How Are Birthdays Celebrated in Italy? A Complete Guide.

On this website we investigate the unique ways people celebrate birthdays in different countries, from China to Japan and France, but how do people celebrate birthdays in Italy? In Italy, there are a few similarities between their way of celebrating and the other parts of the world. Likewise, there are also noticeable differences.

Italians celebrate birthdays in much the same way most other western countries do. It is usually a large feast full of song, dance, food, and generally merry-making at home or a restaurant. The birthday person cuts a cake and blows candles. And it’s the birthday person who foots the bill for the event. And since the guests aren’t paying for anything, they are required to come with gifts, although the gifts do not need to include a card! 

You might be wondering why someone should treat the guests while it is their big day. That isn’t all we can tell you about Italian birthdays. We have more to share, and if you read on, you will understand how the guests’ pay’ for the birthday person’s treat. The unique way Italians celebrate birthdays should make for interesting reading, so do read on.

Differences and Similarities Between Italian and Western Birthdays

Due to noticeable cultural differences between the Italian and the other Western cultures, there are various ways Italian birthdays differ from those 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!

Italian BirthdaysWestern Birthday
ImportanceBirthdays are a big deal in Italy. They can be unique if you want them to be and may occur at any age. A few people might defer celebrations for a bigger occasion, but ultimately, all birthdays are important days that should always be celebrated.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 that most people defer to for big occasions.
Significant BirthdaysThe most revered birthday in Italy is the 18th birthday. It is the equivalent of the 21st or 16th birthday in other western countries.Most Western people place significance on certain birthdays, such as 1st, 13th, 16th, and 21st, and then each decade’s birthday like a 30th or 40th thereafter. But any and every birthday can be celebrated. Some people even celebrate half birthdays!
CakeIn Italy, it’s not a birthday celebration if you can’t provide a cake. The cake is usually the event’s highlight, and guests will stay until it’s time to cut the cake. The cake might have candles that the birthday person can blow and make a wish.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.
FoodLike with most other birthday parties, Italian birthday food can be sugary food common with most parties. Sometimes it’s traditional Italian food. The food eaten will often depend on the birthday person’s tastes since they are in charge of everything.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. Still, many will offer a meal that includes the birthday person’s favorite food, followed by dessert.
Age on BirthdayIn Italy, a baby is zero at birth and turns a year older on the anniversary of their birth.In the west, a baby is zero when they are born, and each year on the anniversary of their birth, they turn a year older.
Date of BirthdayFor Italians, their birthday is on the day they were born. Although it might differ for older adults due to differences in registration, most people just go with the registered date.Most westerner’s birthdays are 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 themselves from the hassle, they just go with what the paperwork states.
When to celebrateIn Italy, the birthday can be on any day unless people are busy. If people are busy and your birthday falls on a weekday, it only makes sense to celebrate it over the weekend when everyone is around. Even if people are busy, the birthday will still take place around the actual date. They might wait for when people are free, but it will be soon after.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 dates.
How old are you?It isn’t polite to ask an Italian adult their age. Children, on the other hand, don’t mind being asked and it is okay to discuss the ages of children.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. On the other hand, parents are always telling everyone all about their children and their ages – it is okay to discuss the ages of children.
GiftsSince the birthday person will be the one footing all the bills, guests usually come with a gift. Money and any other gifts the birthday person will love are all okay. Birthday cards are not popular in Italy.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.
SongItalians do sing the happy birthday song as the birthday person cuts the cake. The song is an Italian version of the English happy birthday song.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 Italy Celebrate their birthdays?

Yes, Italians celebrate their birthdays. It usually includes a large feast with song, dance and good food. It is the birthday person or a close loved one such as their partner that is generally in charge of organizing the birthday party.

If it is a child’s birthday, then it will be the parents who organize the party. The parents also decide whether to have a party or not. At young children’s parties, the guests are mainly extended family and a few friends of the parents.

The birthday might be held at a restaurant or home, depending on the person’s budget. If the party is held at a restaurant or even if it is a get-together dinner for your birthday, the birthday person is expected to pay the bill. Most Italians opt to hold their parties at home where they can buy and make their own food to their liking and make sure everyone gets more than enough to eat.

Because it is the birthday person or close relative preparing and paying for everything, you can expect almost everything to be centered along what they love most. There will usually be lots of food and drinks, and the party will usually last an afternoon or evening. It is uncommon to have the party over several days unless at the discretion of the birthday person.

On the typical Italian birthday morning, the birthday person will usually start preparing for the gathering or party ahead early. They will often shop for the ingredients they might need or anything else to make the party a success.

Most birthday parties occur late in the evening. Many Italians love them that way since they notoriously take their time to prepare things. The birthday party, besides being an event that brings the birthday person’s family together, will also consist of their friends.

Do Italian people celebrate any special or specific Birthdays?

The Italian 18th Birthday

Italians have a significant birthday- the 18th birthday. This is for many Italian people is the biggest and hard-to-miss birthday party because of the symbolic coming of age theme. Even previously, frugal people will be a little frivolous to be able to have as special a party they can have since they are entering adulthood.

It isn’t uncommon to see Italians invite lots of people to their 18th birthday. For a change, they might even hire a venue and invite up to and over 100 guests to the event. An 18th birthday in Italy is the American equivalent of a 16th or 21st birthday or the Japanese equivalent of the 20th birthday.

The 18th birthday might follow a specific theme from clothing to the cake. There is a need to make it as memorable as possible. After all, you only turn 18 once, don’t you?

Besides plenty of food (there might be a buffet) there is lots of dancing. Sometimes the birthday person will compile a montage of their life so far. The snapshots of moments when the person was younger will prominently feature in such a montage. 

To emphasize just how important the 18th birthday is in Italy, there was a time (in 2016) the government would give Italian teens 500 Euros on their 18th birthday. They could spend the money any way they wanted, but it was mostly used on cultural sites like museums, art centres, concerts, and books—talk of an impressive gift from the government. You wouldn’t mind such a gift on your 18th birthday, would you? We hope they still get the gift.

Although most birthdays are special in Italy, they don’t come close to the 18th birthday. That’s why it is usually a large feast involving the person’s friends and family. If you wouldn’t get such a birthday again, wouldn’t you want it to be unique too?

What Food is Eaten at a typical Italian Birthday Party?

Italians love their food. That’s isn’t surprising seeing that Italy has been the source of some of the world’s most famous dishes. Therefore, you shouldn’t expect an Italian birthday party to be short on famous Italian traditional foods. 

Expect buffets with the most famous Italian dishes at an Italian birthday party, from pizza to the most delicious desserts like tiramisu. Like many other countries, the food will vary with the expected guests and the person celebrating their day. For instance, if it’s a children’s birthday, sweet sugary foods will be the more common.

Adults, however, will have a much-varied cuisine that’s heavily dependent on what the birthday person loves. You can expect to see popular appetizers, salads, desserts, and soups. Appetizers can be anything from fruits and nuts to cheese servings.

Mozzarella and gorgonzola are some of the famous Italian cheeses you might see on a platter. Pasta is a popular dish in Italy which is why you will likely find it at an Italian birthday party. The Pasta can be complemented by various other dishes then washed down with a serving of fine wine. 

Dessert will usually come with pastries and other irresistible Italian cuisines. The most famous desserts are frosted cookies, tiramisu, and cannoli. You shouldn’t be surprised to see some creative dishes at birthday parties, especially with the rich Italian food culture. It will, however, be the birthday person’s discretion especially if they are doing the cooking themselves for their guests.

Do people have birthday cakes at their parties in Italy?

Yes, Italians also have cakes at their birthdays. The cakes will usually come with different decorations, but the most famous decorations are the candles that the person will blow as they make a wish. Although you can expect to find a traditional Italian cake, there isn’t a specific type of cake eaten at Italian birthday parties.

The Tottal Alla Panna (traditional Italian cake) is a favorite of many people -if they know its recipe. From its name, the cake is made with whipped cream with some vanilla pudding then decorated with fruits.

Another crowd-pleaser is the tiramisu, a cake prepared with savioardi, cream cheese, cocoa, egg yolk, and coffee.

Genoise is a type of sponge cake that’s famous in Italy. These could also be a favorite at birthday parties, depending on the organizer’s tastes.

That being said, most people will, however, just purchase a cake to make the birthday preparations easier. If you are preparing a lot of food for your birthday party guests, you wouldn’t want to use too much time baking the cake. That’s why many Italians prefer to buy a cake and spend their time preparing the food that will be eaten at the event instead.

Do People in Italy Give Gifts at Birthday Parties?

Yes, people in Italy give gifts at birthday parties. Since the birthday person is treating their guests to a party and meal, it is only fair that they are given a gift. The types of gifts given at birthday parties will often vary from jewelry to money and even clothes.

Jewelry is one of the most popular gift alternatives for Italian girls and older women.

For the Italian men, you could buy them a shirt, a watch or even shoes. It all depends on your budget and how close you are to the birthday person. If you and the birthday person are close, you might want to get them an elaborate gift. 

For the gift in at an Italian birthday, you can choose anything. There aren’t many gifts Italians frown upon, but as you read on you will see why it is important to be selective in your choice and really put some effort into buying your gift rather than just choosing a gift card, unless the birthday person has told you that is what they would like.

Do People in Italy Give or Send Birthday Cards?

No, birthday cards do not play an important part in Birthdays and gift-giving in Italy. Most Italians do not mind if you get them one, and it won’t be missed if you do not give one. A good greeting card is therefore hard to find in Italy as they are not commonly bought or given.

You will therefore need to wrap the gift nicely and decorate the gift box with beautiful flowery ribbons if you can. Because as there is no card something that interest you about gifts in Italy is that they will be opened in full view of everyone.

Italians deem it rude for someone to open their birthday gifts alone – thus why there is no need for a card! With that, it means as I was alluding to earlier that you can’t get a mediocre gift since everyone will see it unwrapped.

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

Italians, like many other people from the world’s countries, sing the happy birthday song. It even follows the same tune as the English version, only that it is usually in Italian. The birthday song is called Tanti auguri a te, which means happy birthday to you.

Here is how it goes.

Tanti auguri a te (Happy birthday to you)

Tanti auguri a te (Happy birthday to you)

Tanti auguri [name] (Happy birthday, [name])

Tanti auguri a te (Happy birthday to you)

Here is the YouTube link to the melodious tune.

The above song is the main song Italians sing for someone during a birthday celebration. There might be more, but it is by far the most popular.


Ear Pulling

Apart from having to unwrap your birthday presents in everyone’s presence and the birthday person being the one to treat people, there is something else interesting about birthdays in Italy- ear pulling. You read that right; people pull your earlobes in Italy on your birthday!

They pull your ears for each of the years you’ve been alive.

So, if you’re twenty, your friends will pull your ears twenty times as they wish you all the best life has to offer in your new year. We can only imagine how painful your ears would be if you were celebrating your 50th or 70th birthday.

So generally people will not do it that roughly (unless it is a sibling – LOL) as no one really wants to hurt the birthday person on their special day.

Perhaps you could steal the tradition and try it at the next birthday party you get an invitation to? Remember not to sour the event by pulling the person’s ears too hard, though!

Italian Birthday Parties Start Late

By late, we mean late. You’d expect a birthday party to be during the day or early in the evening. Italians, however, might have it as late as ten pm at night onwards. Surprising, isn’t it? It is an Italian tradition to have such celebrations late in the night, though.

If you’re invited to an Italian birthday party then maybe you shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry since you might be the first one to arrive.


Although primarily similar to most western world birthdays, Italian birthdays have a few differences that would raise some people’s eyebrows.

  • Most of us cannot imagine not having to be treated like kings or queens on someone elses birthday and get all the treats we want. Yet that’s what happens in Italy because it is the birthday person that treats their guests. But it isn’t all that grim, though, since the guests then compensate for it with the gifts they bring.
  • Turning 18 in Italy is a big deal. So much that the government once gifted lucky teens who were turning 18 with 500 euros! That should be a worthy gift considering you could get your earlobes pulled eighteen times when you throw your guests a party in the evening!
  • People pull the Birthday Person’s earlobe affectionately for the amount of years they have been alive.
  • It is not uncommon for a Birthday party to start at 10pm in the evening!

That being said, birthdays in Italy seem like a celebration anyone would want to miss. That’s the reason you should have your Italian friend (if you have one) invite you to one. You could share a few of the facts you’ve seen here, and don’t forget to get them the ideal gift as they’ll be treating you.

While at it, make them smile by telling them Buon compleanno! (Italian for happy birthday)

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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