A birthday is the date on which a person was born. It is customary in many cultures to celebrate the anniversary of one's birthday in some way, for example by having a birthday party with friends in which gifts are exchanged. It is also customary to treat someone especially nice and generally accede to their wishes on their birthday.
Western birthday traditions
In most English-speaking countries it is traditional to sing the song "Happy Birthday" to the honored person celebrating their birthday. This happens traditionally at a birthday party while someone brings a birthday cake into the room, which is often darkened. The birthday cake is traditionally a highly decorated cake, and is typically covered with lit candles when presented; the number of candles equals the age of the person. The person whose birthday it is will make a silent wish and then blow out the candles. If done in one breath, the wish is supposed to come true. Another superstition associated with birthday wishes is that if you reveal your wish, it won't come true. It is also very common for the "birthday boy" or "birthday girl" to cut the initial piece of the cake, except for young children.
The singing of the song also often happens at a restaurant when one gets taken out for their birthday. The server or servers in the restaurant may lead the singing of the song while dessert is delivered to the table (which may or may not be a piece of cake, and may or may not be complimentary). The dessert may feature a sparkler instead of a candle. Other customers at the restaurant usually join in for the singing of the song. At some restaurants the servers may perform special, untraditional birthday songs and dances.
For special birthdays and for when the number of candles might be considered a fire hazard, special candles might be substituted for the many individual candles. These candles are in the shape of a numeral; for example on one's 5th birthday there may be only one candle on the cake in the shape of the numeral 5, and on one's 50th birthday there may be only one candle on the cake in the shape of the numeral 50.
A birthday is considered a special day for the person, and so the person will often get special treatment from friends and family. This is specially true for children who cannot wait for their own special day. In contrast, many adults loathe the reminder that they are continually getting older. In addition to parties, people often get (and give!) gifts on their birthday. Often, the honored person gets a "birthday hug" from friends and family.
Birthday parties for children often include fun games, like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Musical Chairs and hitting piñatas. For adults, the parties tend to be more formal, such as a nice dinner at a restaurant. Despite the age, these parties have the intent of making the honored person very happy. In jest, the birthday is sometimes referred to as the "Best day of the year" and the day after the birthday is the "worst day of the year" since one must wait a whole year for their next birthday!
There are also traditions of surprise parties. This sometimes causes people to feel ignored because it appears their birthday has been forgotten, when actually it has not been mentioned because a surprise party has been planned. Conversely, some people do not mention that nothing is planned for their birthday, because they expect a surprise party.
The modern Astrological sign that one is born under depends on one's birthday, and the specific time of birth is used to calculate the person's natal chart. However, astrology is not limited to Western astrology alone, though Western astrology by itself has dozens of branches and various offshoots. In modern India Vedic astrology (or Jyotish) is commonly used to this very day, and in China Chinese astrology has been around for thousands of years and continues to flourish. The ancient Greeks formed Hellenistic astrology while the Mayans of South America also formed their own brand of astrology with the help of their super-precise, world-famous observatories. The ancient Egyptians also had their own system of astrology while a unique system of astrology eventually emerged in Tibet as well. Other cultures and civilizations around the World also developed their own astrological systems, though they are far too numerous to list here.
Notable birthdays can include:
* When the most significant digit changes, for example one's 1st, 10th, 20th, 50th, or 100th birthdays.
* In most legal systems, one becomes a legal adult on a particular birthday, and at different ages gain different rights and responsibilities -- voting, certain drug use (e.g. alcohol, tobacco), eligibility for military draft, etc.
* Most cultures have one or more coming of age birthdays:
o Jewish boys have a bar mitzvah on their 13th birthday. In Reform and Conservative Judaism, Jewish girls observe a bat mitzvah on their 12th or 13th birthday.
o In Latin America the quinceañera celebration traditionally marks a girl's 15th birthday.
o Many girls in the USA have "sweet sixteen" birthday parties.
o In countries with significant drinking ages, it is often typical to become intoxicated with one's friends as soon as legal; some bars facilitate this through drink specials or the like. In countries where age restrictions on alcohol are loosely enforced, this phenomenon may be less common.
The birthdays of historically significant people, like Jesus, Muhammad, or Martin Luther King, Jr., are often turned into holidays.
Some notables, particularly monarchs such as Queen Elizabeth of England have "official birthdays" which do not match their actual birthday, but on which celebrations are held. In cases where an historical figure's actual birthday is unknown, e.g. Jesus, it is common for a particular date to be substituted.
Children who are born on the 29th of February, which only falls on Leap years, often celebrate their birthday annually on the 28th, or the 1st of March.
In Roman Catholic countries such as France, it is common also to have a 'name day'/'Saint's day'. This is celebrated in much the same way as a birthday, but is held on the official day of the saint that the person is named after.
History of celebration of birthdays in the West
It is thought that the large scale celebration of birthdays in Europe was due to Mithraism in the Roman Empire, and that prior to this it was not so common. Mithraism had a large influence throughout the empire, due to being taken up by many Roman soldiers, until it was supplanted by Christianity. Even today, the celebration of birthdays is not universal in the West, for example, the Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays, considering them to be a pagan festival, along with Christmas and Easter.
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