children holding hands around globe
Buttering your nose? Fortune-telling trinkets? Bathroom birthday calendar? A guest list of 150?
These may sound like outrageous birthday ideas to you but to children around the world, a birthday wouldn’t be a birthday without one of these traditions.
The standard American kids’ birthday party goes something like this: host party at your house/restaurant/event center, guests bring wrapped present for your kid, you provide food (including frosted and decorated cake) for guests, guests sing off-key version of ‘Happy Birthday’ after which your child blows out candles on cake and rips into gifts, guests get a goody bag, everyone goes home exhausted (perhaps nobody more so than all the parents!).
There are always extremes. Who hasn’t caught a glimpse of MTV’s ‘My Super Sweet Sixteen?’ TLC featured a reality show called ‘Outrageous Kids Parties‘ and introduced audiences to a couple who spent $32,000 on their daughter’s 6-year-old birthday party. In February 2011, Good Morning America showcased a children’s birthday planner who arranged a party with a whopping $40,000 budget!
That’s not to say that birthdays in other parts of the world don’t attain the same lavishness. Of course some do. But these celebrations often incorporate a culture or religion or tradition that make them more meaningful than a mega birthday bash.
Here is quick roundup of some of our favorites that you can incorporate into your kiddo’s next birthday party:
South Korea A child’s first birthday is very important in Korean culture, explained Bora Gahng, who lives in South Korea. A family will throw a party at their house or restaurant but gifts (other than money) are not required. Instead, the baby will sit in the middle of a circle of objects and perform a ritual called a ‘Doljabi.’ “The baby will pick from a variety of things like a thread, pencil, a bill of money or stethoscope,” Bora said. “Nowadays, people seem to add a microphone or a golf club because parents want their babies to be a star or a golf player.”
Each object symbolizes a future path for the child. “Thread represents long life; a pencil equals intelligence; a stethoscope means the baby will grow up to be a doctor,” Bora explained. A similar ritual is performed in Chinese culture.
Canada Buttered noses and fortune cakes await Canadian kids on their birthdays.
A buttered nose is supposed to help children to slip away from bad luck. Lore has it that this tradition began in Scotland and carried into Eastern Canada.
Even better than a buttered nose is a fortune cake, sometimes called a money cake. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Coins (lots of smaller change and only one quarter) are individually wrapped in a twist of wax paper and baked into a cake. The birthday party guest who finds the quarter is destined for the greatest wealth that year!
Israel When a Jewish children come of age, they undergo a rite of passage called a Bar Mitzvah (age 13 for boys) or a Bat Mitzvah (age 12 for girls). The religious meaning of the ritual is to indicate that the boy or girl is responsible for his/her actions. Kids are required to stand before the synagogue and read a portion of the Torah.
While you may already be familiar with this, you may not realize that a lot of American parents host their child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah in Israel.
“I’ve known a lot of families who have had their kids’ Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s in Israel because really, it’s a religious event at its core,” said Danielle Braff Karpinos, a mother of two girls who grew up in New York City. “But it’s also a huge deal. It’s like a wedding and it gets really expensive for everyone involved.”
Karpinos remembers receiving getting Tiffany necklaces and other expensive presents - “well over $100,” she says - from her guest list that totaled roughly 150 people.
Netherlands There are two things you need to know about birthdays among the Dutch: you better be prepared to bake your own cake, and nobody will ever forget your child’s birthday because it will be printed on a ‘Birthday Calendar’ proudly displayed in family and friends’ bathrooms. Yep, you read that right.
According to the hilarious blog www.stuffdutchpeoplelike.com (which appears to be helmed, and policed by, a vigorous number of orange-loving Dutch), birthdays are serious business in Netherlands. As soon as you can comfortably operate the oven on your own (we’re talking to you, teens) you’ll be expected to provide a tasty cake for your guests. Then, the congratulations (or “Gefeliciteerd”) begins.
Rain Richards, an American living in the Netherlands with her fiancé, says she found the tradition odd at first. “You not only congratulate the person on their birthday, but you congratulate their parents, other family members, friends, kids, basically everyone in the room,” she says. “Then you take your spot and wait to be waited on by the birthday host.”
But you get the same treatment as your guests whenever one of their birthdays rolls around and you’ll never miss one because of your birthday calendar!
Patricia Carlson is a full-time freelance writer and media coach. Follow her work on Facebook at Patricia O’Connor Carlson and Twitter @pattycfreelance.