How Are Birthdays Celebrated in Kenya? A Complete Guide

Birthdays in Kenya have lots of significance. It is unheard of to skip a birthday celebration, even if it means having a small and simple celebration. I, for one, have celebrated each one of my birthdays since I can last remember, with the 18th birthday being quite memorable. Birthdays in Kenya aren’t that much different from any other place in the world. Still, there are a few things that Kenyans do differently.

 Kenyans celebrate their birthdays with family and friends. They are usually large feasts with many people, although some people might opt for simpler celebrations. Kenyan birthdays are pretty similar to those in the West, with one major difference being in the food that is eaten.

But that’s not all you have to know on Kenyan birthdays since I have many more things to share. Do read on to find out how they vary from your country or those you have visited.   Perhaps you might find that some practices your country shares with Kenya when it comes to celebrating birthdays.

Differences and Similarities Between Kenyan and Western Birthdays

Due to noticeable cultural differences between the Kenyan and the Western culture, there are various ways in which Kenyan 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!

Kenyan BirthdaysWestern Birthday
ImportanceLike in the West, birthdays in Kenya are also quite popular. They are seen as a huge achievement, especially when measured alongside everything the birthday boy or girl has achieved. They are celebrated at any age from the first birthday right on to advanced age birthdays.In the West, any birthday can pretty much be special if you want it to be and you can have celebrations at any age, although there are some most people defer to for big occasions.
Significant BirthdaysKenyans place significance on a few birthdays. A baby’s first birthday is seen as a massive milestone by the parents and is usually marked with a cake even if the toddler can’t eat the cake! The 18th birthday is the next significant birthday alongside the 40th birthday. Although they might vary in significance, pretty much any birthday is seen as special by Kenyans.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 thereafter for example. But any and every birthday can be celebrated. Some people even celebrate half birthdays!
CakeIt isn’t a birthday without a cake! In fact the cake gains more significance the more the birthday girl or boy ages. Although there is a time especially during the college years where the cake isn’t that important at birthday parties.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.
FoodThe main food at a Kenyan birthday party is usually the Kenyan staple of ugali (maize meal) and nyama choma (roast meat). That will, however, depend on whether the birthday boy or girl can afford it. At children’s parties, it’s usually lots of sugary foods and sweets.The point is to usually have the birthday boy or girl decide on the meal to be eaten in their birthday celebration.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 BirthdayLike in the West, babies in Kenya are also at age zero when they are born. They add a new year on the anniversary of their birth.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 BirthdayThe date of the birthday for most Kenyans is also the day they were born. Older people might have different birth dates, but they always go with the date on their national identity cards.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, and to save hassle they just go with what the paperwork states.
When to celebrateIn Kenya, the birthday is usually celebrated on the actual day the person was born or a few days later. It might take a few extra days to celebrate their birthday, but it has to be not more than a week after the actual date.Early birthday celebrations are unheard of since most people think they might jinx themselves.In the West, if your birthday falls on a week day, 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 are able to 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?Although Kenyans are friendly people, you can’t go around asking adult strangers their age. It is rude, and you will most probably get rude stares for that. However, if you are known to them, and it’s around their birthday, you can ask them their age, and they will tell you.Children have no qualms about being asked how old they are.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.
GiftsYou are required to carry a gift to a Kenyan birthday party. Kenyans being the courteous people they are, they wouldn’t show up for a birthday party without a gift which is why a thoughtful gift would be welcome.Money or some other gift the birthday person would love is okay for a gift.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 happy birthday song is also sung at Kenyan birthdays with the birthday person then told to blow the candles on the cake and make a wish.Although there is a Swahili version of the happy birthday song, most people sing it in English.There are other birthday songs by African singers that people sing along to.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 Kenya Celebrate their Birthday?

People in Kenya celebrate their birthdays. For some people, it is one of the most anticipated days of any calendar year because age is revered in Kenya. Some even start reminding people of their birthday when a new year begins.

It is typical of any Kenyan to have respect for elders. That’s one reasons why birthdays are important in Kenya- they give someone the chance to be seen as mature. The thinking is that with each passing birthday you gain the right to be respected on account of your age.

For younger people, the birthday celebrations will usually depend on the parents’ mood, but as the years roll by and someone grows up, they are more likely to throw themselves a party.

A typical birthday party for a child involves the parents taking a cake to school for the child to share with their friends. Some sugary foods, mostly sweets, are also involved as well as some sugary drinks like juice.

Older persons will most likely call friends and family for a drink or two after cutting the cake as they reminisce on old times. It is in college, however, where the mother of all birthday parties are thrown.

College students in Kenya, while celebrating their birthdays, don’t care much about the cake. As long as there are enough alcoholic drinks to go around. For the four years I was in college, I celebrated my birthday four times with a cake being present for only one party.

Do Kenyan people celebrate any special or specific Birthdays?

Although birthdays are an important part of any Kenyan life, some birthdays are more important than others. The first birthday will most likely be a milestone only that the birthday person won’t know or understand what’s going on around them.

They get the chance to revel in a more significant birthday, however, when they turn 18. The 18th birthday is a massive one for most Kenyans since it is the age at which they are recognized as adults. At 18, a Kenyan gains the right to vote and the right to own a driving license. There is also some form of freedom as most of them want to think of themselves as adults.

18 is also the most likely age at which most Kenyan youths head to the university or college and taste independent living.

The 40th birthday is also a massive one for Kenyans, especially if they have been successful and have a family. The other decade birthdays might be important, but they aren’t as significant as the above.

All birthdays are equal, but some birthdays are more equal than others!

What Food is eaten at a typical Kenyan Birthday Party?

Kenya is a multicultural country with numerous communities. As such, the foods eaten at birthday parties might vary slightly. However, there are some which are usually ever-presents for birthday parties.

A typical Kenyan birthday party will involve the birthday person’s favorite food. Kenyans love meat in any form. It is therefore common to see meat eaten at birthdays accompanied by any other food. The main accompaniment, however, is usually ugali, a Kenyan staple made with maize or corn flour.

Nyama choma (roast meat) is especially hard to miss depending on the financial predisposition of the birthday boy or girl. Some people go out of their way to even slaughter a goat or sheep to celebrate their birthday. Some traditional variants are made from meat, with the most famous, mutura, being quite delicious.

Kenyan Pilau, rice cooked in well-seasoned spices and mixed with either meat or chicken, is another food you will find at a Kenyan birthday party. It is a favorite for many Kenyans and wouldn’t miss at any party leave alone a birthday party. This is usually prepared earlier in the day then eaten for lunch.

French fries are also quite common at birthday parties. Although not a Kenyan meal it is quite common to see them eaten at a Kenyan birthday. They are, however, more popular with children than adults.

Chicken is also another favorite at a Kenyan birthday party. Although chicken is well-loved across the country, some Kenyan communities wouldn’t call it a party if there is no chicken involved. I happen to be a member of that community!

Closing off the list of the most common birthday foods is chapati. Chapati, or tortilla as it’s popularly known around certain parts of the world, can’t miss at any Kenyan event, let alone birthday celebrations. It is often enjoyed with meat or bean stew at Kenyan birthdays.

Do people have birthday cake at their parties in Kenya?

People have a cake at their birthday parties in Kenya. The cake is quite important, especially if it’s a kid’s birthday or an older person’s birthday. As people age, they want to keep in touch with their childhood, explaining why the cake gains more significance with each passing birthday.

The cake usually has a candle that the person blows out then makes a wish. The birthday boy or girl cuts the cake with the help of a close friend or a loved one as they are serenade with the below Swahili song.

Kataa kata! (Kata)

Kataa kata! (Kata)

Kata usiogope! (Kata)

The song is the Swahili word for cut, and it encourages the person to cut the cake.

Do People in Kenya Give Gifts at Birthday Parties?

Kenyans give gifts at birthday parties. Unless under particular circumstances, it would appear rude to show up to a birthday party without a gift. However, that doesn’t mean you have to put off attending a birthday party on account of a gift.

Any types of gifts are welcome as long as the birthday boy or girl will like them. Typical gifts include money, jewellery, a dress, or even a card. There are also some instances where the birthday girl or boy is treated to lunch or dinner.

There are no particular traditions to giving gifts. You don’t have to worry about setting off a person with a not-so-conventional gift. Kenyans being the ever courteous people, will receive any gift they get without any qualms.

It is unheard of for a Kenyan to reject a gift unless they just don’t like it.

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

The Happy birthday song is sung in Kenya whenever the birthday boy or girl is cutting the cake. It is usually the English version of the song, which is more popular, although there is a Swahili version.

The Swahili version is a more popular option for Kenyans who live in the Coastal cities of Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, and others. It is loosely based on the English version of the happy birthday song.

Here is how it goes:

Siku ya Kuzaliwaaa

Your day of birth

Furahia Leo

Enjoy it today

Furahia (name of the person)

Enjoy it (name of person)

Siku ya Kuzaliwaaa!

Your day of birth

Some other popular songs are played at Kenyan birthday parties. They are attributed to several artists who sang them specifically for birthday celebrations. Tanzanian musician, Harmonise’s song, Happy Birthday, is a popular Swahili song played at almost every birthday party in Kenya.

Kenya and Tanzania share the same official language, Swahili. The song, therefore, became an instant birthday hit as soon as it landed.

You can check out the song on YouTube

Likewise, The Kata song by Kenyan music group Matata is usually played at birthday parties. However, it is more popular with young people. The song only premiered in 2020 and isn’t as popular with a wide range of people.


Kenyans revel in celebrating their birthdays, with the 18th and 40th birthdays being some of the most significant. Typical Kenyan birthdays are usually a family and close friend affair, and various types of food are eaten.

The cake gains significance as the person gets older. However, it is merely a symbolic pointer to the person’s past childhood. Keeping up with the Kenya spirit of Hakuna Matata (no problems, no worries), do get a gift for your Kenyan friend on their birthday. They will love it.

We hope you now have a better idea of how things go down at a Kenyan birthday party. If you have a Kenyan friend, surprise them with a few facts you learned here.

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