Unique Birthday Traditions Around the World
Happy birthday! Feliz cumpleaños! Bonne Fete! Most countries around the world celebrate birthdays. But, birthday traditions around the world differ so much. From pranks, to really long noodles, to celebrating everyone’s birthday all on the same day, here are some of the most interesting birthday traditions from around the globe.
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Not all countries celebrate birthdays with cake. Some do celebrate with cake but also have other traditional birthday dishes.
Fairy Bread in Australia
In Australia, birthdays are celebrated with a treat called ‘Fairy Bread’. Fairy Bread involves taking a slice of bread, spreading a thin layer of butter on top, and adding sprinkles to it. In Australia, sprinkles are actually called ‘hundreds and thousands’. This colorful dessert is especially popular at children’s birthday parties.
Taarties in the Netherlands
Popular birthday desserts in the Netherlands are special kinds of tarts or ‘taarties’. They are usually filled with different kinds of fruits and have whipped cream on top.
Age Differences & Seaweed Soup in South Korea
In South Korea, your first birthday is actually considered to be the day you’re born! So if you’re 25 years old in North America, you’re actually 26 in South Korea.
‘Miyeokguk’, or seaweed soup, is often eaten by Korean mothers to aid in their postpartum recovery. The practice of eating seaweed soup during postpartum recovery dates back to Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty (around the year 918). Nowadays people eat seaweed soup on their birthdays to honor their mothers – the ones who brought them into the world.
Oto in Ghana
Also called Etor, Eto, and Otor, Oto is a dish made of mashed Ghanian yams, boiled eggs, and red onion along with a couple of other ingredients. This meal isn’t just for celebrating birthdays, it’s also made to celebrate coming of age ceremonies, baby naming ceremonies, and more.
Longevity Noodles in China
In China, it is common for the birthday person to receive a bowl of extra-long noodles to eat. Longevity noodles, or yi mein, symbolize long life and good luck. Even if you don’t live in China, you may be able to find a box of dried yi mein at your local Asian supermarket and then you can try making them at home! Just make sure that when you’re cooking them, you avoid breaking the noodles into smaller pieces. They’re meant to be long for longevity!
Torta de Mil Hojas and Pineapple Cakes in Chile
There are two kinds of desserts common during birthday celebrations in Chile. One is the ‘torta de mil hojas’ or ‘cake of a thousand leaves’. There aren’t any actual ‘leaves’ in this cake but rather many thin layers of flaky pastry with different fillings in between them. The most popular fillings are dulce de leche and walnuts but jams and whipped cream can also be used.
Another popular Chilean dessert sometimes used to celebrate birthdays is Pineapple Cake. The recipes use a vanilla sponge cake with a filling of pineapple cubes and whipped cream.
Rice Yogurt in Nepal
In Nepal, colored rice yogurt is often eaten to celebrate birthdays. Not only that but some of the yogurt is often rubbed onto the birthday person’s forehead. This is a blessing for long life, health, and good luck.
Cake Men & Cake Ladies in Denmark
In Denmark, children get special cakes in the shape of men or women. They’re kind of like gingerbread man cookies but on a much larger scale, and made of cake. The cake man or cake woman gets decorated with lots of different kinds of candies, icing, and chocolates. They are most common at children’s birthday parties.
Nose-Greasing and Birthday Bumps in Canada
In parts of Eastern Canada, such as Nova Scotia, nose-greasing is a common birthday prank. If it’s your birthday and you’re in Canada’s maritime provinces, watch out! You could get your nose greased with butter at any point during the day!
In other parts of Canada, such as BC where I grew up, kids can expect birthday bumps. Birthday bumps involve grabbing the birthday person’s legs and arms and lifting them into the air repeatedly so they bounce or ‘bump’ up and down. It’s common that you get one bump per year of your life, so if you’re turning 11, be ready for 11 bumps. Apparently, this birthday bump tradition is also common in Ireland and parts of the UK.
Ear Pulling in Spain
Similar to birthday bumps in Canada, you can expect to have your ear tugged on or pulled in Spain. Again, it’s also common that you get one tug for every year of your life, so 20 years old means 20 tugs on the ear. Ouch! This tradition may also be common in some other countries as well.
Flouring in Jamaica
In Jamaica, it’s common for the birthday person to get completely covered in flour at some point during their special day. Sometimes people will first toss water on the birthday person first so that the flour really sticks!
Throwing Cinnamon in Denmark
In Denmark, if you are unwed or single on your 25th birthday, you can expect to be doused in cinnamon. The reason cinnamon is used is that in Denmark, spice merchants were often away for long periods of time and therefore didn’t have the time to find a spouse.
When I first read about this I thought it was a bit old-fashioned, but apparently, these days the tradition isn’t so much to make fun of anyone for being single, but rather an excuse to play a prank. In fact, most Danish people do not get married until their 30s anyway.
Songs, Piñatas & Quinceañeras in Mexico
My partner, Arturo is Mexican and we recently lived in Mexico for 3 years together. Something that surprised me about Mexican birthday celebrations was how many songs they sing!
In Canada, we just have the one classic, ‘Happy Birthday to You’ song, but in Mexico, I kept losing track of how many songs there were. And it’s not just songs either, there are also chants. There are chants that cheer on the birthday person, chants for cutting the cake, and chants specifically for cheering on people as they swing at piñatas.
If you didn’t already know, piñatas were originally invented to celebrate Christmas and the first piñatas were all made in the classic five-pointed star shape. Now, piñatas are used to celebrate birthdays as well as New Year’s and other celebrations. The piñata is such a fun birthday activity that many countries have also added piñatas to their growing lists of birthday traditions.
In Mexico, piñatas are sold at many different places. It’s very common to see them hanging above you as you walk through marketplaces or sold out of storefronts devoted to only selling piñatas in all different shapes, sizes and colors.
You may have already heard about quinceañeras. The quinceañera celebrates a girl’s coming of age at age 15. The celebrations usually involve the birthday girl wearing a bright and sparkly princessy prom-style dress.
In Mexico City, whenever we drove or walked by the Angel of Independence, there were often girls celebrating their quineceañeras and getting their photos taken on the steps of the iconic statue. Photoshoots for quinceañeras happen in many different locations
Aarti in India
Prayers or ‘puja’ for the birthday person are often led by the eldest female family member. During this time, a celebration involving light called ‘Aarti’ takes place. A burning wick placed in ghee is lifted on a silver plate and circled around the birthday person while different family members give blessings.
Sharing Birthdays in Vietnam
You’ll never forget someone’s birthday in Vietnam! That’s because individual birthdays are not celebrated but rather everyone celebrates their birthday together during New Year or Tet.
Extra Birthday Tradition Facts from around the World
History of Birthday Celebrations
In Ancient Egypt, when Pharoahs were crowned, they were believed to become gods. Their crowning day was considered their ‘birth’ day.
History of the Cake & Candles Birthday Tradition
After the Ancient Egyptians started these birthday celebrations, Greeks started participating in the tradition but added cake to the mix. When they had a birthday, they would offer cake to the goddess of the moon, Artemis.
Since Artemis is the goddess of the moon, the Greeks baked moon-shaped cakes and decorated them with candles. That way the cakes could shine just like the moon!
The first birthday cake as we know it today was for children’s birthdays in Germany in the Middle Ages. The tradition was called ‘Kinderfest’ and it involved the birthday child receiving a cake with the same number of candles as the age they were turning.
Golden Birthday & Champagne Birthday Traditions
Your Golden Birthday or Champagne Birthday is the birthdate that matches your age. For example, if you turn 23 on the 23rd of the month, that is your Golden Birthday or Champagne Birthday.
The terms Golden Birthday and Champagne Birthday are fairly interchangeable and are gaining a lot of popularity around the world.
To celebrate this special event as a Golden Birthday many people throw parties where everyone dresses in gold. To celebrate a Champagne Birthday it’s obviously a great excuse to enjoy a bottle of champagne!
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