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How to Remember Birthdays with Your Mac

If you dread remembering birthdays like we do, you'll be happy to know that you can use Address Book and iCal to store birthdays for all of your contacts and display an alert on the screen when one rolls around. After you follow these instructions and set the whole thing up, the entire process will be automated. All you'll have to do is enter your contact's birthdays! The bad news is that you'll no longer have an excuse for not sending birthday cards.

Updating Address Book's Template

The Address Book application on your Mac holds contact information for your friends, family, and coworkers. It's also capable of storing birthdays for all of your contacts, but that functionality is disabled by default. You need to modify the contact template before you can store any birthdays in Address Book.

Here's how to update Address Book's template to accept birthdays:

  1. Open the Address Book application. (It's in the Applications folder.)

  2. From the Address Book menu, select Preferences.

  3. Click Template. The window shown below appears.

  4. From the Add Field menu, select Birthday. The Birthday field should appear in the preferences window, as shown below.

  5. Close the Address Book preferences window.

Now you can add birthdays for all of your contacts in Address Book.

Adding Birthdays to Address Book

If you know your contacts' birthdays, you can enter them now. You can also enter them at a later point in time. When you're ready, here's how to do it:

  1. From the Address Book window, select a contact.

  2. Click Edit, as shown below.

  3. Enter the contact's birthday in the Birthday field, as shown below. You can use numeric or alpha-numeric characters (e.g., 9/5 or September 5). You don't need to enter the year the contact was born.

  4. Click Done. The contact's birthday is saved in the Address Book application.

Repeat this procedure for all of the contacts in your Address Book. Remember, you can add birthdays at a later date if you don't have them right now.

Setting iCal to Display Automatic Birthday Alerts

Storing birthdays in Address Book is only half the battle. Now you need to use the iCal application to automatically remind you when it's one of your contact's birthdays. By default, the iCal application will alert you at 8:00 AM on the contact's birthday, but that can be changed.

Here's how to set automatic birthday alerts in iCal:

  1. Open the iCal application. (It's in the Applications folder.)

  2. From the iCal menu, select Preferences. The window shown below appears.

  3. Select the Show Birthday Calendars checkbox.

  4. Optional: Change the "Day starts at" time to control when iCal displays alerts for birthdays. The default time is 8:00 AM.

  5. Close the iCal preferences window.

Now iCal automatically displays all of your contacts' birthdays, as shown below. It will also display an alert on the day of a contact's birthday. Remember, by default the alert is displayed at 8:00 AM.

You can modify an alert for a particular birthday by selecting it. This is useful if you want to set iCal to alert you one day before the contact's birthday, or to have iCal send you an email alert.

That's it! Happy automated birthday tracking!

Meet Your Macinstructor

Matt Cone, the author of Master Your Mac, has been a Mac user for over 20 years. A former ghost writer for some of Apple's most notable instructors, Cone founded Macinstruct in 1999, a site with OS X tutorials that boasts hundreds of thousands of unique visitors per month. You can email him at:


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