What is a Sarah Birthday?

A Traditional Way to Celebrate a 50th Birthday in the Netherlands

When you celebrate your 50th birthday, you are often seen as "over the hill." In contrast, the Sarah tradition in the Netherlands honors a woman gaining wisdom through experience. It is a major birthday that many look forward to and a cause for a great party.

What is a "Sarah" Birthday?

A tradition that hails from the Netherlands, the "Sarah birthday" is celebrated when a woman turns 50 and becomes a "Sarah." It means that she's old enough and wise enough to have 'seen Sarah," the biblical figure and wife of Abraham.

Likewise, when a man turns 50, he is an "Abraham," old enough to have "'seen Abraham."' This tradition is taken from the Bible, particularly John 8: 56-58.

In this passage, Jesus is asked how he could have seen Abraham if he hadn't yet reached fifty. He surprised the inquisitive Jews by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am”

Besides being Abraham's wife and a natural companion for "seeing Abraham," Sarah is revered for having a baby at an older age. In Genesis 18:10-12, the Bible tells the story of her giving birth well past her childbearing years.

Dutch Traditions for a Sarah Birthday

The Dutch took this Bible passage and turned it into a longstanding tradition. A person's fiftieth birthday is seen as a great occasion in everyone's life and there is typically a large party to celebrate.

One of the best-known and visible parts of a Sarah birthday is placing a life-sized doll in the front yard of the person who's turning 50.

It often appears overnight and is dressed and decorated by her family to represent her life and interests. Men have Abraham dolls appear, often dressed according to their occupation.

Over the years, these dolls were similar to scarecrows people decorate their porches with on Halloween: simple, folksy human-sized figures sitting in a chair.

In recent years, however, it's not unusual to see giant inflatable Sarahs and Abrahams in yards. Some of these even reach heights that can rival the home itself.

These dolls are often accompanied by a sign saying, "Sara 50 jaar” or "Abraham 50 jaar.” Jaar oud is Dutch for "years old." It doesn't mean that someone named Sarah or Abraham lives there, just that someone's celebrating their 50th birthday.

Beyond the yard dolls, Sarahs may receive visitors dressed up as Sarahs with costumes and masks. It's also common to bake a Sarah cake, bread, or cookie in the shape of a female figure.

Beyond the 50th Birthday

The Dutch have taken this a step further and assigned a couple to each decade of a person's life after 50.

  • At 60, you will have an "Isaac" or "Elisabeth" birthday.
  • At 70, you will celebrate a "Jacob" or "Anna" birthday.
  • At 80, it's time for a "Joseph" or "Deborah" birthday."
  • At 90, the party is all about "Anthony" or "Ruth."
  • If you are lucky to hit 100 years old, you have a "Methusalem" or "Judith" birthday to look forward to.