birthday cakeCredit: Will Clayton, flickr

Every year, humans around the globe celebrate the day that they entered the world. For the young ones it marks another year closer to adulthood. For others it’s merely another tick in the countdown to that “undiscovered Country.” Once regarded as an event only celebrated by those deemed to be important, the celebration of birthdays is now a permanent fixture of life for almost every culture on the planet. In recognition of this, I invite you to take a look at some fun facts about birthdays.

1. Golden Birthdays

golden birthdayCredit: Camknows, flickr

On that day where your age is equal to the date you were born, this is known as your golden birthday. (example: born March 23 on your 23rd birthday.) Golden birthdays are believed to be special and are sometimes celebrated with gold themed decorations. It’s ironic that once people learn about the existence of golden birthdays, they have usually missed their own. Of course if you are already 32 or older, don’t even bother thinking about it.

2. The Birthday Paradox

The Birthday Paradox goes like this: If you were to take23 random people off the street and place them in a room, mathematically there is a 50-50 chance that two of them will have the same birthday. How is this possible you say? Well, it’s good old fashioned Probability. birthday paradoxCredit: Inju, flickrThe pigeonhole principle shows us that in order to guarantee that two people had the same birthday you would need 367 people in a room (365 days + Feb 29th + 1 extra person). How many people would you need for a 99.9% chance? Only 70.

3. Happy Birthday Song

The creation of the Happy Birthday song is credited to two sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill, in 1893. Patty was a kindergarten teacher and Mildred was a composer. Together, they came up with the song “Good Morning to All” to greet students in the morning. Over time, the students remixed this into different versions including “Good Morning to You”, “Goodbye to You”, “Happy Vacation to You”, and finally “Happy Birthday to You.” The song’s popularity began to spread outside of the school and soon the world was singing it.

Presently, this song is still copyrighted and is owned by Warner/Chappell Music Inc. of the Warner Music Group. Currently, the Happy Birthday song generates roughly $2,000,000 a year from licensing fees.

4. Late-Year Love’n

new years eve kissCredit: Bryce Wolfgang, flickr

The most common birthday in the United States is October 5th. This happens to be exactly 40 weeks from New Year’s Eve. Apparently this festive holiday season is the perfect time to sneak away for a quick tryst before the ball drops (sometimes this stuff writes itself.) The least common birthday with the exception of February 29th is May 22nd. This would put conception at about August 15th, proving what I’ve already known for years: sex and extreme heat do not mix.

5. Let Them Eat Cake

The World’s largest birthday cake was created in 2005 in celebration of the 100th birthday of Las Vegas. The cake was constructed using over 30,000 half sheets and almost 40,000 pounds of frosting hauled in on eight semis. The confection was put together over the span of 14 hours with the help of more than 1000 volunteers. This bested the former world record holder made in 1989 to celebrate the centennial of Fort Payne, Alabama.

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6. It’s All Greek to Me

greek letters

The concept of birthday cakes with candles dates back to the ancient Greeks. Flat, round cakes made of flour and sweetened with honey were served at birthdays and weddings. One of the prevalent theories of how cake candles came about has to do with the goddess Artemis, Goddess of the Moon. Followers would bring round cakes adorned with candles to her temple. The light was to make them appear like the moon. In ancient times, it was thought that smoke could carry prayers to the gods, a belief that scholars believe led to the present tradition of making wishes while blowing out candles.

7. Running the Numbers

In the world, more people celebrate their birthdays in August than any other month. In fact, August birthdays account for 9% of all total birthdays. Tuesday is the most common day to deliver a baby while Sunday is the least common (Scheduled births and C-sections reduce the amount of weekend births.) As of the last census, Utah has the highest birth rate while Vermont has the lowest. As far as during what time of the day most babies are born, although one might figure the answer would be sometime in the wee hours (2 a.m. – 6 a.m.), the data shows that the times are very evenly distributed.

8. Money Ain’t a Thang

moneyCredit: Vivian Aldana, flickr

The most expensive birthday party ever thrown happened in July of 1996 when the Sultan of Brunei (Hassanal Bolkiah) decided to celebrate his 50th with a bang. The Sultan entertained his 3000 guests with a military march, a friendly polo match with Prince Charles, and enough champagne and caviar to feed everyone in attendance. The nearly two week affair was capped off with a performance by the King of Pop himself Michael Jackson at Jerudong Amusement Park, a service that cost the Sultan $16 million. The price tag for the entire event came to a staggering $27,200,000.

9. Reaching the Century Mark

100 years

Many cultures around the world usually have a tradition of sending correspondence to members of their population who were fortunate enough to reach their 100th birthday. Here are a few of them:

United States – centenarians usually receive a letter from the President (and a shout-out on NBS’s Today Show.)

England – a letter from the Queen

Ireland – a letter from the President of Ireland and a “Centenarian’s Bounty” of €2,540 (around $3500 USD)

Japan – a certificate from the Prime Minister of Japan and a silver cup

10. The Gift of Time

clocksCredit: Dalo, Flickr

In China, it is considered bad luck to give/receive a clock or watch as a birthday gift. There are two reasons for this. First, traditional Chinese superstition suggests that this is the equivalent of counting down the seconds until the owner’s death.

The second reason involves the emphasis that the Chinese place of homonyms. The Chinese phrase “to give a clock” is 送钟 (pronounced like song jong). This phrase is a homonym of another phrase 送终 (also pronounced song jong) which means to attend a funeral. This is basically a no-go in Chinese. This is the same reason why many Chinese don’t like to have 4s in their phone numbers or addresses. The number 4 (si) rhymes with the word for death (si).

11. The Slice that Changed My Life

In medieval England, birthday cakes were baked with coins and thimbles placed inside of the batter. Once the cake was served, if  a guest received a piece of cake with a coin in it, that meant that they would soon receive riches. Getting a piece with a thimble meant the recipient would not marry. In some places this tradition continues today albeit in a more light-hearted manner.

12. The Shadow of Kim

Kim Jong-ilCredit: Rita Wilaert, flickr

In North Korea, people don’t celebrate birthdays on July 8th and December 17th. July 8th marks the death of former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung and December 17th is when Kim Jong-il passed. Those nearly 100,000 North Koreans who are unfortunate enough to have birthdays on either of these two days must celebrate on a different day.