There are many cultures present in America; the United States is indeed a melting pot of vastly different people from all over the world. Yet it is still one nation, and America’s varying citizens do share some practices in common. For instance, there are general ways in which all Americans, regardless of background, tend to acknowledge and celebrate the birthday of a loved one.
Below are some examples of what Americans from the US typically do when it comes to celebrating the birthday of a friend, relative or colleague.
Birthday parties in the USA
If you want to recognize the birthday of a loved one in a public fashion, one way Americans do so is by throwing him or her a party. In fact, birthday parties are the most-common form of occasion-oriented partying in United States. In other words, they occur more frequently than holiday-based festive gatherings.
Sometimes a party may be organized for the birthday boy or girl without his or her knowledge. In these instances, a friend or family member will lure them to a place, perhaps even their own home, where a group of people are deceptively tucked into the shadows waiting for the appropriate, cued moment to simultaneously jump out and yell “surprise” or “happy birthday”. This practice is generally referred to as a ‘surprise birthday party’.
US Foods for Birthdays
Depending on a celebrant’s ancestry and their own personal preferences, the special dish they may enjoy on the anniversary of their birth will vary. However, there is one food item you will find at virtually any birthday celebration in the United States, which is of course a birthday cake. There is no standard way to make this treat. It can be single or multi-layered, chocolate or vanilla, homemade or store-bought or any way the gift giver sees fit. Yet there are two standard rules that are generally abided by. One is the cake should be frosted or have an icing, which can be simple or beautifully-decorated. The other is that the cake should have candles on top. The candles are not mandatory and sometimes can even spoil part of the pastry with melted wax. But this is the main way in which you know a cake is intended for a birthday as opposed to some other purpose – by its candles. The candles are there specifically to represent the years in a person’s life. So if the celebrant has just turned 30 years old, then there will be 30 candles on the cake. And you can see how once a person starts to age, in order to accommodate all the candles the cakes sometimes have to become larger!
The cake is to be cut by the celebrant, if he or she is old enough to handle a sharp knife. If not, then the cutting is usually done by his or her parent. But before such, if the cake is adorned with candles, then they are to be lit shortly before the pastry’s disassembling. And of course they have to be put out before the cake is cut. The honor of doing so goes exclusively to the celebrant. But if the person is just a baby or too elderly or sick to blow them out, then he or she will be assisted by a family member or loved one. And before so the the celebrant is to make a birthday wish. This desire can be made public, but it is usually something he or she is advised to keep inside to increase the odds of it actually coming true.
In addition to the cake, some other common foods that may be served at the average birthday party in America include the likes of mini meatballs, mushroom caps, cookies, popcorn, cheese straws, biscuits, sausage rolls, pies, pancakes, etc.
It’s important to mention that in the course of the celebration, the iconic song “Happy Birthday To You” is traditionally sung to the celebrant. Sometimes the song “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” is also sung during the celebration.
Milestone birthday celebrations in the US
Certain birthdays in a person’s life are deemed more-significant than others. Such beliefs can be religious-specific. For instance, a person may see Jews in the United States holding a Bat Mitzvah for one of their sons. This is a coming-of-age ceremony when boys turn 13. However, in terms of the general culture, the most-significant birthdays, in terms of organizing a celebration, are usually when a person turns 16 and 21. The “sweet 16” – or special observance for turning 16 years of age – is usually reserved for girls. Meanwhile 21 is notable because it is when a person is generally considered to have become a full-fledged adult. So for instance such parties are often marked by alcohol consumption, as 21 is the age in which a person can legally purchase liquor anywhere in the States.
In addition to 16 and 21, other milestone birthdays include 30, 40, 50 and 60.
Birthday cards and gifts
Birthday cards are also given to honor the anniversary of one’s birth. These pieces can vary in dimensions but tend to be the size of a page-less, medium-sized book. They can also be quite elaborate but are usually simple, as it is the thought that matters more than anything else. As such, in the modern age many people have even resorted to sending electronic cards to their loved ones over the internet.
Although the birthday of a loved one is not a recognized holiday, outside of Christmas this is the time of the year when people most expect to receive gifts. In fact as increasing numbers of Americans opt out of acknowledging X-Mas or don’t do so for religious reasons, their birthdays may be the only time specifically designated to give them a gift throughout the entire year.
Americans whose birthdays are national holidays
There are also a couple individuals in United States whose birthdays are celebrated as national holidays. Only two people have the distinction of having this special honor bestowed upon them. They are George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. – the former being the first President of the United States and the latter a renowned civil rights activist. The birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the renowned civil rights’ President, is also observed in some places, usually in conjunction with that of George Washington.
That said, it’s noteworthy to mention that Christmas, the most-popular holiday of all, is also in observance of the birthday of Jesus Christ. However, scholars do not know conclusively or even agree on the exact day when he was born, and as such, December 25th is more of his ascribed than actual day of birth.
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Wrapping it all up
All in all, to the average American, birthdays are special days that are worth giving the attention they deserve. There are many different ways in which birthdays are popularly celebrated in the United States which gives people of all ancestral, religious and economic backgrounds the opportunity to extend a warm greeting or gift to the celebrant on that special day.
Having said that, it’s important to mention that in the United States, the anniversary of children’s births tend to be celebrated more than that of adults.
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