Birthday celebrations in France look a lot like birthday celebrations in the United States. Cake, candles, gifts, and even the "Happy Birthday" song (which the French have adapated from our American version by singing "Joyeux Anniversaire" over and over against the classic melody). In fact, I like to tease Pascal about this. You see, he insists that the French invented or did "everything" first. A few examples: Cinema? Invented by a Frenchman. Frank Sinatra's "My Way"? Ol' Blue Eyes covered a French song. Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea"? Another French cover. The Birdcage? An American remake of La Cage aux Folles. Before the Internet, there was Minitel. You're starting to get the idea. But, the Happy Birthday song? That was American first.
However, when it comes to French birthdays, the French still have one up on us, because in France, many people are lucky enough to celebrate two birthdays per year.
For centuries, the French population was predominantly Catholic. It was tradition for parents to name their children (first and/or middle name) after one of the saints. Most Catholic people in France celebrate their name day (la fête du jour) on Saint's Day, the day of the year set aside for their namesake's feast.
For example, if you're given name is Pascal, then you would have your name day on May 17th, because the 17th of May is "le jour de la fête de la saint Pascal". In other words, Pascal gets to celebrate his birthday on April 8th (his actual birthday) and May 17th too! In most families, however, a Saint Day is a more modest affair that an actual birthday, simply acknowledged with a card, a greeting (Happy Name Day!), or a small treat. Others receive gifts and have a celebratory meal on the saint's day associated with their name, just as they would on their birthday.
Other differences between American and French birthdays? Sending or giving birthday cards in France is not nearly as popular as it is here. There is no French "Hallmark" and until recent years, the choice in French birthday cards was dismal at best. What they lack in greeting cards, the French make up for in professional gift-wrapping. Most stores still provide complimentary gift wrap for purchases, meaning that birthday gifts are usually wrapped by a "pro" rather than someone at home with wrapping paper and tape. Also, the cakes in France are different. As you might imagine, there is no shortage of great cakes and pastries and desserts in France. On a French birthday, one might be just as likely to have a "birthday tart" or some other dessert in lieu of what we Americans think of as traditional birthday cake.
And this, friends, leads us to bon bons and the creation of our South 'n France birthday labels. We've created two (one pink, one blue) for you to give your favorite birthday girls and boys. Send bon bons on their actual birthday; or send them on their Saint's Day. No matter when you send them, we guarantee they'll make any birthday a happy one.