A famous desperation plot for Sitcom Writers. A major character is sure everybody's forgotten his or her birthday (or perhaps a similar occasion) and wanders around in an angry funk until surprise! They not only remembered it, they threw a Surprise Party!
The instigating factors in this plot are often that the character who is having a birthday often never actually comes out and says that it is their Birthday ("Hey, guess what day it is?" or "Isn't today a special day?"), and the other characters further complicate by answering ambiguously "Seems like any other day to me."
What can make these especially infuriating for the viewer is that the entire situation could be defused by a simple: Main Character: "Hey, it's my birthday!" or Supporting Character: "Happy Birthday, [character]!" then saying they hadn't heard anything about a party yet. However then there wouldn't be much episode to be had.
For the version about the birthday of a marriage (anniversary), see Forgotten Anniversary.
This trope can be a subtrope of The Complainer Is Always Wrong.
If the birthday is truly forgotten, or if nobody cares about it, it may lead to One-Person Birthday Party.
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Keroro Gunsou: Keroro does this to Natsumi in one episode, while Fuyuki insists that Natsumi wouldn't enjoy it. Much to his chagrin, he finds his sister not only has a good time at the party, but completely fell for the Forgotten Birthday ploy.
Mai-HiME episode 10. Made somewhat more surprising for the audience (and thus less Anvilicious) by not revealing what exactly Mai is upset about until the very end.
Inverted in episode 7 in the first season of Beyblade, (well, in the dub version at least) Tyson is so excited about his match with Kai, he forgets about his own 13th birthday.
IGPX: Occurs completely by the book in an early episode to Amy, who has had workaholic parents her entire life and only recently made friends with the members of the team. In something of a subversion, her (absent) parents actually do forget her birthday.
Hayate the Combat Butler: Hayate struggles to pull this off with the extra impetus that the place that the birthday girl, Ayumu, is trying to convince him to admit that he knows is where they're planning to hold the party, so Hayate has to get her to vacate the premises first. Nagi then manages to call her back for the actual party.
In one episode of Sailor Moon S it's Usagi's birthday and when she drops an unsubtle hint about what she wants for a gift, Mamoru reveals that he didn't know it was her birthday so he gets a huge slap in the face from her. Turns out she never actually told him when her birthday was. Even worse, she doesn't know his birthday either.
Played for Drama and used to facilitate Chibiusa/Rini'sFace-Heel Turn. She is shown a memory of everyone seemingly forgetting her birthday and uses that loneliness and depression to transform into Black Lady. Sailor Moon tries to use her magic to reveal the second part of the memory, that everyone really did remember it, as an "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight. She's convinced it's just a lie and it doesn't work.
School Rumble. The class celebrates Tenma's birthday but they don't know Harima was born a day after. Yakumo is the only one who remembered and even gave him a present.
Subverted in Rosario + Vampire, when Tsukune's birthday was coming up, and he wanted to ask Moka to spend the day with him. At the same time, he was disappointed that she didn't seem to remember it herself. After some misunderstandings and a close call with the Monster of the Week, he woke up in the hospital on his birthday, for Moka to reveal that she hadn't forgotten and to give him his present... and a Love Confession!
Inverted in Rurouni Kenshin anime. Kenshin believed he had forgotten Kaoru's birthday when she was actually expecting him to propose during a holiday that served for the purpose.
Unluckily, in Tamako Market Tamako's birthday falls on 31st of December. In the first episode, everyone temporarily forgets they were going to Tamako's house for her birthday when Dera chokes on mochi. Tamako says something like that happens every year, because New Year's Eve is such a hectic day at the market.
Apparently Mochizou has a drawer full of presents he has failed to give Tamako, though it's not obvious how much of that is due to forgetting instead of the obvious nervousness.
This happens to Donald Duck in "The Duck that Never Was", a Don Rosa comic story celebrating the 60th anniversary of Donald's creation. Though the "forgotten birthday" plot is really only briefly touched upon and Donald, unlike most of the examples of the trope, does directly tell his nephews that it's his birthday when they pretend they've forgotten.
A LittleArchie Comics story presented a subversion of this. Veronica tells Archie that she thinks her dad has forgotten it's her birthday - and he has, because he's busy making plans for next week's Founder's Day celebration. Fortunately for him, Archie thinks he's planning a surprise party for Veronica and rounds up everyone to take part in it.
In one regular story, Reggie Mantle's birthday is coming up. He overhears the gang wondering what to do for 'the most important man in town' and the egotistical Reggie assumes they're talking about him. Reggie nudges the gang into arranging a banquet at a fancy club...and it turns out that the gang was talking about an old war veteran who was born in Riverdale. And Reggie's the only one there who isn't in his golden years.
In Sixteen Candles, the main character's birthday is forgotten by everyone due to the furor caused by her sister's impending (and last minute) wedding. Except for her younger brother. He deliberately ignored her birthday because he's a jerk.
In Know It Or Not, Aditi's birthday is missed by her best guy friend for a date with Mehgan— she doesn't take it well.
In The Smurfs 2, the Smurfs prepare a surprise party for Smurfette, but make it look like they have forgotten about her birthday, which unfortunately sets off the whole "time-travel-to-rescue-Smurfette-from-Gargamel" plot.
There was a Garfield kids' book where Garfield thought everyone forgot his birthday, but what actually happened was that Garfield himself forgot which day his birthday was on and misremembered it being one day earlier than it really was; the party happened on the correct day.
In one sunday strip, Garfield goes around the house expecting a party, and yelling "What a surpri—" in each room before he notices no one's there. Dejected, he prepares to go to bed. Suddenly, all of his friends pop out of his bed with a fully lit birthday cake and yell "Surprise!"
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry thought his friends had forgotten his birthday, but it was actually the result of an I Never Got Any Letters plot. The Dursleys forgot or ignored his birthday for real, however. (The Dursleys usually remember Harry's birthdays, if only to give him insulting presents such as Uncle Vernon's old socks.)
Subverted in Patricias Secret by Ruth Dagget Leinhauser. Patricia thinks her father has forgotten her birthday since he doesn't mention it. She didn't have a calendar. It was actually the following day.
In one of the Gossip Girl books, Eleanor Waldorf unwittingly schedules her wedding for Blair's birthday.
In one chapter of Winnie the Pooh, Pooh noticed that Eeyore seemed very depressed (more so than usual), only to find out no one took notice of his birthday.
Subverted slightly in Donna Parker: Special Agent, by Marcia Martin. Her family remembers that it's her birthday, but her best friend has apparently forgotten, except that she hasn't—she's organized the surprise party.
In Animorphs, Tobias (who is Shapeshifter Mode Locked as a hawk except for two-hour intervals) learns that he is supposed to meet with a lawyer to receive a letter from his biological father on his "next birthday." He is a bit embarrassed to admit that, like other aspects of his human life, he can't quite remember when it is.
In one episode, Lucy asks Ricky to not acknowledge her birthday, then complains and storms out when he does as she says.
In another episode it turns out Ricky has taken precautions against this, by always keeping a box of chocolates and a birthday card hidden in the closet, which he calls his "emergency present."
In Sister Sister, the twins' depression over the forgotten birthday, combined with a well-placed message from a rich uncle (along with a bit of the wealth), results in them being stranded in Chicago during a snowstorm, having to use their twin powers to make it home to Detroit on the back of one train ticket. And yes, they did start bawling like Lucy when the surprise was sprung.
Hannah Montana: In this case, Miley and Jackson actually did forget their father's birthday.
Molloy: Subverted. The titular character, who was about to turn thirteen, innocently thought that her father and stepmother were pretending not to remember the occasion because they were planning a surprise party, and took to bursting into different rooms in the house acting shocked and thrilled...only to find them empty. Turns out the entire family really did forget, and weren't even home because they were out taking a drive in the dad's new sports car.
Wanda At Large: Subverted in this short-lived sitcom. The titular character doesn't want anyone celebrating her birthday. She sees the lights in her apartment go off (it's just her friends) and she calls the cops. When the cops break in, and one friend mutters "Happy birthday" her only response is to look at the cops and say "Well? Shoot!"
Subverted by Saved by the Bell: they actually do forget Screech's birthday, and they spend the episode making it up to him.
In one episode of Full House, everyone really did forget about Kimmy's birthday because D.J. was busy with the anniversary of her first date with Steve, which fell on the same day. Kimmy sees right through the others' attempt to do a birthday once D.J. realizes the mistake (it's a comment from Steve that tips Kimmy off), but they're forgiven.
In That '70s Show, Red and Eric really did forget Kitty's birthday, and then tried to pretend like they were planning to invoke this trope all along by giving her some cheap presents they'd bought at the gas station at 11:40 P.M. She sees right through it, leading to:
Hal does this to Lois, his programmed watch didn't go off.
Happens to Dewey, of all people. He is the youngest child in the family, but he doesn't complain. Then, his parents decide to induce Lois's labour (she is pregnant at the time) so his new brother will get born on the same day. Spending the whole day trying to clue Hal to the fact that it is his birthday who is oblivious to it. Though he makes sure his father never forgets again by announcing over the loudspeaker in front of hundreds of people that Hal forgot his sons birthday. Hal quickly leaves the convention after everyone starts giving him a disgusted look.
Being the nice guy that he is, he makes sure it doesn't happen to his little brother. Spending all day (and Hal's credit card) to set up a birthday party just for Jamie.
In one episode, the family decides to make tomorrow Seven's birthday since nothing his happening on that day. Turns out it is actually Al's birthday.
In another episode, they forgotten Kelly's birthday until they were reminded by learning her plans to watch a movie with her date for the occasion. Al then devised a plan to have an excuse to always forget. They'd invite Kelly to watch a movie with them, she'd refuse in favor of her date, and the Bundys would use it as an excuse to forget her birthday in every year after that. The plan backfired because Kelly decided to cancel the date instead. Al and Peggy's only relief was that Bud didn't have friends to remind them of his birthday.
An early EastEnders plot deconstructed this trope, with a family planning a surprise birthday party to cheer up their depressed daughter who runs away and spends weeks living on the street because she thought everyone forgot.
In Tower Of Terror, Abigail Gregory slightly overreacts to her birthday being supposedly forgotten. She kills off her sister and four other people with witchcraft, leaving their cursed ghosts trapped in limbo for sixty years. Little stuff like that. Oh, and it turns out that a surprise party had been planned all along.
In a later episode of Family Matters, Steve went through a bit of a depression when everyone forgot his 20th birthday. When Carl found out, he tried to make it up to him.
In Drake & Josh. Drake forgot Josh's birthday for real. At one point Josh thought Drake was planning a surprise party- which he was, but for his 5 day old girlfriend. The rest of the episode featured Drake trying to make up for it, and of course things went horribly wrong, until Drake ended up planning a party for Josh.
On A Different World, Whitley is sure everyone forgot her 21st birthday and is upset that her boyfriend Julian attended a business dinner instead of celebrating with her (It probably would have helped if she had TOLD Julian that it was her birthday). Kim and Jalessa hastily plan a surprise party in the dorm while Ron and Dwayne plan to "kidnap" her. The kidnap plot fails, Whitley gets tipsy on cheap wine, and ends the night celebrating with the girls at a diner.
Garfield once spent his entire birthday walking around corners faking a surprise expecting Jon and Odie waiting for him with a birthday cake, only to find nothing there. Depressed thinking that everyone forgot, he decided to go to bed. That's when Jon and Odie sprang the surprise.
In Another Case Of Milton Jones, Milton makes a throwaway mention of the entire nation of Britain pretending to forget the Queen's official birthday. Despite this, a later episode shows that they forget his birthday every year.
In Pokémon Live!, Misty is upset with Ash because he never took her to the movies for her birthday as he promised. At the end, he makes it up for it by giving her the Diamond Badge he just won.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983): Orko, of all characters, believed everyone had forgotten his birthday and nearly ran away. note Well it certainly wouldn't have been in character for He-Man to do so, though it would have been far more entertaining.
In one episode each of Captain N: The Game Master and the children's program Today's Special, a character (Mega Man and Scott the living mannequin, respectively) feels left out because they are not truly alive and therefore cannot have a birthday. Special surprises are prepared for each; in the Mega Man example, it means a chance to become a living being.
Quack Pack had such an episode. Instead of Donald Duck getting depressed Huey, Dewey and Louie "forgot" his birthday, though, Donald got so ANGRY at them he thought they were doing something illegal behind his back. They were sent to a correctional facility as a result.
The Fairly Oddparents plays with this in the above-quoted "Boys in the Band"; apparently, Timmy's birthday was actually the day after that depicted in the episode.
The trope was initially inverted in "Birthday Bashed". Timmy became 13 and had to hide it from Jorgen to avoid losing his fairies. It became no easy task as it seemed his parents remembered and he had to get rid of anything they brought for the party. It was eventually revealed they were celebrating another thing and had really forgotten Timmy's birthday. That, among other things, was held by Jorgen as a reason to believe Timmy would still need fairies.
An episode of Johnny Test had Dukey thinking Johnny had forgotten his birthday. As it turns out, he was just waiting until he got his present before he acknowladge it.
In The World of Strawberry Shortcake (1980), some of her friends did forget Strawberry's birthday, but even she doesn't seem aware that it's her special day (to be fair, Strawberry's said to be turning six). Once they're reminded and start to arrange a party, they deliberately keep it a secret from her and turn down her lunch invitation so they can set it up; she thinks no one likes her anymore but is directed by the narrator to the party when he can't bear to see her that sad. Notably, this plot isn't the whole focus of the story, but instead sets up the circumstances that allow the evil Purple Pieman to force the kids to give him all their berries (he sells them a magic watering can they give to her as a gift — it appears empty but generates water when you tip it. It's just that he's the only one who knows how to stop the flow...)
Dragon Tales: Done with Ord's birthday in the first-season story "Ord's Unhappy Birthday"
In an episode of KaBlam!, Henry and June celebrate their birthdays (since they were drawn on the same day, they were celebrating theirs on the same day). June gets Henry a remote-controlled car, but Henry forgot June's birthday! He makes up for it in the end, though.
The Flumps: Happens in an episode of this UK pre-school stop-motion series. Unusually, we're shown it from the point of view of the rest of the family, trying desperately to conceal the truth from Grandpa Flumph. The educational purpose of the episode seemed to be explaining synonyms for "keeping a secret".
God, the Devil and Bob: God forgets the Devil's birthday (and has apparently done this a lot), and Bob ends up playing therapist to the two of them.
The Devil: I'm supposed to believe that he forgot my birthday? He's omniscient!
Looney Tunes has a variation. Daffy Duck finds out mice are having a party to which he is not invited, and attempts to crash it... only to find out in the end it was a surprise party for his birthday, which he forgot about.
In "Moe'N'a Lisa", an episode of The Simpsons, Homer forgets he made plans to take Moe fishing on his birthday. Moe is devastated until Lisa, who sees a rich artistic side to Moe, decides to write about him for school.
Another episode briefly makes use of this trope.
Homer: I can't believe I'm being mocked ... by my own family ... on my birthday! Bart: It's your birthday? Homer: Yeah, don't you remember? It's the same day as the dog's. Lisa:[gasps] Oh, Santa's Little Helper! It's your birthday?! We have to do something special! Yes we do! Homer:[muttering] Lousy loveable dog.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic inverts the trope in the episode "Party of One". Pinkie briefly loses it when the others drop excuses not to attend her spur-of-the-moment party. It's only at the end that Pinkie realizes it's her own birthday, and the others had made plans to throw her a surprise party well in advance.
American Dad! had an episode called "1600 Candles" in which Roger anticipates his 1600th birthday only to have it preempted by Steve's shenanigans. Of course it has the obligatory 16 Candles scene.
Of course, as usual, Roger was being a complete Jerk Ass about it, effectively telling Stan and Francine that they should give up on Steve completely just so they can throw him exactly the kind of party he wants.
Kim Possible: After being freaked out and then downright terrified by Shego'smoodulator-induced mood swings from giddiness to weeping to fury, Drakken works up the nerve to ask "Did I forget your birthday? Is that what this is about?"
In an episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Pooh (sticky with honey) accidentally pulls several pages off Rabbit's calendar, leading Rabbit to mistakenly believe it's his birthday and misinterpret his friends' activities as preparations for a surprise party. Angst ensues when he concludes they've forgotten, but fortunately there's a party on his actual birthday the next week.
The short-lived English cartoon series The Pondles had an episode in which the main character, Pip, is led to believe that everyone had forgotten his birthday — though Pip, when hints don't work, breaks tradition by actually telling everyone he meets what day it is. Whereupon they enthusiastically wish him a happy birthday but regret that they're too busy to celebrate it. Of course, what they're busy with is preparing his surprise party.
Inverted in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island: Daphne apparently spent so much time getting ready for her talk show, she didn't realize her birthday had arrived until the other Mystery Inc. members showed up and surprised her.
On the King of the Hill episode "Hank's Dirty Laundry," Bobby assumes his parents are buying him a birthday present while shopping for a dryer. (His birthday is a month away.) He later, on a different day, assumes his birthday party is that day. (It isn't.) He bemoans to Luanne that he "can't believe my parents forgot my birthday." Luanne says that "they've still got a whole month to remember." Hank and Peggy's new dryer is then delivered and Bobby believes it his birthday present and loves it.
Another episode has Dale buy a weather balloon. Bill asks if it is his birthday. Hank corrects him, but only to realize his birthday was in fact last week. He first apologizes before wishing him a "happy belated birthday".
One episode of South Park had a Christmas episode spent convincing everyone to remember all the good things about Christmas, like gift giving and being with family. The credits had a cut to Jesus, sitting all alone, sadly singing "Happy birthday to me..."
Happened to both Yogi Bear and Ranger Smith at different times.
Roger Ramjet had one. By the end, the American Eagles kids surprised Roger during a nap that scared him to jump out the window. Everybody came to the surprise party even his arch-rival Lance Crossfire, and his arch-nemeses Noodles Romanoff and the No-Goods who rigged his birthday cake to explode on Ramjet, harmlessly, because Ramjet's birthday also falls on April Fools' Day.
A Pup Named Scooby-Doo: In one episode, the gang questioned a suspect about a letter and he said it was an apology letter to his mother and he was asked if it was for forgetting her birthday. It wasn't.
Completely subverted in As Told by Ginger with Ginger's closest friend, Macie Lightfoot, whose 13th birthday really was forgotten by her incredibly absent-minded parents. Although they were truly upset that they forgot such an important event, they still proceeded to give her a birthday that catered more to small children than to their daughter's appropriate age (even giving her a swing set which she was years beyond). Despite this, Macie still thought it was wonderful gift because she was happy that they acknowledged her birthday.
In one episode of Family Guy, Peter and Lois didn't so much forget Meg's birthday as completely forgot what age she was turning when it was coming up. At one point, when they talked to her, they tried using hints so they could learn her upcoming age without telling her outright. Unfortunately Meg was already aware of the whole thing, as is expected of the series Butt Monkey.
An episode of Kipper, an animated show targeted at young audiences about a dog by that name, features Kipper and his friends throwing a surprise party for their friend Jake, but him thinking that they forgot his birthday.
The Angry Birds Toons episode "Another Birthday" featured a pig who tried to remind everyone that today was his birthday, but all the pigs ignored him or didn't care. At the end of the episode, the pig unhappily returns home for the night, only to find the other pigs throwing a surprise birthday celebration for him.
Code Lyoko. The premise: About three days after it happened, Yumi gives Ulrich the cold shoulder. Odd tells Ulrich this too late. Ulrich tries to make up with Yumi on Lyoko, failing, but the ending helps remedy this. Ulrich gives Yumi a gift. The gift ends up being Kiwi's, though.
An episode of Archer has the titular character (a super-spy) get offended when his coworkers seemingly forget about his birthday. The sub-plot only lasts about 5 minutes, though, as its quickly revealed that they did remember and his boss/mother got him a Cool Car as a gift.
The Transformers Rescue Bots episode "Little White Lies", Chief Burns' children pretend to forget that it was his birthday when they were trying to make him a surprise party and order his favorite cake. Unfortunately, this "little white lie" caused perilous results.
In the Bob's Burgers pilot, this is taken Up to Eleven when it is revealed that Bob routinely forgets not only his wife's birthday, but his own.