How do you like to celebrate your birthday? Many around the world enjoy small celebrations with friends and family. And, of course, a bit of cake and alcohol to celebrate another year gone by.
As you might imagine, though, the Royal Family does things a bit different. They have their own birthday traditions and rituals, and none of them more elaborate than Queen Elizabeth. Then again, Elizabeth’s birthday this year is completely different.
How does the Royal Family celebrate their birthdays, and why is the queen changing things up? We’ve got the full story.
Why the Queen has two birthdays
When it comes to royalty, nobody is more important than Queen Elizabeth. And this typically results in special treatment for her own birthdays. The queen was born on April 21, 1926, meaning she celebrated her 95th birthday in 2021.
But when it comes to royal tradition, the Queen usually celebrates two birthday ceremonies. One is for her actual birthday in April and the other is on the second Saturday in June. Called The Queen’s Official Birthday, the monarch’s birthday is celebrated as an official holiday in certain parts of the Commonwealth on this day. This tradition goes back to King George II in 1748, who lamented the weather during his November birthday and decided to celebrate when things were warmer.
The Queen’s Birthday usually involves public celebrations as well. People gather in the streets to watch the Trooping of the Color parade as well as a performance from the Royal Air Force.
Another classic birthday tradition is the gun salute. This typically involves a 41-gun salute in Britain’s Hyde Park, a 21-gun salute over in Windsor Park, and a 62-gun salute at the Tower of London.
Sometimes, the celebration involves plenty of great music. When Elizabeth turned 92, she attended a concert at Royal Albert Hall. The concert was partially symbolic, with performers representing different countries within the British Commonwealth. Performers that year included Kylie Minogue, Shaggy, Sting, and Shawn Mendes.
A different year for the Queen
A typical birthday celebration for the Queen involves many special events. This year, however, things are very different.
For her actual birthday on April 21, the queen celebrated quietly in her home rather than attending any public celebration. This is partially because she is still mourning Prince Philip and partially because she has been isolating herself due to COVID-19.
Additionally, there will be no gun salute for the same reasons. Due to COVID-19 concerns, there was no gun salute last year, either. And she is forgoing releasing any new portraits of herself for her birthday.
Finally, Elizabeth has canceled her second birthday celebration in June (which includes canceling the Trooping the Color parade). This is her second year in a row canceling this major event, due to the pandemic. However, if the Queen is in good spirits, she may celebrate with a handful of family members in June instead of a major public ceremony.
Leisure time (but not all the time)
It’s not always easy to relate to royalty. But there is one royal birthday tradition most of us can get behind: taking the day off!
Whenever possible, royals like to kick back and take it easy on their big day. And that means clearing their official schedule of any meetings or other important appearances.
Sadly, this isn’t always possible. For example, Prince William spent his birthday in 2018 attending the opening ceremonies for the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre in Northampton. And that same year, Meghan Markle spent her birthday celebrating the wedding of Harry’s close friend Charlie van Straubenzee.
Keeping a low profile
The next royal birthday tradition is related to the first. While there are exceptions for certain people and certain events, many royals prefer to keep a very low profile on their birthday.
Examples of this include Prince William and Kate Middleton, both of whom often enjoy spending their birthdays quietly at home. And even Queen Elizabeth typically celebrates a quiet birthday, though this year, she was effectively in mourning over the death of Prince Philip.
This particular birthday tradition actually makes a lot of sense. When you spend most of your life in front of cameras and surrounded by strangers, a quiet birthday at home with friends and family starts looking like a pretty good idea!
While most royals prefer keeping things private and lowkey for their birthday, there are certain exceptions. For example, some royals like to ring in milestone birthdays with special events.
The best example of this in recent memory is Prince Charles. In 2018, he was going to turn 70 years old in November. But he decided to celebrate early in May, and he did so with a gala celebration that had 300 special guests.
These guests included big names like Dame Judy Dench, Stephen Fry, and Sir Kenneth Branagh. Not a bad way to celebrate a milestone birthday!
Grand cake designs
Royalty loves the taste of birthday cake as much as anyone else. But when you’re royalty, you also get to commission some very special cake designs to celebrate your big day.
Back in 2016, Queen Elizabeth turned 90 years old. And the Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain received the flattering (but intimidating) request to bake the queen a special birthday cake.
In an interview with NPR, Hussain detailed how she felt when she received the request. “My initial reaction was ‘no,’ because I was so afraid of getting it horribly wrong. And then it dawned on me that I can’t say no to the queen. So once I got over the nerves, I thought, well, actually this is such an honor, how can I possibly say no?”
Instead of going over the top, Hussain went with a minimalist approach. It was colorful, covered in orange drizzle, and best of all, approved by the queen!
Funny royals, funny cakes
The exact kind of cake a royal gets is usually a reflection of their personality. And if a royal has a wicked sense of humor, this sometimes results in some wickedly funny cakes.
Princess Di had a great sense of humor, especially when it came to her children, William and Harry. And in an interview with Hello! Magazine, her head chef Darren McGrady dished about the strangest cake she had ordered.
“I came into work that morning and went down to the refrigerator, opened the door and I was just confronted with the biggest pair of boobs I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “The Princess had ordered a boobs cake for William’s 13th birthday.”
We can only imagine how much this made young William blush.
One of the simpler royal birthday traditions involves portraits. Specifically, royals typically unveil new portraits of themselves on their birthdays.
Last year, Princess Anne celebrated turning 70 by releasing three new portraits instead of one. And while that was to help celebrate this milestone birthday, you can usually count on royalty to unveil at least one new portrait per year.