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Big birthdays and what they mean

Large 60th Birthday Brilliant Stars Balloon

Did you know that landmark birthdays differ from country to country and culture to culture? Gifts for landmark birthdays also differ depending on where you live and the religion you follow.

First birthdays

While a first birthday is always an important celebration for proud parents, in China a child’s first birthday is particularly significant. Known as the ‘zhua zhou’ or the ‘birthday grab’ this milestone is considered a ‘coming of age’ for Chinese babies and has been passed down from dynastic times.

It starts with a celebration feast and almost everything that happens has some form of symbolism. After the meal, a set of items are placed before the birthday child for him or her to choose from. The first item the child picks and successfully gives to his or her parents may be an indication of the child’s future career, for example a stamp is used to donate a high-ranking official or person of power.

Coming of age birthdays

In the UK, coming of age was traditionally celebrated on your 21st birthday. Known as being given the ‘key of the door’ (immortalised in the seaside bingo call, ‘Key of the door, 21’), individuals were (and often still are) presented with a symbolic key to mark this important year.

When the age at which you are legally an adult dropped to 18 in the UK in 1969, people started to celebrate their 18th birthday instead of or as well as their 21st birthday – a custom that continues today.

In the USA however, ‘sweet sixteen’ birthday celebrations are an incredibly popular way of marking an individual’s coming of age. This is especially true of girls in the US.

It’s not just different countries that have different celebrations. Different cultures also mark coming of age in different ways. Jewish boys have a bar mitzvah on or around their 13th birthday, while Jewish girls have a bat mitzvah on or around their 12th birthday, in some forms of Judaism.

Latin American countries celebrate Quinceanera, which is a coming of age ceremony held on a girl’s fifteenth birthday. Gifts for this important birthday are usually religious in nature, such as a Bible, a cross, rosary or sceptre.

Birthdays with an ‘Oh’!

In the UK and many other countries, after the age of 21, we tend to mark the passing of each decade by celebrating any birthday that ends in ‘0’.

Gifts tend to match the significance of the birthday, with more thought and often expense lavished on these special birthdays.

In recent years, experience gifts and holidays are becoming more and more popular for landmark birthdays, as individuals use the excuse of a new decade in their lives to reinvent themselves or try something new. Keepsake gifts, like photo albums and jewellery are also popular.

60th birthdays

After the first birthday, the next landmark birthday on the Chinese calendar is the 60th birthday. This marks the end of one cycle of a person’s life and the start of another. As an individual is expected to have a big family by the age of 60, it is considered a time to celebrate this achievement. Traditional gifts include eggs, long noodles, wine and money wrapped in red paper.

65th birthday

Traditionally the time of retirement, many people have a big celebration for their 65th birthday. Gifts related to this new chapter in their lives are particularly appropriate. DIY, gardening or cookery books may provide them with a new hobby or interest.

Alternatively, if they’ve always talked about getting out and about more, walking boots and a book of favourite walks might be a welcome gift. You could even make it extra special by including a weekend break in the country.

100th birthday

Reaching 100 is an achievement that should be celebrated in style, after all not many people live for an entire century. In the UK, a message from the Queen is traditionally sent to anyone reaching 100 years of age (remember to complete the form the receive yours).

But what gift can you buy for someone celebrating their 100th birthday? Flowers, chocolates and wine may be appreciated, but often time is the biggest gift you can give someone at this age. Whether it’s your mother, father, grandmother or great-grand father, put together a photo album of his or her life and spend the day reminiscing about their achievements.

For more gift ideas for big birthdays, see our ‘Celebrate Big Birthdays in Style’ article.

"Big birthdays" balloons

Is a milestone birthday looming for a loved one? Surprise them with a big birthday balloon delivered direct to their home or work place (so they can't hide how old they really are any more!).


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