Why Kim Jong Un's Birthday Is Just Another Day in North Korea

01_06_Kim Jong Un
This picture taken on February 22, 2017 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 23 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the People's Theatre to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State Merited Chorus in Pyongyang. Kim has never publicly celebrated his birthday, widely believed to be on January 8. STR/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un turns 34 on January 8, but do not expect to see the same festivities that characterize the birthdays of his predecessors or the celebrations marking the country's missile and nuclear tests.

Ever since Kim came to power, his birthdays have passed with little to no mention in the state media. North Korean calendars do not bear any mention of event on January 8, which is the date associated with his birth according to U.S. government, although they mark February 16 as his father's Kim Jong Il birthday, known as the Day of the Shining Star and his grandfather Kim Il Sung's birthday on April 15, the so-called Day of the Sun.

For years, the matter of his age was clouded in mystery, until his aunt Ko Yong Suk, who has been living in the U.S. since 1998, told The Washington Post the future North Korean leader was born in January 1984, like her own son — she recalled changing both of their diapers.

She also recalled a significant birthday in Kim's young life. His eighth birthday in 1992 was celebrated among the country's top elite and the boy was gifted a general's uniform decorated with stars as military officials bowed to him and paid their respects to him, the Post reported.

Then, on January 8, 2010, North Koreans were given a day off work on the occasion of Kim's birthday as he became officially designated as the successor to his father Kim Jong Il, as The Associated Press reported at the time. In December that year, Kim's early childhood gift became a reality as he was made a four-star general despite having no military experience and was accepted into the Central Committee of the Workers' Party.

Read more: Why has North Korea has agreed to meet with the South? Kim Jong Un is "image-conscious," wants to be taken seriously

Next time Kim's birthday caught the world's attention was in January 2014. Despite having been at the country's helm for just over two years, Kim had made his name known by stocking up tensions with the U.S. and threatening to attack the island of Guam in 2013.

But Kim's passion for basketball allowed him to make at least one American friend, former NBA star Dennis Rodman who visited him for a second time in January 2014, when he organized a basketball match in Pyongyang. At the end of the match, Rodman sang the "Happy Birthday" song to the leader.

His singing was drowned in applause from the audience attending the match, mostly members of the North Korean ruling elite, but the North Korean state-controlled press did not accurately report the meaning of the song. "He sang a song reflecting his reverence for Kim Jong Un," the country's news agency KCNA wrote at the time.

Last year, Kim's birthday fell on the second Sunday of the month, which is observed as the "day of physical culture and sports", and once again celebrated with little fanfare, as foreign media reports noted at the time. This year too birthday celebrations are likely to remain a private affair.

Michael Madden, founder and director of NK Leadership Watch and visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at John Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, thinks that the lack of big celebrations for Kim's birthday show the young leader's intention to clamp down on elements of the ruling family cult.

"I get the sense that Kim Jong Un is not really enamoured with the cult and is trying to get rid of that in certain aspects of North Korea's political culture," Madden tells Newsweek. According to him, Kim wants to project the image of a modern leader rather than a god-like figure—the lack of Kim's official portraiture may be another sign of his intentions.