Among J.R.R. Tolkien's Hobbits
, a person celebrating his or her birthday was called a byrding. This is an English translation of the word ribadyan, which is in the Westron
, the common language of Middle Earth
(it is possible that this word is not standard Westron, but one of the few that were unique to Hobbits, remainders of the mostly-forgotten language they spoke before settling in The Shire
In the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings, we are told that, "Hobbits give presents to other people on their own birthday." It was also the custom for the byrding to receive presents, although this is not explained explicitly in the text of The Lord of the Rings, only implied by the fact that Smeagol had received a gift from his cousin Deagol on his birthday, as is related by Gandalf in Chapter 2.
Receiving of gifts was the older custom and represented the byrding's membership in a family or clan. Originally, when the byrding's name was first announced to the assembled family, the head of the family gave a gift to the byrding in token of the byrding's incorporation into the family. In the ancient custom, parents did not give presents to their children on their children's birthdays, except in the rare case of adoption (what happened in the case of the head of the family having offspring is unclear).
As this custom was practiced in The Shire, only family of the byrding (second cousins or nearer) who lived within 12 miles of the byrding were expected to give gifts. These were to be delivered in person on the eve of the birthday, or at least by the noon meal on the birthday. By the time of the usual birthday party, on the evening of the birthday, it was too late to give a gift, and bringing a gift to the party was considered rude.
The giving of gifts was a form of thanksgiving, in recognition of friendship and kindnesses shown during the previous year. As soon as a Hobbit became a faunt, usually at the third birthday, the byrding was expected to give gifts to his or her parents. These were supposed to be things found, grown, or made by the byrding, usually bunches of wild flowers, for small children. If living in a communal clan-smial, the byrding also gave a gift the head of the family.
The practice of general gift-giving grew out of this custom, and in The Shire it was still considered correct for birthday gifts to be items produced, or owned by, the byrding. Presents given by a byrding depended on the byrding's age and social status, and were often given to all the guests at a birthday party. Although the list of persons with expectation of a gift from a byrding was not set, householders generally gave presents to all the household (including children) and also neighbors, and not giving a gift to someone who usually did receive one was a sign of severe displeasure on the part of the byrding.
Tolkien discussed byrdings and Hobbit birthday customs in the draft of a letter (#214 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien) to A. C. Nunn.