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Anniversary and Birthday Traditions Around the World

An anniversary is the annual celebration of an event. The importance of an anniversary and the way it is celebrated varies between cultures.

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In many cultures every anniversary of personal events like weddings and birthdays is celebrated, while in others only the landmark anniversaries—25, 50, 75 and 100 years—are celebrated.

Birthdays in Different Cultures

Birthdays—annual events commemorating the birth of a person—are celebrated by most cultures around the world, with first birthdays being of special importance. Some cultures tend to celebrate coming of age birthdays as a key milestone in a person’s life.

  • In some regions in India, a baby’s first birthday is marked by shaving the head of the baby to symbolize a new life for the child. Some families also play games where they display items representing professions—pens to represent a journalist, books to signify a professor, lemon to represent a farmer—in front of the baby. It is said that the item that the baby chooses to pick represents its future profession.
  • In Jewish culture, for example, girls become bat mitzvah on the 12th birthday, while boys become bar mitzvah on their 13th birthday. These special birthdays signify a child’s commitment to the commandments, which they previously were not held accountable to.
  • In Mexico, and many other Latin American countries, a girl’s 15th birthday or quinceañera is celebrated with a lavish party that includes fancy outfits and lots of dancing. This event marks the transition of the girl to womanhood.
  • In South Korea, 60th birthdays are considered to be auspicious and are celebrated extravagantly.
  • Japan celebrates a Coming of Age Day annually on the second Monday of January to celebrate the birthdays of everyone who attained the age of 20 years in the previous year. This event symbolizes the duties and rights that come along with adulthood.

Chinese Count Differently

In China, a newborn is considered to be one year old—they do not count starting with zero as many other cultures do.

Wedding anniversaries

Wedding anniversaries are annually recurring celebrations of weddings. Convention has it that because each wedding anniversary signifies a milestone, a specific gift should be exchanged by the couple or gifted to them by their family and friends.

While the history of these conventions is unknown, old wives stories suggest that the materials of the gift for each wedding anniversary corresponds with the strength and quality of the marriage at that stage. For instance, traditionalists believe that a gift of paper or made of paper for a couple’s first wedding anniversary represents the fragile nature of relationships.

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