Learn about international cultures and customs to prepare for your trip abroad
Fun Facts: Birthday Celebrations Around the World
There is a day every year that most people look forward because of a cake, balloons, presents and sometimes a party. Yes, this is your birthday.
A “birthday” is described by our sources as the name given to the date of the annual event (anniversary) of a person’s birth. It is a global tradition for people to celebrate this specific day.
In the past, people did not have birthday celebrations, as people did not keep very good birth records. Many people weren't even sure what year they were born.
The history of birthday observance can be traced back before the rise of Christianity. In pagan culture, it was believed evil spirits visited people on their birthdays. To protect the birthday person from evil, people used to surround him and make merry. They would make a lot of noise to scare away the evil spirits.
In those times, there was no tradition of bringing gifts, and guests attending the birthday spirit-warding would bring good wishes for the birthday person. However, if a guest did bring gifts it was considered to be a good sign for the person of honor. Later, flowers became quite popular as birthday gifts.
Nowadays, different cultures have their own birthday celebrations
- In Chinese culture, elders and family members gather around the one-year old child and bring toys such as books, dolls and coins. It is believed that the child’s pursuit in life will depend on the object that he/she picks. The Chinese consider a child a year old at birth.
- In Japan, your 3rd, 5th, and 7th birthdays are the most important, because you will get to participate in the annual “Seven-Five-Three” festival. Participants usually visit shrines to thank God for their health and strength.
- Some in Britain still practice an ancient way of celebrating birthdays by placing thimbles and coins in the cake’s batter. The person who will get the coin will be wealthy and the one who gets the thimble will never marry.
- Ireland has a funny way of celebrating birthdays. Believed that it is for good luck, a child is lifted upside down and gets “bumped” on the floor! These bumps will depend how old the child is. An extra bump is also added for good luck (Ouch!).
- 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.
Some other interesting birthday facts:
- Those who were born on a leap year (February 29) usually celebrate their birthdays on the 1st day of March.
- When you reach 100 and 105+ years old in the UK, you’ll receive a telegram from the Queen. (A party invitation, I presume.)
- More people celebrate their birthdays in August than in any other month (about 9% of all people). The two other months that rate high for birthdays are July and September.
- The world's largest birthday cake was created in 1989 for the 100th Birthday of the city of Fort Payne, Alabama, USA. The cake weighed 128,238.5 pounds and used 16,209 pounds of icing.
- The Sultan of Brunei hosted the world's most expensive birthday party to celebrate his 50th birthday on July 13, 1996. The cost was a whopping US $27.2 million. Three concerts featuring Michael Jackson cost US $16 million of the total amount.
- William Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday: April 23, 1616.
Are you doing anything special on your next birthday? What's your favorite way to celebrate your birthday?