Birthday traditions around the world

Travel April 28, 2020

Christmas, Hanami, Hanukkah, the 4th of July, Eid Al-Adha… Festivities and holidays vary from one culture to the next, as do the traditions and forms of celebration that surround them.

Birthdays, however, are considered an important event in most (although not all) cultures. What’s more, many nations enjoy charming celebrations that are quite unlike the Western cake-eating and candle traditions – believe it or not, not all cultures celebrate birthdays with a sugar rush. Anyone hoping to make friends while learning a language abroad, should find out how to celebrate their birthdays!

Here are 8 birthday traditions that may not be entirely representative of every household or individual, but at least they’ll give you an idea of what’s going on if you happen to stumble upon an odd nose-greasing encounter in Canada!

1.- Quinceañera, Latin America

In many Latin-American countries, girls’ 15th birthdays are considered a milestone. It marks the beginning of their womanhood and their ability to handle more mature responsibilities. As a fun and festive event, celebrations begin with a mass and continue with a lavish party where dinner and drinks are served, and the quinceañera mayperform a dance with her peers.

2.- Fairy bread, Australia

No offence to our Aussie friends, but we can’t help but feel this tradition must have been initiated by exhausted parents who managed to come up with an effortless replica of the cake-eating tradition. Fairy bread is essentially made with white bread, butter and multicoloured sprinkles – and it looks SO cute at kids’ birthday parties!

3.- Nose greasing, Canada

Apparently, Canadians are quite unique in their well-wishing. In the Big White North, the birthday gal or boy is often ambushed and has their nose greased with butter in order to ward off bad luck. This particular tradition begs so many questions… Why the nose? How may nose-greasing attacks have resulted in actual fist fights? And do Canadian vegans also get greased in butter???

4.- Ear pulling, Spain

If you’re lucky enough to celebrate your birthday in Spain, you may want to make sure it’s at a young age… Your Spanish friends will pull your ear once for every year you’ve lived and just when you think the torture is over, you’ll get a really hard last pull for extra luck!

5.- Gift opening, Italy

Receiving presents on your birthday is a tricky business in Italy. Social rules dictate you must immediately open the gift when it’s given to you or you’ll risk coming across as rude! Better start practicing your ‘surprised but extremely grateful’ face – ‘Oh my God Karen, I SO wanted this random €10 vegetable spiralizer!’.

6.- Longevity noodles, China

On their birthdays, the Chinese eat extra-long noodles that symbolize their longevity. They’re to be eaten by slurping them in as far as possible before biting. Don’t know about you, but this sound pretty satisfying to us! Also, is there any other (maybe more elegant) way of eating noodles?

7.- The clothesline, Russia

Russians add extra warmth to birthday parties by including gifts for all of the children attending. Basically, adults hang up presents on a clothesline and each kid can pull one down to take home with them, so everyone wins!

8.- Non-birthdays, Vietnam

The last tradition we bring you is, in fact, not an actual birthday celebration since the Vietnamese don’t celebrate individual birthdays. Instead, everyone celebrates turning a year older together on the Vietnamese New Year (‘Tet’). Birthday or not, it must be quite a party!  As you can see, there are many fun and varied birthday traditions. Can you see yourself, say, munching on noodles or fairy bread instead of blowing out candles? Celebrating your birthday in a different country and in a different style is a brilliant way to really experience and feel part of another culture!

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By Julia Hoyas

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