tickets, or to obtain a driver's license. The age of majority is the age when minors cease to legally be considered children and assume control over their persons, actions, and decisions, thereby terminating the legal control and legal responsibilities of their parents or guardian over and for them. Most countries set majority at 18.

Cultural conventions

Many cultures have one or more coming of age birthdays:

Little girl in traditional birthday hat used in Canada and the U.S.
  • Jewish boys become bar mitzvah on their 13th birthday. Jewish girls become bat mitzvah on their 12th birthday, or sometimes on their 13th birthday in Reform and Conservative Judaism. This marks the transition where they become obligated in commandments of which they were previously exempted and are counted as part of the community.[1]
  • 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 Brazil, the quinceañera (Spanish) or festa de quinze anos (Portuguese) celebration traditionally marks a girl's 15th birthday.[2]
  • In India, on a child's first birthday, their 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.[3] 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.[4]
  • In the Philippines, girls on their 18th birthday or boys on their 21st birthday celebrate a debut.
  • In some Asian countries that follow the Zodiac calendar, there is a tradition of celebrating the 60th birthday.
  • In Korea, many celebrate a traditional ceremony of Baek-il (Feast for the 100th day) and Doljanchi (child's first birthday).
  • In Japan there is a Coming of Age Day, for all of those who have turned 20 years of age.
  • In British Commonwealth nations cards from the Royal Family are sent to those celebrating their 100th and 105th birthday and every year thereafter.[5]
  • In 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 fried plantain chunks.
  • In Sudan the children who live in the cities celebrate their birthday, whereas in the country they don't."History of the Birthday Celebration"

The birthdays of historically significant people, such as 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).

A person's Golden or Grand Birthday, also referred to as their "Lucky Birthday", "Champagne Birthday", or "Star Birthday", occurs when they turn the age of their birth day (e.g., when someone born on the 25th of the month turns 25 or when someone born on the ninth turns nine).[6]

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.[7] That tradition is followed with horses, their age becoming one, on the first day of the year following their birth and being counted annually after that.

The Chinese count age without zero; a newborn's age is one, a 12-month-old is two, and so on.[8]

Birthday traditions

Child with Snow White Cake, circa 1930–1940

In many parts of the world an individual's birthday is celebrated by a party where a specially made cake, usually decorated with lettering and the person's age, is presented. The cake is traditionally studded with the same number of lit candles as the age of the individual, or a number candle representing their age. The celebrated individual will usually make a silent wish and attempt to blow out the candles in one breath; if successful, a tradition holds that the wish will be granted. In many cultures, the wish must be kept secret or it won't "come true". Presents are bestowed on the individual by the guests appropriate to her/his age. Other birthday activities may include entertainment (sometimes by a hired professional, i.e. a clown, magician, or musician), and a special toast or speech by the birthday celebrant. The last stanza of Patty Hill's and Mildred Hill's famous song, "Good Morning to You" (unofficially titled "Happy Birthday to You") is typically sung by the guests at some point in the proceedings. In some countries a piñata takes the place of a cake. An occasional activity is spanking the birthday individual, with one gentle "swat" for each year since birth.

Name days

In some historically Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox countries such as Italy, Spain, France, parts of Germany, Poland, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, and throughout Latin America, it is common to have a 'name day'/'Saint's day'. It is celebrated in much the same way as a birthday, but it is held on the official day of a saint with the same Christian name as the birthday person; 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 possibly the name of a feast, for example, Noel or Pascal (French for Christmas and "of Easter"); as another example, Togliatti got Palmiro as his first name because he was born on Palm Sunday.

Official birthdays

Colored lanterns at the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul, South Korea, celebrating the anniversary of the Buddha's birthday

Some notables, particularly monarchs, have an official birthday on a fixed day of the year, which may not necessarily match the day of their birth, but on which celebrations are held. Examples are:


A cake indicating a tenth birthday celebration

According to a public database of births, birthdays in the United States are quite evenly distributed for the most part, but there tend to be more births in September and October.[9] This may be because there is a holiday season nine months before (as nine months is the human gestation period), or from the fact that the longest nights of the year happen in the Northern Hemisphere nine months before as well. However, it appears the holidays have more of an effect on birth rates than the winter weather; New Zealand, a Southern Hemisphere country, has the same September and October peak with no corresponding peak in March and April.[10] The least common birthdays tend to fall around public holidays, such as Christmas, New Years and fixed-date holidays such as July 4 in the US. This is probably due to hospitals and birthing centres not offering labor inductions and elective Caesarean sections on public holidays.

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).[11] More recently October 5 and 6 have taken over as the most frequently occurring birthdays.[12]

In New Zealand, the ten most common birthdays all fall between September 22 and October 4. The ten least common birthdays (other than February 29) are December 24–27, January 1–2, February 6, March 22, April 1 and April 25.[10]

According to a study by the Yale School of Public Health, positive and negative associations with culturally significant dates may influence birthrates. The study shows a 5.3 percent decrease in spontaneous births and a 16.9 percent decrease in cesarean births on Halloween, compared to other births occurring within one week before and one week after the October holiday. Whereas, on Valentine’s Day there is a 3.6 percent increase in spontaneous births and a 12.1 percent increase in cesarean births.[13]

Time zones and birthdays

A person's birthday is usually recorded according to the time zone of the place of birth. Thus people born in American Samoa at 11:30 pm will record their birthdate as one day before Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and those born in the Samoa will record their birthdate one day after UTC. They will apparently be born two days apart, while some 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.

Leap day

In the Gregorian calendar (a common solar calendar), February in a leap year has 29 days instead of the usual 28, so the year lasts 366 days instead of the usual 365.

A person born on February 29 may be called a "leapling" or a "leaper".[14] In common years they usually celebrate their birthdays on February 28. In some situations, March 1 is used as the birthday in a non-leap year since it is the day following February 28.

Technically, a leapling will have fewer birthday anniversaries than their age in years. This phenomenon is exploited when a person claims to be only a quarter of their actual age, by counting their leap-year birthday anniversaries only. In Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance, Frederic the pirate apprentice discovers that he is bound to serve the pirates until his 21st birthday rather than until his 21st year.

For legal purposes, legal birthdays depend on how local laws count time intervals.

Birthdays in cultures and religions

Ancient Rome

The Romans enthusiastically celebrated birthdays with hedonistic parties and generous presents.[15]


Chinese birthday traditions reflect the culture's deep-seated focus on longevity and wordplay. From the homophony between ("rice wine") and (meaning "long" in the sense of time passing), osmanthus and other rice wines are traditional gifts for birthdays in China. Longevity noodles are another traditional food consumed on the day,[16] although western-style birthday cakes are increasingly common among urban Chinese.


In Judaism, the perspective on birthday celebrations is disputed by various rabbis.[17] 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.[18] Rabbi Moshe Feinstein always acknowledged birthdays.[19] The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged people to celebrate their birthdays, by gathering friends, making positive resolutions, and through various religious observances.[20] According to Rabbi Yissocher Frand, the anniversary of a person's birth is a special day for that person's prayers to be accepted.[21]

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.


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.[22]

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.[23]

Christianity: Modern

While most Christians accept the practice today, 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.[24][25][26]


Some 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.[27][28]

Some Muslims (and Arabian Christians) migrating to the United States adopt the custom of celebrating birthdays, especially for children, but others resist.[29]

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 favours it,[30] others decry such celebrations, terming them as out of the scope of Islam.[31]


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.

Hindus regard death to be more auspicious than birth since the person is liberated from the bondages of material society. Also, traditionally, death is celebrated on 5th and 11th day with many relatives gathering. In recent times, due to the influence of western society, birth is also part of the celebrations.


Many monasteries celebrate the anniversary of Buddha's birth, usually in a highly formal, ritualized manner. They treat Buddha's statue as if it was Buddha himself, as if he was alive; bathing, and "feeding" him.[32]


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 and 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.[33]

See also


  1. ^ Rabbi Shraga (2000-01-17) ABC's of Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  2. ^ Quinceañeras – Hispanic Culture. Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  3. ^ Birthday traditions.
  4. ^ Sacred Thread Ceremony. (2006)
  5. ^ Queen and anniversary messages. Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  6. ^ Golden (2003-03-01). Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  7. ^ On New Year's Day, wish a 'Happy Birthday' to 202,000 refugees. Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  8. ^ baby and birth in china. Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  9. ^ Anybirthday. Anybirthday. Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  10. ^ a b "Most common birthday in New Zealand". Statistics New Zealand. 9 April 2014. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  11. ^ "How Common Is Your Birthday?". The New York Times. 2006-12-19. 
  12. ^ Christina Ng (2011-10-05) Oct. 5: America’s Most Common Birthday ABC News
  13. ^ Greenwood, Michael. (2011-10-10) Halloween, Valentine’s Day Found to Influence Birth Timing. Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  14. ^ Hall, C. (February 29, 2008). Leap year babies hop through hoops of joy, pain of novelty birthday. Detroit Free Press. Retrieved February 29, 2008.
  15. ^ Kathryn Argetsinger (1992). "Birthday Rituals: Friends and Patrons in Roman Poetry and Cult". Classical Antiquity 11 (2): pp. 175–193.  
  16. ^ Li Xiaoxiang. Origins of Chinese People and Customs (2004) p. 101. Asiapac Books (Singapore). ISBN 9812293841.
  17. ^ Reb Chaim HaQoton: Happy Birthday! April 17, 2007
  18. ^ "Birthday in Torah". Just Asked. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  19. ^ "Birthdays". Flatbush Jewish Journal. 2010-05-13. 
  20. ^ "The Jewish Birthday". 
  21. ^ Rechel Weingarten (2010-05-13). "Birthday Celebrations". Flatbush Jewish Journal. 
  22. ^ John Bugge (1975) Early Christians,” notes The World Book Encyclopedia, “considered the celebration of anyone’s birth to be a pagan custom.” The ancient Greeks, for instance, believed that each person had a protective spirit that attended the person’s birth and thereafter watched over him. That spirit “had a mystic relation with the god on whose birthday the individual was born,” says the book The Lore of Birthdays. Birthdays also have a long-standing and an intimate link with astrology and the horoscope. 11 Besides rejecting birthday customs on account of pagan and spiritistic roots, God’s servants of old likely rejected them on principle as well. Why? These were humble, modest men and women who did not view their arrival in the world as so important that it should be celebrated. (Micah 6:8; Luke 9:48) Rather, they glorified Jehovah and thanked him for the precious gift of life.—Psalm 8:3, 4; 36:9; Revelation 4:11. Virginitas: an essay in the history of a medieval ideal, Springer ISBN 9024716950, p. 69
  23. ^ Margaret Hallissy (1995) A Companion to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Greenwood Publishing Group ISBN 0313291896, p. 300
  24. ^ Awake! July 8, 2004, p. 30 "Christians refrain from any celebrations or customs that continue to involve false religious beliefs or activities that violate Bible principles. For example, the Bible definitely puts birthday celebrations in a bad light."
  25. ^ The World Book Encyclopedia: Vol. 3, p. 416
  26. ^ Are Birthday Celebrations Christian?. Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  27. ^ Birthday parties | IslamToday – English. Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  28. ^ Souhail Karam (2008-08-31). "Birthday parties against Islam says top Saudi cleric". Reuters. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  29. ^ Mona H. Faragallah, Walter R. Schumm and Farrell J. Webb (1997). "Acculturation of Arab-American Immigrants: An Exploratory Study". Journal of Comparative Family Studies 28 (3): 182.  
  30. ^ Imam Jalaluddin al-Suyuti (radi Allahu anhu) Celebrating Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi. (PDF). Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  31. ^ Salman Mohammed (2011-02-06) Milad un Nabi or Prophet Birthday : Celebrate or Not?. Article. Retrieved on 2013-01-01.
  32. ^ Sarah J. Horton (2007) Living Buddhist statues in early medieval and modern Japan, Palgrave Macmillan ISBN 1403964203 p. 24
  33. ^ Ju Seongha (2011-12-30) 北 김정은 시대 北 12월 17일生 사라진다.

Further reading

  • Curtis Regan, Dian (March 1991). The Class With the Summer Birthdays. Henry Holth & Co.  

External links

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