How are Birthdays Celebrated in France? A Complete Guide

Birthdays being the ever-important days for many people, are celebrated by many people across many countries worldwide. But how do people in, say, France celebrate their birthdays? There isn’t much difference in how the French celebrate their birthdays from how other European countries do. There are, however, a few subtle differences you would note due to the differences in culture.

The French celebrate their birthdays by sharing a cake, giving presents, and enjoying their favourite meal. Snacks are ever-present, especially if it’s a child’s birthday. The birthday person cuts the cake after the feasting on the other food is done with. As they cut the cake, guests sing the French version of the happy birthday song and wish them all the best as they present them with gifts. Ladies get a bouquet among the gifts.

French birthdays might appear similar to other Western birthdays in many ways but. However, there are a few subtle differences that you would miss out on if you didn’t pay much attention. For instance, do you know that just like the Spanish, French people also have two celebrations a year to mark their birthday? Join us to highlight more interesting differences and tell you why many people love celebrating French birthdays.

Differences and Similarities Between French and Western Birthdays

Due to noticeable cultural differences between the French and other Western cultures, there are various ways French birthdays differ from others in the west. Also, there are a few ways they are similar. For further explanations of all the points in the table, read on after this section!

French BirthdaysWestern Birthday
ImportanceThe French consider any birthday to be quite remarkable. Depending on the prevailing circumstances, they might have a massive celebration of the event. People might defer some birthdays to big occasions, but they will still carry the same significance.In the west, any birthday can pretty much be special if you want it to be, and you can have celebrations at any age. However, there are some most people defer to for big occasions.
Significant BirthdaysFor the French, a child’s first birthday is a big deal. That’s in addition to the 18th and 20th birthdays.Although not the precise date someone was born, the name day is the other significant birthday for most French people.Most Western people place significance on certain birthdays, such as 1st, 13th, 16th, and 21st, and then each decade birthday like a 30th or 40th after that. But any and every birthday can be celebrated. Some people even celebrate half birthdays!
CakeThe French celebrate their birthdays with a cake or cupcakes. The cake has candles that the birthday person blows out and makes a wish.They might also celebrate with a special birthday tart rather than a cake.In the west, you can’t call it a birthday party without a cake and candles. People go out of their way to ensure there is a cake to cut and for candles to be blown out.
FoodA French birthday party will usually consist of sweet treats. Sugary party foods are common, especially if it’s a child’s birthday. Adult birthday parties typically consist of a meal that follows whatever the birthday person loves.Party food which is usually processed and full of sugar, is generally eaten at children’s birthday parties. Sometimes food is designed and created around a birthday party theme. Adult birthday parties can follow a similar cuisine, but many will offer a meal that includes the birthday person’s favorite food, followed by dessert.
Age on BirthdayIn France, a baby is zero at birth and adds a year on the anniversary of their birth each year.In the west, a baby is zero at the time they are born, and each year on the anniversary of their birth, they turn a year older.
Date of BirthdayFor French people, the date of their birthday is the day they were born. This date will usually be the don’t on their papers. The birthday can also be on a person’s saints day. Most westerner’s birthday is the day they were born. For some older people, the date might differ because the registration of births differed considerably from the past to today. To save them from the hassle, they just go with what the paperwork states.
When to celebrateThe French school calendar differs slightly from other countries. So most children’s birthdays are often held on Wednesdays when children don’t go to school. Sundays are a family day and are thus not seen as the perfect day told a birthday party. Adults will often have their birthday at times when they aren’t that busy. That might be over the weekend of their birthdays fall on a weekday.In the west, if your birthday falls on a weekday, you might have a small family celebration that night, but your party might occur on the weekend or the best date around your birthday when you can get a venue or do an activity you were looking forward to. It is the birthday person’s choice, but generally, the day would be within a week or two of the actual birth date.
How old are you?Adult French people would love it if you asked them how old they are. It makes it worse if you are a stranger. For kids, however, there is no issue asking them how old they are. It is okay to discuss the age of children but never adults.Many Adult westerners find it impolite to be asked how old they are, especially by strangers. It is generally okay to ask them around their birthday time, especially if they are having a party and you are invited to celebrate with them. Parents, on the other hand, are always telling everyone all about their children and their ages – it is okay to discuss the ages of children.
GiftsGifts at a French birthday party will depend on the type of celebration. The name day doesn’t need you to go with a gift. The main birthday, however, will require you to go with a gift. If it’s a lady’s birthday, you can’t go wrong with a bouquet.If you are invited to a party, it is obligatory to bring a card and a gift for the birthday person. The gift should be something you think the birthday person would like and if you are unsure – money or a gift card is also okay to give.
SongThe French sing the French version of the Happy birthday song. The birthday person then blows out the candles, makes a wish then cuts the cake.The ‘Happy Birthday Song’ is traditionally sung after lighting candles on the birthday cake. The candles are then blown out after the song has finished by the birthday person who makes a personal secret wish when blowing them out.

Do people in France Celebrate their Birthdays?

Yes, the French do celebrate their birthdays. In fact, they celebrate their birthdays twice a year. How is that possible?

The French have a celebration for the day they were born and another one for their named saint. So if a person is called Jean or Jeannette (French masculine and feminine versions of the name John), they also celebrate on St. John’s day.

The typical French birthday will often have a simple homemade cake, food, and dancing to music. Because the French see Sunday as a family day, most of these birthday celebrations will be on a Wednesday or any other day bar Sunday.

Adult French people sometimes rent out a hotel to celebrate their day and invite close friends and family. The event is often littered with classic French dishes with various drinks.

The snacks and drinks often set the stage for the entry of the cake later on in the celebration. The friends participate in the merry-making by wishing the birthday person the best wishes.

A typical children’s birthday will involve their friends from school, snacks, dancing, showcasing of arts and crafts, and lots of music.

The party will usually last between two and three hours and often involves lots of sweet treats for the children. Sweets, chocolate, and other sugary foods are a staple at these events. Children might also attend the birthday in costumes to add extra significance to their friends’ birthday parties.

The name day, unlike the major birthday celebration, doesn’t have all that flair. It often involves a person going to the church to give thanks and remember their patron saint before heading for a quiet meal with friends and family.

The friends wish the birthday person well by telling them bonne fete on name day and joyeux anniversaire. The French love a party, and both celebrations can become classic celebrations where they drink and toast to the birthday person.

Do French people celebrate any special or specific Birthdays?

The French people do have special birthdays. The birthdays are the 1st, then the 18th, then the 20th, and the 50th birthday. Due to the significance of these birthdays, most French people rarely let them pass without a celebration of some sort.

The 1st Birthdays

A child’s first birthday is a big deal, especially for the parents. That’s why they go out of their way to invite their friends. (the child won’t have any, of course). This will often be a simple gathering of friends and close family members to commemorate the child’s first year on earth.

The celebration will usually be at the child’s home. It is rare for it to be anywhere else.

The 18th Birthday

An 18th birthday is an important event in France because the person has now become an adult. They can now engage in some adult activities such as voting or getting a driver’s license. 18e anniversaire will often find most people in college, however. Therefore whether they have a party with the family will depend upon their availability.

If it’s a college party, some people love to celebrate it by having their first (or not the first) taste of alcohol. That’s because they will now be allowed by age to do that.

The 20th Birthday

20e anniversaire is an important birthday because people know that it is the youngest adult age with a zero. They will ever be for the rest of their lives. The French consider this birthday so unique that they even have a song, although it originated in 1934.

Here is how it goes.

On n’a pas tous les jours vingt ans

Ça nous arrive une fois seulement

C’est le jour le plus beau d’ la vie…”

The translation:

“We aren’t 20 years old every day

It only happens once to us

It’s the most beautiful day of life….”

The 50th Birthday

The 50th birthday is the next significant adult birthday with a zero. Most French people see it as the age they reach full maturity. Maybe that has to do with the fact that it’s halfway to 100 years. It is a more respected birthday than the 20th birthday. It will often involve family members throwing the birthday person a colossal party.

At a 50th birthday party, it is allowed to ditch the usual homemade cake typical of other birthdays in favor of a grand cake with candles. The 50th birthday is a milestone for most French people, so they pull out all stops to have a glamorous celebration if possible.

What Food is Eaten at a typical French Birthday Party?

The French love their food. Apart from the sweet treats typical of many birthday celebrations at birthday parties, several French dishes are a staple for birthday celebrations. Since the French people have a rich food culture, there are no specific foods you would associate with a French birthday.

Adults eat various foods at birthday parties, ranging from fruits (grapes, plums, pear, and apple slices) to cured meat. Roast beef is also a typical meal for adults celebrating their birthdays. The type of food that is eaten will depend on the place the party is held.

If at a restaurant, there might be a complimentary meal from the restaurant if they know it’s your birthday. If at home, people will eat what ever is their favorite! That might include ham sandwiches or even plain croissants with jam or butter. Basque chicken, lamb brochettes, and spicy sausages are options if someone wants to go all out with the food.

For drinks, champagne and French wine (eau de vie) are popular options to drown down the food. Brandy is a common drink for when people have overeaten at a birthday party.

The brandy, it is said, can burn holes through the food you’ve eaten and create space for more food. This concept originated from Normandy and is known as trou normand, where someone drinks an intense blend of brandy to help burn the holes through the food.

Sweets, chocolate, and biscuits are the most common foods at children’s parties like in most other countries. As most parents in the west indulge their children’s love for bingeing on sweet sugary foods at least once a year, many French families have also caved in to follow this tradition.

Do people have birthday cakes at their parties in France?

Yes, the French have cakes at their birthday parties. The cake might be a simple homemade treat unless they celebrate a milestone birthday that needs a more sophisticated cake. The French birthday cake isn’t the frosty ice cream cakes you might associate with other countries.

French cakes are more diverse and have numerous variations. For instance, you could have a fruit tart act as the birthday cake. Besides that, lemon cakes are also a popular variation for birthday cakes. The birthday cakes have decorations, but they rarely have the name of the person or particular messages.

Decorations might be with glazed fruits, whole nuts, chocolate swirls, or cream topping. The birthday cake will often be served after the guests have already eaten at the end of the party. The birthday cake might also have candles for the birthday person to blow and make a wish before cutting it and sharing with the guests.

Children’s birthday cakes might be themed along with their favorite cartoons or animals. A huge cake isn’t much of a priority for children’s birthdays since you can also have cupcakes.

Do People in France Give Gifts at Birthday Parties?

Apart from telling the birthday person joyeux anniversaire, it is obligatory to have a gift for the birthday person. The gift doesn’t have to be that expensive and will often depend on how close you and the birthday person are.

Still, one gift you can never go wrong with if it’s a French lady’s birthday are flowers. A live plant or a bouquet would be appreciated. French ladies love flowers. If you can’t get any other gift, a bouquet could be your saving grace. That isn’t to say they wouldn’t love it if you brought a gift card, jewelry, or money.

You also can’t go wrong with perfume or clothing depending on the tastes of the birthday person. For that, you will need to be quite familiar with the person to avoid getting something they don’t like. Children will love toys, books, games, or sugary treats like chocolate.  A bottle of wine or the latest bestselling book are also excellent French birthday gift ideas.

Basically, you can buy anything you want as long as you are sure the birthday person will love it. There are no taboos towards specific gifts in France.

You will love France because when you purchase a gift, it will often come already wrapped. You don’t have to look for your way of wrapping the gift. Store-wrapped gifts are popular because of their neatness and refined look that the birthday person will love. 

Is the Birthday Song or ‘Happy Birthday to You’ sung in France?

The French sing the French version of the famous happy birthday song. The song usually follows the same melody the English version goes with. Although there is a more complicated French version of the song that some people sing, the below is the most popular version.

Joyeux anniversaire,

Joyeux anniversaire,

Joyeux anniversaire XXXX,

Joyeux anniversaire!

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday to you, 

Happy birthday XXXX,

Happy birthday to you!

Follow the link below to see how the song is sung in French.

The above is the easy version, but if you feel you can crack the more complicated version, here it is. It follows the same tune as the more famous and easier version.

Bon anniversaire

Nos voeux les plus sincères

Que ces quelques fleurs

Vous apportent le bonheur

Que l’année entière

Vous soit douce et légère

Et que l’an fini

Nous soyons tous réunis

Pour chanter en choeur

Bon anniversaire!

And the translation:

Happy birthday

Our most sincere wishes

Than, these few flowers

Bring you happiness

That the whole year

You be soft and light

And that the year is over

We are all gathered

To sing in chorus

Happy birthday!


There are several things you might find interesting about birthdays in France. First, you need to know that the French words for wishing someone a happy birthday (Joyeux anniversaire) are the same for wishing someone a happy anniversary. So if you’ve been invited to a party, you aren’t sure if it is an anniversary or not, ask. The card might have the words anniversaire on it and trick you into thinking it’s an anniversary party when it’s a birthday!

We earlier mentioned that the French have two birthday celebrations. Well, the second celebration, which is the name day, isn’t usually a large event. It doesn’t feature the glitz and glamour of the leading birthday party.

The day is simply for someone to celebrate the day of the saint they were named after. Not many people show up for it, and no one is expected to come with a gift. The day is treated just like Father’s Day or Mother’s Day.


  • The French celebrate their birthdays in much the same way other Western countries- with a party full of the best French party food. The party involves family members and close friends and can either be at home or in a restaurant. A significant difference is that they celebrate their birthdays twice a year. However, the second celebration is a bland affair with a small number of people and no gifts given.
  • They have birthday cakes, but the cake can be tart. The cake doesn’t have frosted decorations most [people in the west would associate with a birthday cake. Instead, it is decorated with glazed fruits, nuts, and cream toppings.
  • They also give gifts to the birthday person, with the most prominent being flowers for ladies. All this helps ensure the birthday person feels special on their special day.
  • We hope you now understand better how the French celebrate their birthdays. When getting a gift for your French friend on their birthday, remember to let it be from your heart and not the pocket. They will appreciate a thoughtful gift rather than an expensive gift. And don’t forget to learn the French words for a happy birthday and surprise them with that alongside the other things you’ve learned here.

Samantha Bellerose

Samantha Bellerose is the creator and main writer for The Birthday Party Website. She is a mother to four kids and she loves preparing and planning birthday parties for her family and friends. Samantha is also the writer, creator and owner of several other websites and has found a passion for sharing her knowledge and experience as an educator online!

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