Special Birthday Global Traditions

Thursday, 15 January 2015  |  Admin

Birthdays; as we get older they seem to come round with an alarming frequency. What's more, as we live much longer lives than our not-so-distant ancestors the number of special birthdays seems to be mounting too. In fact, throughout history, milestone or landmark birthdays have long been a significant cause for celebration. Traditions and customs vary around the world but some factors seem to be universal. When it comes to finding ways to make those special birthdays extra special, some global inspiration can help, as can a little imagination. 

Coming of Age Traditions

While in Western traditions coming of age birthdays tend to be focussed around the mid to late teen age-group, in China, one of the most significant birthdays is actually the very first. Celebrated since ancient times, Zhua Zhou (roughly translated as the Birthday Grab) is not only designed to celebrate the passage through the first dangerous months of new life but to act as a kind of indication as to what the future holds for the baby. The ceremony involves plenty of gifts and toys but the focus is on placing the child in front of appropriate and gender specific items (this is a very old custom!) to determine their future in life. Items for a girl represent “girl-stuff” such as cooking and sewing while boys get “boy-stuff” including accounting books and coins. In modern day China the tradition continues and although the superstitious significance of the ceremony is less relevant (and hopefully the woeful gender stereotyping) the important bit remains; this birthday is all about welcoming the child and wishing him/her good luck. 

That Key To The Door

In the UK the traditional coming of age celebrations lag behind China by a full twenty years with the ripe old age of 21 being the traditional year in which young adults are officially recognized as finally fully grown. Although it's unclear where this tradition comes from it is considered to represent the point where independence and responsibility are bestowed on the lucky young person! A key is the symbolic gift given to 21 year olds, representing the key to the door. Although the legal age of adulthood was dropped to 18 in 1969, it's still common to mark 21 as the real point where troublesome teens become highly mature and responsible adults. Or something like that anyway. In reality the legal definition of adulthood (from 21 to 18) simply meant that in the UK most people sensibly expect significant attention, presents and hopefully some cash, on both their 18th and 21st birthdays as they are both seen as extra special. 

The Big Zeros

Next up come the Big Zeros. 30, 40, 50, 60 all the way up to 100. These milestones can be more challenging for both the individual concerned and those looking for a way to sensitively mark the passage of time. Tradition here is less clear as it seems to be only in relatively recent times that we've started to really mark some of these particular birthdays. Experience gifts and even exotic holidays have become popular choices for these big landmarks. As we all live longer these days – and many of us remain in good health for much longer too – these birthdays are likely to become more significant. The lack of tradition, while making it more difficult to find ways to celebrate the Big Zeros, gives us a lot more freedom when it comes to finding innovative ways to do so. 

The New 50

While celebrating the big zeros is relatively recent, some birthdays that fall later in life do have certain traditions associated with them. The age of 60 in Chinese traditions is the next “big one” in life – after the first! This marks that transition from one life cycle (adulthood) to the next (penultimate) one. This tradition is also marked in other cultures and our sixth decade is commonly the one in which we celebrate retirement. In Western cultures the rather thoughtless gift of a watch or carriage clock was often given at retirement as if the retiree needed any reminder that the clock was ticking. Today Western cultures tend to mark 60, 65 (or retirement) in a slightly more positive way not dissimilar to the traditional Chinese idea. Instead of celebrating this particular milestone as an end, it's better to look at is as a beginning of a whole new chapter in life. While DIY, cookery or gardening books are commonly given many 60-something couples and individuals look to travel further than the end of the garden. Rough guides to far-flung locations may well find their way on to the average 65 year old retiree's wish list!

Septuagenarian Sky Dives?

Culturally, beyond 65 many of us are at a loss as to what to give for the remaining landmark birthdays. Perhaps that's because in the past not many of us got much further! However, many would argue today that 70 is the new 50 and given the way many septuagenarians (Someone who is between the age of 70 and 79) behave, that argument may well be true. 70 and 80 can be hard birthdays to buy for of course and not everyone of this age appreciates a bungee jump or sky diving token (rather more of them do than you might think though).  This age group does, however, take a bit more thought and you need to consider the interests of the individual involved. Experiences including luxury breaks, high class restaurant trips or simply (often best appreciated) a big family get together, with plenty of balloons to remind them of which decade they're celebrating this time! 

Double Zeros! 

Forget a telegram, somebody already had that idea. Don't forget to fill in the form for one though (HM can't be expected to remember everything, she's a busy woman) to ensure said telegram arrives. More common than ever before, this birthday might be the biggest and hardest one to find just the right gift for. In this case a truly personal approach really does apply and simply making the time to spend a bit of quality time with the centenarian in question is no bad idea. Gifts that work well are albums collecting together as many memories of the last century possible, especially with personal photos which mark all of those (many) past achievements and milestones! 

This Family Box is a great photo album gift for someone who wants something extra special that can contain a large collection: http://www.giftsfromhandpicked.co.uk/christmas-gifts/heaven-sends-portraits-de-famille-box.html.

 

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