What’s so special about 21st birthdays?

Now, if there’s a birthday to celebrate I will put my hand up and say that my interest is very much piqued. Cake, beer, and if you’re lucky a barbecue too? Count me in.

Whilst I was devouring my well-done beef and red pepper burger slathered with ketchup at the last birthday celebration I attended, I found myself lost in thought.

What is the significance of the big, the massive, the HUGE 21st birthday?

Most people still feel that there is still some special, sparkly significance behind this age in particular, but in the process of researching the meaning of the 21st birthday I discovered it doesn’t quite mean the same as in past times.

In the US, it means being able to enjoy your first (legal) alcoholic beverage, but for Brits in times gone by this was the medieval moment that a noble young lad was considered “of age” and would be knighted.

I can hear the distant cheers now, as the sword taps my shoulders accepting my new found nobility with great aplomb – ‘Sir Joe,’ has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?

It’s a lot more difficult to get knighted nowadays, as I can tell you from experience, but that at least explains why the 21st Birthday is so special in the UK. But why does the 21st birthday still carry so much significance around the globe?A man with some pancakes contemplates the significance of his 21st birthday

The Jewel in The Crown

First let’s visit the Netherlands, where the 21st birthday is celebrated with a fair amount of panache.

Here, the 21st birthday is typically known as the ‘crown year,’ because supposedly this is the year in which young adults start being treated like kings and queens. Not quite in the same ballpark as being knighted, but if this was the rule in my house (or should that be palace?) I know I wouldn’t be complaining.

Newly crowned Dutch folk typically receive a more grandiose gift than usual, as well as a chair adorned with paper streamers and flowers painstakingly decorated by their parents for the dining room table.

And to top it off they will be treated to a stack of delicious pancakes. A meal undoubtedly fit for kings (and queens) that will surely make for an unforgettable 21st.

A Coo-Key Celebration in South Africa

Meanwhile in the Southern hemisphere your 21st is literally a ‘key’ moment if you’re celebrating in South Africa.

As well as the requisite birthday celebration the birthday boy or girl will receive a key made out of either gold, silver or aluminium.

Is this, you’re probably asking, the key to a Porsche or perhaps their very own home, in the style of MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen?

Not quite. This key is more symbolic and represents the start of their adulthood life, helping them to ‘unlock’ their future.

Australians too, put a lot of significance on keys. This time though, things are more straightforward.

In Australia the giving of a key to the family home to the birthday boy or girl on their 21st birthday shows that they are now allowed to come and go as they please.

So for all you parents out there, bear that in mind when thinking about who rules the roost!

A 21st birthday cake

To have your cake and…. give it?

All the way to South America now, one of the most vibrant continents in the world, known for its  delicious food, mindblowing carnivals, skilful dancing and legendary football teams.

As you might expect South American 21st birthday celebrations are BIG parties. But there’s one particular aspect that carries some extra meaning.

Now, I know as soon as I see my those candles on top of my birthday cake my immediate thought is to greedily devour the first piece. In Brazil, it’s a little bit more selfless. The cake, or ‘bolo de aniversário’ is cut as usual, but the first piece is given to a special person chosen by the birthday boy or girl.

So if you’re a fan birthday cake and have a friend’s 21st coming up, stay in their good books and you could be the anointed recipient of that special slice.

If you need a little helping hand with what to get that important soon-to-be grown-up for their 21st birthday, and don’t feel like decorating a chair or surrendering the keys to your house, why not create a personalised book celebrating their milestone

We give a quick and easy solution to making a personalised gift for those you love, full of fun facts and information about the day they were born.

The Book of Everyone - the perfect personalised 21st birthday present


  1. Hello, I’ve ordered birthday books for various members of the family, but we have an 18th Birthday coming in July. Do you do a special book for an 18 year old to celebrate ? their birthday.
    Many Thanks

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