Birthday Parties: Country Trends

Figure 1.--Here we see an American boy's 5th birthday in 1956. The photograph is date December 1956. Perhaps dad didm't take the roll in right away for development. Note that the big item here was the birthday cake. This seems a rather low-key event held in the laundry room. We would guess it was somewhere in the South. Note the short hair cuts and white socks. .

Birthday celebrations are an almost universal phenomenon around the world. Convenions for birthday celebrations, however, vary significantly from country to country. And of course trends in each country and from country to country have varied over time. We know most about American birthdays and birthdays in Europe. Birthday parties used to be rather small backyard affairs in America. They have since become major events. At this trend seems to be spreading to many other countries as well. The one constant is how common it is around the world to celebrate birthdays. We have very little information on such parties in different countries, especially historical trends. We hope to gradually acquire information on these celebrations around the world.

America, North

The United States

HBC is not sure when the custom of the birthday party became firmly established in America. It certinly was established by the late 19th century. The photograph here from the early 1900s show that birthdays were celebrated by a wide strata of society. The children used to dress up in party clothes. I'm mot sure how much before that. I certainly remember my parties in the late 1940s and early 50s. My birthdays were rather unformal affairs. My birthday is firing the summer so we often went to a park. We lived near Rock Creek Park. (Rock Creek Park is the largest urban park in America complete with the National Zoo.) So there were endless possibilities. Except for Christmas they were the high point of the year.



Birthdays are celebrated in Tajikistan. The difference is that a person does not celebrate the day of birth but the day of being named. The party is much the same as anywhere else in the world. There is much food to eat. This is displayed on a table and the centre piece is the Birthday Cake. When guests arrive they bring with them presents for the Birthday person. No specific gift is given. As in the West, guests pick the gift they give. Money gifts would not be given. Flowers are favourite gifts. Tajiks, whether male or female, like flowers and make a big fuss when they are given. The gifts will be placed on a table and not opened until after the party is over.



Perhaps the most common type of parties for English children are birthday parties. They are not the only type of children's parties, bur are the most common for younger children. Younger children commonly invite motly friends of the same gender. Also family members commonly participated, inclusing grand parents as well as aunts and uncles. Parties used to be fairly simple affairs, although more formal than is now the case. Until after World War II, children often dressed up for parties. Party hats were passed out as well as crackers. Activities included standards such as blind man's bluff, musical chairs, pass the parcel, and pin the tail on the donkey. Refreshments were ivecream and cake. Birthday parties have since become more casual. And are no longer restricted to the child's home. They are now held at various fun sites as well. Here seasinality is a factir. And the acgtivities more diverse. Theme parties are popular. Older children have more diverse parties and not just birthday parties. And like the parties for younger children, dress has become more casual. Invitees brought gifts for the birtday child. They in turn could win prizes playing the various games. We note a trend in modern parties to give the children party bags on their way home.


We have little information about the custom of birthday parties in France. We do not know when birthday parties became common events in France and when children began bringing presents. One drawing from famed Belgian illustrator Marcel Marlier shows children exchanging presents. This look similar to American birthday parties, except more formal. This formality could be just Marlier's rather idealized style of drawing children. One interesting aspect is the children's greeting kissing each other ion the cheek. This is presumably common in France. It would be very unsual for American children to kiss like that as a greeting, even if they were close friends. American boys in particular and in fact for school age children up to about 11, birthday parties are often largely single gender affairs.


We have little information about the custom of birthday parties in Germany. One German reader has provided us some photographs from a birthday party that he attended during World War II. We see another group which we think is a girl's birthday party.


The Netherlands

I don't know about the magazines and journals for parents in the United States, but in Holland we do have some "parent's guides" that go back a long time. You might find some "advices" for how to celebrate birthdays? Maybe I am totally wrong about it but this is one of the sources that I would look at (apart from children's literature).

Middle East and North Africa

Saudi Arabia

Birtday parties are important events in Saudi Arabia. Here we see a Saudi birthday party. Look at the eyes all expecting. The cakes are the focus of attention. The photograph was taken in January when it can be quite cold. The boys are all wearing sweaters. This is a single gender party. I think is the general trend in the country.



An Australian reader remember a birthday party that he attended, primarily because he had to wear lederhosen. Another Australian reader tells us, "Birthdays here have become big events. Parents go to great efforts to create memorable birthday memories. Swim parties are very popular. Movie parties are also a big hit with many children. There are also a range of theme parties. My girls especially enjoy zoo parties."


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Created: 5:20 PM 11/1/2006
Last updated: 8:17 PM 7/10/2011