Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Worldwide Birthday Traditions--And A Giveaway

June is a mighty big month to me. Every June, I get to celebrate my wedding anniversary with my wonderful hubby, as well as my birthday about two weeks later. Since several of the CFHS bloggers have shared about wedding traditions this month, I thought it would be a fun thing to share how different cultures celebrate birthdays around the world.

First, the whole concept of birthday celebrations came out of an old European fear. People believed that you were susceptible to being harmed by evil spirits on the anniversary of their birth. To combat these harmful spirits, people would surround themselves with family and friends. They used noise-makers to scare away the evil spirits, and they lit candles and torches to signal the good spirits and gods. The act of blowing out candles was also a way to signal the good deities. These things, coupled with the guests’ well wishes and gifts, kept the evil spirits away for another year.

While most of us know that here in the U.S.A., we tend to celebrate with a birthday cake bedecked with candles to represent each year of the person’s life, and we sing “Happy Birthday” to the honoree, there are plenty of other birthday traditions across the globe. Here are a few to give you some ideas of how other cultures celebrate birthdays.

Africa—Rather than celebrating each individual child’s birthday, they often celebrate groups of children at one time. On designated birthdays, the children are taught the tribe’s laws, customs, songs, and dances.

Argentina—the birthday honoree has their earlobe pulled once for each year of his life.

Canada—The tradition here is to “grease the nose” with butter or margarine, and the thought behind it is to make the birthday boy or girl too slippery for bad luck and evil spirits to grab hold of.

China—The birthday child pays honor to his or her parents and receives gifts (one resource said the gift is traditionally money while another said it is rice wine, which symbolizes longevity). The traditional Chinese birthday lunch is noodles, shared with friends and family.

Denmark—A flag is placed outside the window of the birthday honoree to signify that someone in the home has a birthday. Gifts are placed around the birthday child’s bed so he or she awakens to her presents.

Ecuador—On a girl’s fifteenth birthday, she will put on a pretty pink dress and dance a waltz with her father. Surrounding them, fourteen other couples, consisting of the birthday girl’s male and female friends, will also couple up and dance.

England—England celebrates birthdays with a traditional cake, but theirs is different than the American version. These so-called “Fortune Telling Cakes” have special items mixed into the batter, such as a coin or thimble. If you find a coin in your piece of cake, it is said that you will be rich. Each “treasure” has meaning.

Germany—A family member will rise early to light the birthday cake candles, one for each year, plus an extra for good luck. The candles are left to burn all day long until evening when the birthday boy or girl blows out the candles. At this point, presents are opened and the party begins.

Holland—The birthday child’s chair is decorated with special streamers, flowers, and balloons. Certain birthdays are called “crown birthdays” (again, my resources differed on which ones; one resource said it was even-year birthdays while the other said it was every 5th year birthday). These crown birthdays are marked by the honoree receiving an especially large gift.

Ireland—The birthday child is turned upside down and “bumped” on the floor, once for each year he or she has been alive, plus one for good luck.

Israel—The birthday child will sit in a chair while the adults raise and lower it once for each year of the child’s life, plus one for good luck.

Mexico—Children take turns beating a piñata until it breaks open and scatters candy and toys, which are shared by all the children in attendance.

Nepal—A mixture of rice yogurt and color is placed on the birthday child’s forehead as a sign of good luck.

Norway—The birthday child will go to the front of his or her classroom and dance with a friend while the rest of the class sings the happy birthday son.

Phillipines—The family attends Mass to thank God. Later in the day, birthday cakes are baked in various shapes and sizes. They celebrate by eating noodles, which is a sign of longevity, and decorate with piñatas and balloons.

Russia—Rather than a birthday cake, pies are preferred. The pies often have a special message baked into the crust.

It’s your turn: Tell me about your most memorable birthday (good or bad), or which of the traditions above you would most (or least) like to try at your next celebration. In honor of my birthday which just passed, if you leave your email address, you'll be entered in a drawing for a fun surprise.


Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and made the top 10 and top 3 in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and five fur children.

33 comments:

  1. Very fun, Jennifer! Please don't bump my head on the floor. I did get spanks when I was little: one for each year, one to grow on, and a pinch for an inch.

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    1. Ah, yes. I got birthday spanks as a child too, Susan. :)

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  2. Happy Birthday from another June birthday girl. In my 78 years I've had lots of great birthdays. One year we celebrated for three days. On Friday, my friends celebrated at a potluck supper at a friend's house. The next day, my birthday, four lady friends took me out to lunch, and then on Sunday my family celebrated with me.

    I loved reading about the traditions from some other countries and am glad we didn't adopt all of them for our own. Like Susan, I too received a spanking of one for each year until I was 12 and stomped my foot and said no. Still that was better than being bumped on the floor.

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    1. I agree with you and Susan. I would NOT care for being bumped on the floor. I'd take the spankings over that any day. A three-day celebration sounds wonderful, though! What fun. Happy birthday to you as well, Martha!

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  3. We celebrate birthdays with a pie instead of cake. We're just pie people, and a birthday gives us a good excuse to eat one. For years, I given my boys a fun t-shirt on their birthday that relates to one of their interests. Like my youngest son has one with the word engineer spelled four different ways, and each one is crossed out. Beneath that it says: I like math. :)

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    1. LOL. I love the Engineer T-shirt, Vickie! And my older brother prefers a nice apple pie instead of birthday cake. Just give me gooey chocolate frosting, and I'm a happy girl!

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  4. My best birthday was my 50th, when I wrote up early to my first and only grandchild, at the time, who lives 700 miles away! What a wonderful surprise to wake up to him and his mommy and daddy, who had driven through the night to get there and surprise me!! Tears of joy I cried that day! I will always remember!! Kmatrai@gmail.com

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    1. What a special birthday surprise that must have been, Kathy! My family just did something similar this past weekend. My mother (at 71 years old) just graduated with her doctorate degree in theology. To celebrate the event, my dad threw her a big surprise party and flew my oldest brother and sister-in-law in from out of state. They stepped out of the back room at a certain point and surprised my mom. It was wonderful and made the whole party.

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  5. Always do family supper and cake and ice cream here. My mom always made me cakes special for my Bdays.
    Linda Finn
    faithfulacresbooks@gmail.com

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    1. The homemade cakes are the best, Linda! :)

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    2. Back then Mom did cakes for everyone for money and she didn't charge alot compared to today!

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  6. I loved your post, Jennifer. It was so interesting to learn the different traditions concerning birthdays. A birthday I will never forget in a not so good way was the birthday I leaned down to blow out my candles and my pigtail caught on fire. What a nightmare! The best birthday I have had by far is my spectacular 50th birthday party that my daughter threw for me. She left nothing out, pictures of me growing up, old records, my princess telephone I spent many an hour chatting with friends on, hula hoop and bubble gum blowing contests, even a jack box filled with great songs. It was the best birthday party ever!!!!!!!!

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

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    1. Wow...from one extreme to the other, Melanie! I can understand why you wouldn't forget your hair catching on fire. Glad that you have a much better birthday to remember in place of the not-so-good one. My "bad" birthday memory is my 12th, when I planned to throw a swimming/slumber party with about ten friends. just a day or two before the party, I was diagnosed with shingles and was told I couldn't swim until I was healed. So the night of my party, all my friends got to swim while I sat on the pool deck watching. Thankfully, I have many other GOOD memories of better birthdays too.

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  7. Some of these traditions sound like a lot of fun. I live in Texas and we often have piñatas at our birthday parties. One of my most memorable birthdays was my 27th. I was 9 months pregnant and my daughter was born 6 days later.

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    1. Piñatas always make for a fun party, Susan. I bet your 27th was a very special time, what with the expectation of your coming baby! My next older brother was born on my parents' wedding anniversary. He jokes just about every year that, "Gee, that must have been your best anniversary ever, right?" My mom quickly corrects him, "No, I can't say that it was...but you were the best anniversary GIFT ever." LOL

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  8. Forgot to leave my email.
    susanmsj at msn dot com

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  9. Wow, not so sure about some of those! I want the pinata one, I love candy. LOL
    I had a friend throw a surprise birthday party for me once - but she invited all my boyfriend's friends to it instead of mine. I was quite shocked and sad that there weren't any of my friends there! So strange and I'll never forget it. :)
    lattebooks at hotmail dot com

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    1. Oh my, Susan. That would be a disappointment.

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  10. Good post, Jennifer, and a great way to introduce myself as a Canadian. However, “grease the nose” has got to be a tradition from either Quebec or the Maritimes because I've lived in Ontario and the western provinces and have never heard this colourful phrase. Then again, maybe my Christian background sheltered me from knowledge of bad luck and evil spirits.

    Our birthdays have always had cakes with a candle for every year - or decade if you're getting up there. :) And each piece must be on a plate big enough for ice cream and jello. Not the pudding jello, but the jiggly-wiggly shapes you slurp down and smile with. Some people bake coins in the cake, but that usually makes kids eat more and then they get sick. blech. (Sssh - speaking from experience, heh)

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    1. Interesting to know that not all of Canada celebrates the same way, Anita. I'm not surprised. As I researched this topic, I tried to find several resources that all backed up the traditions before I touted it as "fact," but still questioned whether I'd get it all correct. In a country as large and varied as the United States, or Canada, etc., it's hard to say everyone celebrates in this one way.

      I don't think I've ever heard of birthday cake and Jello. That would be an interesting and fun combination.

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  11. Very interesting to see how Birthdays are celebrated around the world. I never thought about having pie instead of cake. I would prefer pie so I just might have to do that this year for my Birthday. My most memorable Birthday would have to be when I was 14 and my Dad took me to buy a horse! Happy Birthday to you Jennifer and Happy Anniversary! lisastifler(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Thanks, Lisa! I know LOTS of people who prefer pie over cake for their birthdays. Glad this post gave you a fun new tradition to try. :) And how wonderful that you got a horse on your 14th birthday. You got the dream gift I never did. LOL

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  12. I think I agree with Russia about the pies...I love strawberry pie. favorite birthday was my first party when I was 8 - my little pony and it was awesome.

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    1. truckredford at gmail dot com

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    2. Yes, the Russians have something there. Thanks for the reply, Eliza.

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  13. One of my favorite birthday celebrations was when I was in Russia with my kids' high school orchestra. Several of my friends were also on the trip and wanted to surprise me. Some of them were trying to get me out of the room to surprise me when I would return, but I was not feeling great and would not leave. Plan B was to get the room key from my roommate and all walk into the room at 12:01 am with presents, treats, and singing. I was very surprised and glad I was not in my pajamas yet! Thank you for the fun post - today is my mom's 89th birthday,

    lindajhutchins@gmail.com

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    1. Aww, happy birthday to your mom, Linda! And what a fun birthday memory, celebrating in a foreign country. Thanks for your reply.

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  14. Thanks for sharing the history of our birthday traditions! As a kid I always loved breaking open the pinata. A fun memory was my great-uncle lighting my great-grandma's birthday cake with a blow torch- it had 96 candles on it!

    colorvibrant at gmail dot com

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    1. Wow, Heidi, 96 candles! I can see why the blowtorch was used. LOL My hubby's grandmother reached 101 just a month before she passed away, but I never actually saw that many candles on her cake

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  15. Linda Marie Finn, you are the winner for my giveaway. Please be on the lookout for an email from me. Thanks everyone for stopping by and leaving your thoughts!

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  16. I like the Russian birthday PIES best of all! My Mom and Dad put on spectacular birthdays for us as MK's in Nigeria. They arranged magic tricks by a local European businessman, pony rides, monkey tricks, balloons, hats, lots of presents, homemade birthday cakes, games, prizes and lots of friends. We have great memories of these parties. sharon wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  17. Wow, Jennifer, I'm glad I don't live in Argentina. I wouldn't have any ears left! Happy anniversary and happy birthday. Marvelous post, thank you.

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