Birthdays are especially important to the very young and the very old. On their birthday, people receive birthday cards and birthday presents from their family and friends. Children’s cards often have a large number on them showing how old they are. Cards for adults have pictures of flowers or scenery, or humorous or rude cartoons. Inside there is usually a simple greeting, such as ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Many Happy Returns of the Day’. Children expect to receive a special birthday present from their parents. As they get older, many expect larger, more expensive presents, such as a music system or a television.In the US children who have their birthdays during the school year take a cake to school and have a small party with their class. In Britain children sometimes get bumped by their friends (= lifted off the ground horizontally and put down again sharply), the same number of times as their age. Some US parents have the custom of spanking their child, once for each year of their age.Many younger children invite their friends to a birthday party at their home. Balloons are often tied to the gate of the house where the party is being held. Children wear their party clothes and take a present. They play party games such as ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ or ‘musical chairs’. Sometimes parents arrange for an entertainer such as a magician to visit the house. After the games there is a special tea with a birthday cake. The cake is covered with sugar icing (AmE frosting), and has small candles on top, the same number of candles as the child’s age. As the cake is carried into the room with the candles lit, everyone sings ‘ Happy Birthday To You! ’ and then the birthday boy or birthday girl tries to blow out all the candles with one breath and makes a secret wish.In the US the 16th birthday is called sweet sixteen. It is the age at which a person can get a US driver’s licence, and some wealthier parents give their children a car as a present. At 18, in Britain and in the US, young people become adults and many have a big party. In most parts of the US 21 is the age at which people can drink alcohol legally. In Britain people celebrate 21st birthdays less than when 21 was the age at which they became adults.Many adults dislike getting older and a few lie about their age, saying they are younger than they really are. But in general older people are now much more willing to tell others their age. You may see a sign by the side of a road saying: ‘Dave Ellis 40 today!’, put there by Dave’s friends. At about 65 people retire, and those who have reached this age are called ‘senior citizens’. Few people live to be 100, so a 100th birthday is very special. In Britain people reaching this age may receive card containing a printed message from the Queen.
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