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Brit Culture: Milestone Birthdays

by Staff

Around the world, traditions vary from culture to culture. Birthdays, however, are generally celebrated worldwide. Certain cultures have particular traditions for celebrating a coming of age, such as bar/bat mitzvahs or quinceañeras.

Even though yearly birthday celebrations are a must in Britain, milestone birthdays are seen as symbolic, deserving of much bigger celebration and a hallmark of British culture. So what does a British birthday celebration look like and which birthdays count as milestones?

What is a typical British birthday like?

As in most western cultures, British birthday celebrations are often accompanied by decorations, gathering of friends, family and celebrations can take place at home or restaurants. People tend to wear their best outfits, whether it is for a big party or a smaller gathering.

Although not British, the birthday cake has become a significant part of this occasion. Birthday cake and blowing out candles actually dates to ancient Egypt. Egyptians would mark the special occasion of crowning and godship of a new pharaoh with a “birthday celebration”; Later, ancient Greeks were also found to be celebrating the birth of goddess Artemis on the sixth day of every lunar month, placing candles on a birthday cake and offering it to the goddess.

Adopted into British culture back in the 17th century, the birthday cake is decorated with candles. In the UK, the number of candles is equal to the age of the individual whose birthday it is (or more recently one or two with the numbers indicated on the candle) and to represent a sharing of joy and togetherness the cake is shared amongst all attending.

Lastly, in addition to parties, it is common for people to receive gifts, whether already purchased or in monetary form included inside a birthday card.

Milestone birthdays and their celebrations

Generally, milestone British birthdays include 1st, 18th, 21st and thereafter all birthdays with a 0 at the end to mark another decade.

1st Birthday

This is mostly a commemoration of the first year of parenthood. For parents, this is possibly the most special of anniversaries, as they can reflect on how quickly time has passed and also can see how much their child has achieved and developed in one year. Sometimes this celebration is combined with a naming ceremony. They’re usually smaller events with close family and friends either at home or a small venue.

18th Birthday

The passage into adulthood! In the UK you’re officially allowed to drink alcohol at this age. Many celebrations are split at this age as people will have a formal gathering with their families and different party with their friends.

21st Birthday

Apart from reaching 100, the 21st birthday is considered the most important of birthday celebrations. It is regarded as the “real” coming of age, where you have blossomed into a responsible adult. The occasion tends to be marked with sophistication and friends and family are likely to join the same celebration.

The ones ending in 0

From 30th to 90th birthdays, you have bid goodbye to your 20s, worked on your career, you are possibly married, likely have started a family, possibly retired! You embrace adulthood and celebration tends to become more personal and low-key. These are years of reflection as they mark the end of another decade.

100th birthday

Sadly these don’t happen often, so when it does people tend to mark the affair by joining their whole family! This marks a whole century of life and is worthy of a letter from Her Majesty the Queen.

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