Anyone unlucky enough to have their birthday fall in the middle of a global pandemic may be planning two big days this year — one on the actual date, and another when they can finally celebrate with friends.
On that front, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is well ahead of the curve.
The monarch has enjoyed two birthdays a year since she ascended the throne, and the tradition actually started a lot further back than that.
The Queen’s real birthday is April 21, meaning she turns 94 on Tuesday.
But she reaches for her party hat again in June. British monarchs have doubled up on the festivities since the 18th century, holding an “official” birthday each year for a public celebration, and tending to celebrate more privately on the real date.
Both events are significantly scaled back this year, meaning the Queen’s birthdays will look very different.
But why does she have two? It’s pretty simple — no-one wants to celebrate their birthday in the rain, and so, ever since the 1740s, monarchs have enjoyed a second birthday, with far more pomp, in the summer.
How the British monarch got a second birthday
The tradition is believed to have started with the party-loving King George II in 1748. That is the year that Britain’s annual Trooping the Colour celebration was first associated with the sovereign’s birthday. George’s real birthday was in November, when British weather is often far from ideal.
Trooping the Colour — a military parade in London — previously existed as a standalone event. It was officially and permanently re-purposed as a birthday celebration after George III became King in 1760.
Edward VII, who succeeded Queen Victoria and ruled the United Kingdom through the first decade of the 20th century, is believed to have been the first monarch to receive the annual salute in person.
What happens on each birthday?
While the monarch’s actual birthday is a comparatively “no frills” event, this is the royal family we’re talking about.
So the Queen would usually enjoy a traditional royal gun salute, and government buildings around the UK fly the Union Jack flag on the date.
That tradition of flag-flying is extended to a number of royal occasions, including the birthdays of all senior royals — but it had some pushback earlier this year when several local authorities refused to fly a flag honoring Prince Andrew.
On the ceremonial birthday in June, the streets around Buckingham Palace are lined with tourists as 1,400 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians take part in a extravagant ceremony.
The Queen is greeted by a royal salute and carries out an inspection of the troops in their famous bearskin hats. A keen rider, she used to attend the event on horseback herself until the 1980s — but these days, she arrives in a carriage.
Members of the British royal family watch last year’s Trooping the Colour ceremony — marking the Queen’s official birthday — from the balcony of Buckingham Palace on June 8, 2019.
After performances by a military band and a march by the foot guards, the Queen returns to the palace. There, she is joined by other royals on the balcony to watch a flypast of the Royal Air Force, and soldiers fire a 41-gun salute in nearby Green Park.
What about this year?
Given the coronavirus pandemic, most of those plans are on hold
For the first time in 68 years, Queen Elizabeth II will not be marking her birthday with the traditional royal gun salute.
The Queen canceled the celebration because she felt it would be inappropriate during the pandemic, a royal source told CNN on Saturday.
Instead, the palace is expected to celebrate the Queen’s 94th birthday on social media. All family-related affairs, including phone and video calls with family members will remain private, according to the source.
June’s Trooping the Colour has also been canceled and there are no alternative plans to mark the Queen’s official birthday, the royal source said.
Earlier this month, the Queen addressed the nation in a rare televised speech, calling for unity amid the pandemic.