Birthday Customs and Traditions in Germany

High Angle View Of Lit Candles On Birthday Cake On Table
Achim Schuelke / EyeEm / Getty Images

Many people, both young and old, love celebrating their birthday. In Germany, like in most countries around the world, cake, presents, family, and friends bring in the fun for such a special day. In general, birthday customs in Germany are similar to American birthday celebrations, with a few peculiar exceptions sprinkled here and there throughout German-speaking countries.

German Birthday Customs and Traditions(Deutsche Geburtstagsbräuche und Traditionen)

Never wish a German a happy birthday before their birthday. It is considered bad luck to do so. There are no well-wishes, cards or presents given before a German’s birthday. Period.

On the other hand, if you live in certain parts of Austria, it is customary to celebrate your birthday on the eve of.

If somebody in Germany invites you out for their birthday, the tab is on them. And don’t try insisting on paying for yourself — it won’t work.

If you live in northern Germany and happen to be single going on thirty, a few chores may be expected from you. If you’re female, your friends will want you to clean a few doorknobs for them with a toothbrush! If you’re male, then you’ll most likely be sweeping the stairs of town hall or some other busy public place.
There is a way to be freed from such menial tasks, however — by a kiss from someone of the opposite sex. Of course, if you don't want to be so mean to your friend, there are alternatives. For instance, the doorknob chore is sometimes executed by having the birthday girl clean a series of doorknobs attached to a wooden board instead, right at her party and not in public. But you can't let them off so easy; it is also tradition to comically dress the birthday girl and boy as they perform their tasks.

Other birthday customs include:

  • 16th Birthday: This birthday child should run for cover as his or her friends will undoubtedly pour flour on top of his or her head. Common in northern Germany.
  • 18th Birthday: Cracking eggs over the head of someone turning 18.
  • 25th Birthday: Once again, if you are an unmarried man, the whole town will know! A Sockenkranz, a type of garland of socks is strung outside the home and around the birthday boy’s property leading to his party. As he follows the garland of socks, he’ll down an alcoholic drink every few meters. Why socks? In German, you have the expression alte Socke (an old sock), more of a derogatory way of saying "confirmed bachelor.” A similar experience awaits unmarried women turning this age. They follow a garland of cigarette cartons instead (or other similar-sized cartons if they are non-smokers). These single women are nicknamed eine alte Schachtel (an old box), similar in meaning to "old maid."


These are beautifully decorated wooden rings that usually contain ten to twelve holes, one for each year of life as a child. Some families opt to light candles in such Geburtstagskränze instead of on the cake, though blowing out candles on a birthday cake is frequently observed in Germany as well. A bigger Lebenskerze (life candle) is put in the center of these rings. In religious families, these Lebenskerzen are given at the time of the child’s christening.

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Bauer, Ingrid. "Birthday Customs and Traditions in Germany." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Bauer, Ingrid. (2023, April 5). Birthday Customs and Traditions in Germany. Retrieved from Bauer, Ingrid. "Birthday Customs and Traditions in Germany." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).