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Why do we celebrate birthdays?

excited children wearing birthday hats and carrying balloons

Why do we celebrate birthdays? Why do we have birthday cakes? Why do we blow out candles on our birthdays? Why are our birthdays on the same date but a different day of the week each year? This episode has answers to all of your birthday questions - plus we hear about unique birthday traditions sent in by our listeners!

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

  • Birthdays celebrate the anniversary of our birth day. We officially turn another year older because we’ve lived 365 days since our last birthday. 
  • Long ago, birthdays were mostly celebrated only for famous, rich, or very important citizens. (Many people didn’t even know when their birthdays were.) As time went on, birthday celebrations were still more common for wealthy families who could afford them, and these celebrations were often very formal.
  • In the 1900s birthday parties became more common, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that birthday parties became centered around kids and their friends, and it’s around that time that birthday parties started moving outside of the home.
  • These days, many people mark their birthdays, and they celebrate in all kinds of ways! It’s important to note that not everyone wants or can afford a big party, and it’s okay to mark the anniversary of your birth in whatever way feels best to you.
  • The tradition of celebrating a birthday with a special cake first started in 18th century Germany with an event called Kinderfeste, a party for a child.
  • Kinderfeste cakes had a candle for every year of someone’s age. Those candles would be allowed to burn all day. Over time, the tradition of blowing out the candles became more popular. 
  • While the date of your birthday stays the same, the day of the week changes year to year. That’s because the 365-day year has 52 weeks plus one day! So the day of the week moves forward one day of the week each year. That is, until there’s a leap year, and then your birthday moves forward by two days.
  • February 29th is the rarest birthday - because it only comes around every four years. Of the regular 365 calendar days, September 9th is the most common birthday and December 25th is the least common.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.

But Why is a project of Vermont Public.

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