Birthday Traditions Around the World: Celebrations of a Lifetime

Updated September 21, 2021
Mother With Children Enjoying Outdoor Birthday Party Together

Celebrating another trip around the sun for loved ones is a timeless tradition for many. Everyone loves a good birthday celebration. While celebrating another magical year of life is commonplace throughout the world, how people celebrate birthdays varies greatly. From singing around a cake and candles in the United States to slurping long noodles in China, there are many fascinating birthday traditions worldwide.

Birthdays in the United States

According to an article by ABC News, the most common birthday in the United States is October fifth. Just how will all those Americans celebrate their birthday? In the USA, the focus is on celebrating the birthday with the person's friends and family.

Get Your Party On

A birthday party celebration adorned with balloons, streamers, and other festive decorations is common in the states. Most people are also given a cake for their birthday. Candles are placed on top of the cake, one candle for each year of the person's life to represent their age. The candles are lit, and as you light the candles, Happy Birthday to You is sung. The birthday person makes a wish and tries to blow out all the candles on one try. If the candles are all blown out, then the wish will "come true."

Birthday girl blowing out the candles on her cake

Gifts are a Go

Giving a gift to someone celebrating a birthday is commonplace in the United States. Gifts are personal to the person receiving the item and can include things like gift cards, favorite fragrances, and hobby items. Gifts are sometimes opened during the party, but are also sometimes opened after the guests have departed. Etiquette encourages the birthday boy/girl to send a message of thanks to the people who sent them gifts.


People have been celebrating birthdays for ages. The ancient Egyptians referenced the event, and the Greeks added candles to the mix, and the ancient Romans brought birthdays to the commoner. The iconic song, Happy Birthday to You, was first written in the late 1800s, although there is a dispute over who actually wrote and owns the copyright to the song. Americans also enjoy celebrating the birthdays of famous people throughout the country's history, including Martin Luther King, Jr. (civil rights leader), George Washington (first president), and even the nation's birthday on July 4th. The birthday of a famous person in history might mean you get the day off from school or work.

Celebrating Birthdays in China

According to ABC Central West, the Chinese typically only celebrate certain birthdays: the first, 10th, 60th, 70th, and 80th. The 60th birthday is important to the Chinese because it is seen as completing a full zodiac (12 x 5 = 60). While they don't celebrate their birthday each year, they do hold fast to unique traditions when the birthday celebrations roll around.

Chinese Food: Birthday Noodles

Party Traditions

Birthdays are typically family affairs. Food includes a bowl of long-life noodles, long noodles that the person slurps into their mouth. It is believed that a long slurp equals a long life for the birthday person. The Chinese say Zhu ni sheng ri kuai le, which means "happy birthday to you."

Observing the Lunar Calendar

Also, the actual day of the person's birth might not be when the person celebrates their birthday. Chinese people recognize their birthday by the Chinese calendar. At birth, the child is seen as one-year-old and turns two on the Chinese New Year. If a child is born at the end of one year, he might be seen as two-years-old when he is technically only two days-old.

Making Birthdays Magical in Mexico

Children hitting pinata at birthday party


A Mexican party is called a fiesta and includes traditional food items, such as tacos and a candy-filled paper mache figure (pinata) that is hit with a stick until it bursts open and candy spills everywhere for the party guests to enjoy.

Hispanic community giving gifts at quinceanera


A very important tradition in Mexican culture is the Quinceanera, which is traditionally celebrated on a young woman's fifteenth birthday. The celebration is meant to mark the young girl's movement into womanhood and is complete with a formal gown, dancing, and a tiered cake. It is comparable to a wedding reception in its scope.

Las Mananitas

The Mexican birthday song is called Las Mañanitas and was written in the 1950s. Like the birthday song sung in the United States, when the song finishes, the birthday girl or boy blows out candles and makes a wish.

Different Birthday Traditions Across the Continent of Africa

Africa is made up of many areas and villages, each with different birthday traditions. For example, in some communities, a child's birth is celebrated in major ways. In other places, the birth is not celebrated, but the time when the child is seen as reaching an age of maturity is celebrated instead.

Birthdays in Ghana

The people of Ghana celebrate a birthday by waking the child with "oto," which is a fried sweet potato patty. Later in the day, the child has a party where family and guests eat a stew called kelewele. Kids might also play a well-known birthday game called Ampe.

Masai Tribe

In the Masai Tribe, located in Kenya, boys must complete three rites of passage beginning at about ages 14 to 16, along with boys of similar age. This is seen as the age where boys enter manhood. One of the elements that celebrate a boy's graduation to manhood after completing years of living in a ritual encampment is the 'Jumping Dance.' Formerly it was a tradition for girls to undergo a similar ceremony involving female circumcision, but that has been outlawed and alternatives sought by humanities groups.

Egyptian Birthday Traditions

In Egypt, family and friends are invited to a party (hafla) that includes singing and dancing. Flowers and fruit are the main party decorations and are "seen as symbols of life and growth." Egyptians usually have a birthday cake but do not send birthday cards like people do in the United States.

Small kid hanging upside-down and having fun

Irish Birthdays are Packed With Traditions

As in many other countries, an Irish birthday is celebrated with a gathering of family and friends. Traditional Irish foods, drinks, singing, and dancing are all part of the festivities.

One unusual Irish tradition is "bumping" the birthday child. An adult turns the child upside down and very gently bumps his head on the floor. The number of bumps equals the age of the child. For those who come of age, usually 21 in Ireland, the "key of the house" is given. This signifies that the person is an adult and can come and go as he pleases.

Japanese Birthdays Don't Come Every Year

In Japan, birthdays aren't celebrated as often as they are in America. Similar to Chinese traditions, the Japanese traditionally celebrate a person turning a year older on New Year's Day. Similar to birthdays in the Western world, small gatherings, a cake, and singing might occur.

Traditional Celebration

Instead of an official party, young children participate in the 7-5-3 celebration, which is held on November 15th and is called the Shichi-go-san (七五三). Because children often died young in ancient times, when a boy reaches the age of five, or a girl reaches the ages of three and seven, the child puts on their finest clothes and goes to the shrine to give thanks for health. Children might also be allowed to purchase a bag of candy.

Norway Goes Big for Birthdays

Norwegians are big on celebrating birthdays. Children whose birthdays fall during the school year will be recognized in class, and Norwegians celebrate birthdays with parties, including food, music, dancing, and cake. The cake is typically chocolate or a fruit-and-cream type. Typical party foods might include seafood and fresh fruit as well as treats. The 18th birthday is a big one in Norway, as kids make the formal transition to adulthood. Hence, this birthday might be larger than usual.

Throw Their Own Party

Instead of someone else throwing a party for the birthday celebrator, the birthday girl/boy plans their own party and invites family and friends. The Norwegian happy birthday song is called Hurra for Deg. Guests bring a small gift to the person whose birthday it is.

Australia Uses the Weather as Birthday Inspiration

Most birthday parties in Australia are barbecues. The weather is typically warm in Australia, so it makes sense to take the festivities outdoors with plenty of room to celebrate and mingle.

Typical Parties

Parties are typically decorated with balloons and streamers. A cake with candles is brought out, and the birthday person makes a wish before blowing out the candles. Giving the "key to the house" occurs when the person celebrating a birthday comes of age. This tradition is also celebrated in Ireland. It signifies the ability for the new adult to come and go as they see fit.

Young Australian girl eating fairy bread

Fairy Bread

Children eat a special dish called fairy bread. Fairy bread is bread slathered with butter and covered with sugar candy sprinkles. The sprinkles are known as "the hundreds and thousands." For those looking to work various birthday traditions from around the world into their own child's birthday, this would make for an easy and fun one.

Great Britain Birthdays

A birthday celebration in Great Britain is very similar to one in the United States or Australia, which makes sense, as England is the motherland of the other two countries.

Birthday Food

Children might drink "squash," which is a type of fruit drink made from syrup. Food would include a birthday cake decorated with lighted candles that represent the child's age. The child makes a wish and blows out the candles.

Changing Traditions

Although families used to participate in the tradition of being given the key to the house, this is no longer common. It is common for party guests to finish "Happy Birthday to You" and then say "Hip Hip Hooray" three times.

Netherland Yearly Celebrations

In the Netherlands, birthday boys and girls host their own parties in their homes. A meal is typically served at kid's parties, but only cake is usually served at an adult birthday bash.

Birthday Greetings

Party guests greet the birthday boy or girl with the phrase "Gefeliciteerd," meaning congratulations, and a series of cheek kisses. Guests first shake hands with the host, then kiss them on the right cheek, left cheek, and right cheek again. As a guest, you move through the party and congratulate all the birthday person's other friends and family members.

A Group Song

Near the end of the traditional happy birthday song, a few people shout "Hieperdepiep," then everyone else yells "HOERA" with a hand raised in the air. The Dutch place a high value on all guests participating in this interactive song, so guests should be prepared to join in.

Big Brazilian Birthdays

Birthday parties for kids in Brazil are traditionally large, extravagant affairs. There are even specific event venues called buffet infantile, whose sole purpose is hosting kid's birthday parties.

table of sweets and birthday cake

The Sweets Table

No party is complete without an elaborate dessert and candy table that includes gift bags guests can fill and take home. The cake is the centerpiece of this dessert table and is surrounded by a huge variety of sweet treats.

Cake Sharing

The special birthday person is given the first piece of cake but doesn't keep it to himself. Instead, he gives this piece to an important person in his life, like his mom or dad. It is a great honor to be given the birthday boy/girl's slice of sweet.

Birthday girl cutting a birthday party cake

Happy Birthday Traditions to Treasure

These are just a few of the many birthday traditions found around the world. Each country has unique ways to celebrate birthdays, and each region adds its own touch. Individual families break it down even more with specific traditions and special memories unique to that family. How can you implement some of these ideas into your celebrations to make your birthday parties unique?

Birthday Traditions Around the World: Celebrations of a Lifetime