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Almost universally, human beings celebrate the anniversary of the day a person was born by throwing a party with a specially made cake, usually decorated with lettering and the person's age. The cake is traditionally studded with the same number of lit candles as the age of the individual, or a number candle representing their age. The celebrated individual will usually make a silent wish and attempt to blow out the candles with one breath; if successful, tradition holds that the wish will be granted. In most cultures, the wish must be kept secret or it won't "come true."

Gifts wrapped in paper are typically bestowed upon the individual by friends and family. Other birthday activities may include entertainment, or a special toast or speech by the birthday celebrant. The last stanza of Patty Hill's and Mildred Hill's famous song, "Good Morning to You" (unofficially titled "Happy Birthday to You") is typically sung by the guests at some point in the proceedings.