The Real Reason Why The Queen Has Two Birthdays

On April 21, 2018, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 92nd birthday. On June 9, 2018, Queen Elizabeth II also celebrated her 92nd birthday. Wait, what? We'll explain.

With one exception, the Queen's birthday has been commemorated not once, but twice per year since she ascended the throne. So, while she may in fact be 92 years old as of this writing, she's actually had over 150 birthday celebrations. But, why? It's no secret that the royal family has some very unusual longstanding traditions. One of those traditions is the reason for the Queen's dual birthdays — and it stems from hundreds of years ago. Though, even if it hadn't, you could reason that Queen Elizabeth — who's been ruling for practically forever — can have as many birthday parties as she pleases. You know, since she's the Queen of England and all.

Here's the real story behind the Queen's twice annual birthdays. Hint: it's not to get more birthday presents. At least, we don't think so.

The Queen's "actual birthday"

Queen Elizabeth II, or Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary as she was once known, was born on April 21, 1926. According to the official website of the royal family, this date is known as her "actual birthday." As her title suggests, the princess was born into royalty as the daughter of Prince Albert, who would later become King George VI, and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, now known as the late Queen Mother. From 1926 to 1951, the then-princess would celebrate her birthday like the rest of us. Well, sort of. At least in that she only had one per year. 

Even as a princess, her birthday was a big deal. On her sixteenth birthday, Princess Elizabeth fulfilled her first public engagement, as well as her first military inspection. After a ceremony chock full of pomp and circumstance, the young princess met with members of the military. This wasn't your average Sweet 16 party, that's for sure.

She usually celebrates in private

April 21st was once a very public and official day for Princess Elizabeth. When she started ruling as Queen, however, that all changed. The royal family's official website explained that Queen Elizabeth II "usually spends her actual birthday privately" these days. Nevertheless, her day of birth is publicly recognized.

Just as when a new member of the royal family is born, the Queen's birthday is announced and marked by way of a gun salute in central London. At midday, "a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London" can be heard, according to the site.

While you're not likely to see the Queen out and about on her actual birthday too often, there are exceptions. The Guardian reported in 2006 that Queen Elizabeth spent nearly 45 minutes greeting upwards of 20,000 well-wishers outside of Windsor Castle on her 80th birthday. In 2016, on her 90th birthday, the Queen again greeted those waiting near the castle. 

The Queen's "official birthday"

In 1952, not long after Queen Elizabeth was appointed to the throne, she would attend her first Trooping of the Colour parade as the head of state. This parade would also be the start of the Queen's "official birthday." Instead of being on the same day each year, this birthday is typically on the second Saturday in June, according to the royal family's official website.

The Trooping of the Colour entails an organized procession of over a thousand soldiers, hundreds of horses, and a large number of musicians "in a great display of military precision, horsemanship and fanfare to mark The Queen's official birthday," according the official website. Each year, members of the royal family take their positions beside the Queen on the Buckingham Palace balcony to watch the Royal Air Force's flyover salute. The Queen herself also inspects the troops, after being greeted with a Royal salute. Just as on her "actual birthday," a 41-gun salute is also fired to celebrate the event.

How the "double birthday" tradition began

The "double birthday" tradition, as BBC dubbed it, did not begin with Queen Elizabeth II. Instead, it got its start over two and a half centuries ago, beginning with King George II in 1748. Unlike the now-Queen who was born in the spring, the King was born in November. Since the fall weather was not conducive to hosting a public birthday celebration or parade, he decided to combine his birthday with the annual summer military parade. 

According to The Household Division, the Trooping of the Colour ceremony is thought to have begun during the reign of King Charles II, in the mid- to late-1600s. It officially became a dual-purpose annual event after George III took the thrown in 1760. Despite the Queen's actual birthday and official birthday being just two months apart, she still follows the tradition set out by the King hundreds of years ago.

She's not the only one with two birthdays

Although the reigning monarch is the only person whose birthday is celebrated at the Trooping of the Colour, the Queen isn't the only royal to have celebrated her birthday twice in one year.

In May 2018, the Queen's eldest son, Prince Charles, hosted a garden party at Buckingham Palace to celebrate his charities and military associations. That's not all that was celebrated, however. In an official statement, Clarence House called the event a "70th Birthday Patronage Celebration." But, here's the thing: Prince Charles' birthday is in November, not May.

The royal family hasn't said why the prince made the decision to celebrate so early, but People reported that it is due to a "series of celebrations in his honor" scheduled throughout the year and because 70 is a "milestone birthday." Whatever the reason, two birthdays certainly befit a prince. As Prince Harry joked when giving a speech in his father's behalf (via Travel and Leisure): "Ladies and Gentlemen, please can I ask you to join me in wishing The Prince of Wales a very Happy Birthday — six months ahead of his 70th! How very royal!" How very royal indeed.

This is how the Queen parties these days

In 2018, the Queen celebrated her official 92nd birthday during the Trooping of the Colour parade per her usual fashion, but she changed things up in a big way during her actual birthday. Instead of having a quiet and private celebration, the Queen had a huge birthday bash. If you were across the pond at the time, you would've been able to catch some of it live. According to Royal Albert Hall, BBC One and BBC Radio 2 were invited to record the star-studded concert. And if you think the seasoned Queen doesn't have good taste in music, think again. Sir Tom Jones, Craig David, Shawn Mendes, Kylie Minogue, and Sting were among the performers. 

Prince Harry also opened the night with a speech for his beloved grandmother, saying, in part, "Tonight we are celebrating The Queen's birthday but Your Majesty, if you do not mind me saying, you are not someone who is easy to buy gifts for. But I think we have the perfect present."

Her birthdays weren't always so fun

The Queen's 92nd actual birthday may have been spent jamming to her favorite Sting songs, but her birthday some 71 years prior was quite the serious — and even somewhat somber — occasion. While unbeknownst to her at the time, Princess Elizabeth was just four years away from her father's passing and, thus, her ascension to the throne. Still, the then-princess recognized her unique position in the world.

In a radio broadcast from where the queen was staying in Cape Town, South Africa, the princess addressed the nation, saying, "This is a happy day for me, but it is also one that brings serious thoughts. Thoughts of life looming ahead, with all its challenges and with all its opportunity." The newly 21-year-old princess also made a vow on that day — one that she is still committed to following. "I declare before you all," she began, "with my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and to the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong." 

Her birthday was once cancelled

In the 66 years since becoming Queen, Her Majesty has attended 65 Trooping of the Colour parades, or official birthday celebrations. She's never missed the annual celebration due to sickness or travel, but, one year, she did have to cancel the parade altogether. On the first day of June 1955, The Times reported that a state of emergency was declared by the Queen due to the national rail strike of the time.

During a situation described as "grave" by the newspaper, the Queen made the call to cancel the Trooping of the Colour. Instead of celebrating her birthday as she usually would, she got to work. According to The Times, "the State opening of the new Parliament" was originally scheduled for the week after the Trooping of the Colour, but instead, the Queen moved up the opening to her official birthday.

Although it was probably not quite the day she had in mind, there was always (two times) next year to celebrate her birthday.

92 actual birthdays later

With 92 actual birthdays under her belt as of this writing, the Queen has reached some significant milestones. Some seven months after her 91st actual birthday, she became the world's oldest head of state. According to Business Insider, this came after Robert Mugabe, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe who is exactly two years and two months her senior, resigned. During the Queen's reign, the United States has elected 11 presidents. With the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson, the Queen has personally met them all.

Prior to becoming the world's oldest head of state, the Queen also became Britain's longest-reigning monarch, surpassing the reign of Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother. When speaking in the Scottish Borders (via BBC), the then 89-year-old Queen addressed her lengthy sovereignty and kind thoughts from well-wishers, saying, in part, "Inevitably a long life can pass by many milestones — my own is no exception — but I thank you all and the many others at home and overseas for your touching messages of great kindness." At 92 years old (and counting), long lives the Queen.