When US Americans think of birthday celebrations, images of parties, cake, blowing out candles, and the Happy Birthday song comes to mind. For a baby’s first birthday, some parents will even get the birthday child a smash cake, which the baby with play with, and hopefully eat, smashing it to pieces in the process. However, birthdays are not celebrated the same way around the world. In some cases, they may not be celebrated at all. Birthday celebrations are said to have started with the ancient Egyptians, who celebrated birthdays of the Pharaohs. Ancient Romans were the first civilization to celebrate family and friends’ birthdays together.
In many Slavic cultures, a birthday may not be as important as a name day, the day for which your name comes from, usually from a saint. For example, all Sonias are celebrated on September 22. In Germany, celebrating someone’s birthday, not on their actual day is seen as bad luck; so even if your birthday falls on a Thursday, you shouldn’t celebrate it on a Friday night. In Denmark, a Danish flag is usually placed outside signaling that it is someone’s birthday. If it is a child’s they place the presents around the child’s bed so that he or she may wake up to them.
For a birthday party in Brazil, one might pull the earlobes of the guest of honor. This is also a tradition in Hungary and is accompanied by a poem or song which translates to “God bless you, live so long, so your ears reach your ankles.”
In Australia and New Zealand, “Fairy Bread” is eaten for breakfast. It is a dish made of white bread with butter and sprinkles on top. In Ghana, the traditional birthday breakfast is called oto, mashed yams mixed with eggs and onions. Birthday cuisine in China includes Yi Mein or “longevity noodles.” Avoid giving a watch or clock on one’s birthday in China, as these are considered bad luck. Celebrating individual birthdays is rare in Vietnam, where they are instead celebrated on the Vietnamese holiday of Tet, a New Year’s celebration. A similar tradition happens in Korea. In parts of Asia, children are given red envelopes with money inside for their birthdays and New Year’s celebrations.
Different cultures also celebrate landmark birthdays with special celebrations. In Latin America, quinceañera is celebrated when a young girl turns 15. In Judaism, the 13th birthday is celebrated with a bar mitzvah for a boy and a bat mitzvah for a girl. Though in Orthodox Judaism, they celebrate the bat mitzvah at 12. South African parents present children with a key on their twenty-first birthday signifying responsibility and adulthood. Holland celebrates crown years, which are the ages of 5, 10, 15, 20 and 21, where larger presents are given. In Nigeria, a similar tradition occurs as families celebrate milestone birthdays (1, 10, and 15) with large parties, where sometimes over 100 people will come to celebrate. Finally, in Minicoy, an interesting ritual is celebrated when a baby is 20 days old. The family shaves the baby’s head and weighs the hair. They then give the weight of the hair in gold or silver to charity.
Be sure to celebrate your day in style, wherever you may be!