Whoever designed birthday traditions got it right. There are presents, cake, a party, flower deliveries, and it’s a day all about you. But did you ever wonder how the rest of the world celebrates birthdays? If you’re looking to start a new tradition, take inspiration from how birthday party traditions are celebrated in other countries.
A noted difference between Germany and the United States is that if you’re invited to a birthday celebration, it’s the birthday boy or girl who pays the expenses. Additionally, it is said that if you wish someone a happy birthday before their actual birthday it is bad luck. For the gents who are single on their 30th, a popular birthday party tradition is to sweep the steps of their town hall or another equally busy place. They can’t stop until they find a lucky lady to kiss.
Birthdays celebrated in Great Britain are similar to the United States with birthday cakes and the singing of “Happy Birthday to You.” One distinction is that, sometimes, families will place something symbolic into the birthday cake (such as a coin for riches and wealth) for the birthday boy or girl to discover.
Sure, the Irish celebrate birthdays by having friends and family come together to enjoy food, drinks, and fun. Though it can be a bit more raucous because of the tradition of “bumping” the birthday boy or girl. In “bumping,” an adult is said to flip the person upside down and bump them on the floor as many times as they are old (gently, of course).
If you’re in Canada to celebrate someone’s birthday, don’t be surprised if you see them with a greasy nose. The purpose of doing so? To keep bad luck away for the following year. People who follow this tradition believe that putting something like butter on the birthday boy or girl’s nose will make them “too slippery” for bad luck to be present as they head into their next year.
Birthdays in Australia are almost always celebrated with a barbecue. Similar to birthday party traditions across the globe, you can expect to see decorations such as balloons, and the honoree will make a wish by blowing out the candles on their cake. However, Aussie children get an extra treat. They get to eat a sweet snack called fairy bread, which is covered in butter and sprinkles.
Everyone in Vietnam celebrates their birthday on the same day, New Year’s Day, which is known as “Tet Nguyen Dan” (Festival of the First Day). Tet is held on the first new moon after January 20 each year. Adults gift children with red envelopes with “lucky money” in them to celebrate and congratulate them on another year.
Birthdays are simple, thoughtful affairs in Norway. For school-aged children, they have a celebration that is exclusive to classmates and the birthday boy or girl will choose a classmate to dance with while their peers sing along. Their humble celebrating traditions continue as they get older by not having a birthday party thrown for them, but it’s up to the celebrant to plan their own party. The most standard birthday song would be ‘Hurra for deg som fyller ditt år,'” says Johnny Van Duong, a Project Manager in civil engineering for Skanska AB. “We also have a Norwegian version of ‘happy birthday to you,’ which is our second most popular song.”
In Denmark, there’s a cake for every occasion. On children’s birthdays, you will often have a “cake man” or “cake lady”, says Katinka Friis, PR & Press Manager for VisitDenmark. You create a person from Danish pastry and decorate with royal icing and tons of candy. It’s not the healthiest of food with a ribbon of marzipan draped across the body with a greeting for the birthday boy or girl. But isn’t sweet and decadent what birthdays are all about?
You’ll know someone is celebrating a birthday in Brazil just by the way the house is decorated, which is typically strewn with banners and brightly colored paper flowers. Children in Brazil are also known to eat candy on their birthday that is shaped like fruits and vegetables. Another tradition is the possibility of having their earlobes pulled on. Like “birthday punches” or “bumping” in Ireland, their earlobes are pulled as many times as they are old.
In Mexico, one of the most popular things to have at a birthday party is a candy-filled piñata. Party guests take turns giving it their all to crack it open, and once this happens, well, you know what comes next – everyone picks up as much candy as they can. Piñatas are more than an opportunity to enthusiastically seek candy, they also have spiritual meaning. Original piñatas had seven points to represent each sin. The act of being blindfolded symbolizes faith and you are spun 33 times for each year of Christ’s life. The breaking of the piñata symbolizes the forgiveness of sins and renewal.
A special birthday celebrated throughout Mexico and Latin America is a woman’s 15th birthday. known as a quinceañera. This celebration dates back to the Aztecs because the life expectancy during these times was about 30 and a 15-year-old woman was considered at her prime. The 15th birth year is said to symbolize her transition into womanhood. In current times, since a quinceañera is not only a birthday milestone but a religious one, there is a religious service followed by a party. The quinceañera is accompanied by 14 of her female friends and fifteen of her male guests. Like a bride on her wedding day, the quinceañera holds a bouquet with 15 flowers that typically match the party’s decorating theme.
We couldn’t possibly finish our list without mentioning some of the traditions of the United States. Noted Americans, such as certain presidents and Martin Luther King, Jr. are so celebrated. You may even get the day off from school or work for it. Then, there are also the universal customs shared by many countries of smearing your name on the cake, having the birthday boy or girl cut the first slice, blowing out the candles, and giving gifts.
Fun fact: Smearing your name on the cake
It is said that smearing the name on a birthday cake before it’s cut is good luck. Just be sure to get your social posts taken beforehand!