No Birthdays in Bhutan?

Living in a largely Buddhist kingdom nestled high in the Himalyas, the Bhutanese do not typically celebrate their birthdays. Writing in Travel + Leisure, Alan Brown credited this to their measuring time by “sunrises and seasons, not by dates.” In fact, when citizenship cards were issued to the Bhutanese everyone was given the birth date of January 1. Some 60% of people didn’t even know their date of birth!

Yet this is a kingdom that has eschewed GDP in favor of Gross National Happiness. They value happiness above all, but don’t have Happy Birthdays?!

Perhaps this says something about happiness coming from doing good and being part of something larger rather than focusing on the self. Still, giving up honoring the individual on his or her birthday would not make me happy. Nevertheless, I love this tradition shared by a Canadian teaching in Bhutan, in which schoolchildren share toffees (he baked cookies) so as to give on a birthday rather than receive.

Smiling Bhutanese schoolchildren. Source:

Smiling Bhutanese schoolchildren. Source:

Two Bhutan travel companies I visited online also noted that younger generations are now more particular about their birth dates and the birthday celebration trend is growing among urban dwellers.

Plus, Bhutan’s royal family members are feted on their birthdays. The reigning king’s birthday garners three days of festivals. Now, that’s a birthday!


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