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Most things will work well on Mac but unfortunately, every operating system has its limitations. On Macs, we have what we call “quirks”. These quirks are random issues which are pretty simple to solve but Apple just won’t. OS X users will then rally on the Apple Support forums to try and unravel the solution. Some succeed, others aren’t so lucky. It mostly depends on the issue at hand.

Here’s one: iCal syncs your contacts’ birthdays from Address Book and creates a calendar for it. The problem is you can’t edit it to add an alarm in order to remind yourself about your friend’s birthday. It’s a simple issue, isn’t it? There just doesn’t seem to be a “fix” for it.

After vehemently browsing the Web for a free and simple solution, I got nothing. All I want is :

  • the ability to add reminders for each contact’s birthday
  • iCal to continuously sync with Address Book to update the Birthday calendar

Many users argue that the simplest solution is to manually add your contacts’ birthdays individually. True, it is the simplest but not the most time-efficient solution.

Then I stumbled onto what I’d like to think is the solution. It’s not very direct and requires the use of Automator but it does bring this whole birthday reminder conundrum to a temporary halt.

With the help of some existing Automator actions for iCal, I created my own workflow which in a nutshell, refreshes my contacts’ birthdays in Address Book, adds an editable Birthdays calendar in iCal (with alarms) and sends me weekly email reminders about upcoming birthdays. This workflow is set to run every week by adding it as an iCal plug-in so if there are any changes in Address Book, they will be reflected in iCal automatically after the workflow runs.


Sounds like a handful, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’ve written a short tutorial on how you can set this up for yourself. I’ve even attached the workflow at the bottom of this article for you to download and start using!

Step-by-step tutorial

I started by adding an Automator action called iCalBirthdays. This action searches my Address Book for the birthday of every contact and the results will automatically be added to a new calendar in iCal which you can name yourself. I aptly named mine “Birthday Reminder”. It also allows me to add an alert which can be configured to sound on a certain reminder date, the birthday itself or both. With that, technically, the issue is solved. But I went one step further.

Next, I added the Address Book action “Find People with Birthdays” and set it to find birthdays occurring in the upcoming week.

Brithday Reminder

Then, I added the action “Get Contact Information” and checked only the First and Last Names; and the birthday boxes. Make sure “Add Labels” and “Combine Names” are also enabled, this will provide a more pleasing format if you have multiple contact birthdays during that week.

After the information is fetched, it is sent to the next action: “New Mail Message“. Enter your own email address as the recipient and a suitable subject e.g. “Upcoming birthdays”. The content of that email will be the information sent by the previous action.

Upcoming Birtday Reminder

Keep in mind that you have to select a different account to send this email to yourself. What I mean is, you can’t send this mail and receive it with the same email address. The Mail application will not register any emails sent by your own email address back to itself.

The final touch is adding the “Send Outgoing Messages” action. Lastly, choose “Save as Plug-in” in the File Menu, set a name for it and choose iCal Alarm from the drop-down menu. That will launch iCal and automatically add this workflow as an event in the Automator calendar. Here is where you’ll need to decide when this workflow should run. Set a day and time when your computer will most probably be powered on. Then set it to repeat weekly.

There you go! You have a workflow which is automatically set to refresh your birthday calendar weekly (with alarms) and also receive weekly updates about whose birthdays are coming up that week. The workflow will take approximately 1 minute to complete, depending on how many contacts you have and how many of them have their birthdays inserted.

And here it is, the completed workflow for you to download: Birthday Reminder and Alarm Combo

After downloading, unzip and open it with Automator to configure the “iCalBirthdays” action and don’t forget to input your email address in the recipient field in the “New Mail Message” action. Remember to choose different sending and receiving email accounts. Then continue from “Lastly, choose “Save as Plug-in in the File Menu” as per the instructions above.

I would appreciate any comments about the workflow and how to improve it. Hope this helps those in the same situation as I was in!

(By) Jackson Chung is a full-time medical student attempting to perform a juggling act with relationships, studies and his future.

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