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How People Celebrate Birthdays Around the World
In the U.S., most people celebrate birthdays with a gathering of friends, some cake with candles, and possibly a large volume of alcohol. But this is by no means the norm around the world. Birthday traditions vary from place to place and culture to culture.
A common practice in one place can seem alien elsewhere, but it’s important to remember that every tradition is valid, and no one celebration style is any better or worse than any other. As long as the person enjoys their day, their birthday is a success.
Let’s take a look at the wide variety of birthday celebrations that make up the human experience.
BRING A BROOM TO A PARTY IN GERMANY
Germans have a curious birthday tradition that started hundreds of years ago. Men that are still single on their 30th birthday are expected to sweep the steps of their local city hall while their friends laugh and lightly pelt them with dirt and gravel. This embarrassing display is supposed to continue until a passing woman agrees to a quick peck.
These men were also required to dress in drag in the distant past, further cementing their humiliation. For some, the prospect of this 30th birthday ordeal was all the motivation they needed to find a mate.
CANADA HAS ITS OWN EMBARRASSING DISPLAYS
Our neighbors to the north have a comically humiliating tradition as well. For reasons unknown to us, celebrants are “attacked” on their birthdays, and their noses are smeared with butter, in an effort to bring them good luck. Of course, the confrontation is all in good fun, but you do run the risk of a slippery nose.
SEE ALSO: 10 Best Birthday Quotes and Wishes
BEAT IT WITH A STICK, AND YOU GET CANDY!
We have our Mexican friends to thank for this singularly violent yet delicious tradition. For hundreds of years, birthday celebrants in Mexico have been filling paper mache animals with candy and then pummeling them, blindfolded, to get at their sweet reward.
Interestingly, even though piñatas are most commonly associated with Mexico, they got their start in China. Seven hundred years ago, Marco Polo discovered this rich tradition in his travels to Asia and brought it back to Europe. Spanish colonizers then brought the practice to the Americas, and the rest is history.
AND SPEAKING OF CHINA
The Chinese love their noodles, so this particular tradition doesn’t feel at all out of place. Instead of a cake, birthday celebrants are wished good luck in the coming year by eating a delicious plate of long noodles. The length of the noodles is supposed to promise a long, healthy life. It would certainly be nice if this connection were genuine, but even if it isn’t, you still get to enjoy a lovely noodle dish on your birthday.
SEE ALSO: How to Send Birthday Cards in Bulk
AUSTRALIANS ALSO DON’T EAT CAKE
Birthday cakes aren’t found down under, either. Instead, kids are treated to fairy bread, a rolled-up “pastry” consisting of buttered white bread covered in rainbow sprinkles.
Yes, it’s just buttered bread with sprinkles.
Nope, there’s no sugar. Just butter — and sprinkles. They could opt for a moist cake topped with decadent buttercream frosting, but instead, they choose...sprinkle bread.
That’s the beautiful thing about culture. A practice or food that seems strange to outsiders is bound up in a rich tradition that brings deep meaning to those that live in it. So do whatever brings you joy! We might try some fairy bread in the office breakroom later.
SEE ALSO: How to Plan a Surprise Birthday Party
IF YOU DON’T HAVE BREAD OR CAKE, BUT YOU DO HAVE FLOUR
If you have a five-pound bag of refined wheat flour on you, you’re ready for a traditional Jamaican birthday party. The culture has a practice they call “antiquing.” No, it doesn’t involve searching dusty shops for old furniture. Instead, birthday party guests will pelt the celebrant with flour, ultimately coating them from head to toe.
Sounds fun (it is) until you learn that the antiquing could come at any time, anywhere. It might happen at your party, but you could just as easily be ambushed by a group of friends anywhere. So keep your eyes wide and your ears peeled when in Jamaica on your birthday.
SOME BIRTHDAYS ARE MORE IMPORTANT
Many cultures assign extra significance to specific birthdays. The Latin American quinceañera tradition is a good example. When a girl turns fifteen, she’s welcomed into womanhood with a religious mass and then a large family party. These celebrations can be quite large — and expensive, but they serve to make a girl’s fifteenth birthday extremely special.
NIGERIANS HAVE FOUR SPECIAL BIRTHDAYS
Birthday celebrants in Nigeria also venerate their fifteenth birthday. To this, they add their first, fifth, and tenth. All four get larger parties full of family and friends. They take their birthdays very seriously.
During the party, Nigerian children play a game called Pass the Parcel. A package wrapped in multiple layers of paper or fabric is passed around in a circle while music plays. Whichever child has the parcel when the music stops removes a layer of wrapping. This process repeats until a child strips off the last layer, winning the prize inside.
IN VIETNAM, EVERYONE’S BIRTHDAY IS THE SAME!
Sorry, come again? Everyone in Vietnam shares a birthday? How can that be possible?!
It’s not, of course. Vietnamese celebrants have unique birthdays just like anywhere else, but these dates aren’t mentioned. Instead, everyone celebrates their birthday on Tet, the country’s New Year’s celebration.
This observation provokes the question; When does a Vietnamese person turn another year older, on the anniversary of the day of their birth or Tet? The answer is, surprisingly, Tet. Everyone in Vietnam that observes the practice turns a year older at the same time. It’s a lovely tradition.
AMID ALL THIS VARIETY, BIRTHDAY CARDS ARE MORE UNIVERSAL
Birthday cards have a long tradition that stretches back into the distant past. The earliest examples we’ve found date to the ancient Romans. With that kind of pedigree, it’s not surprising that birthday cards are common across a variety of countries and cultures.
This wide acceptance is another excellent reason to use Simply Noted for your birthday wishes. You can queue up handwritten cards for friends around the globe. Our automated handwriting machines will hand-pen your message into a lovely card and drop it in the mail at each person’s appointed time. It’s the simplest way to send warm birthday greetings on time, every time.