Celebrating a birthday with cake become pretty widespread due to the United States of America and Europe’s influence. Many Americans forget that cultures worldwide have amazing birthday traditions that don’t always involve sugary treats.
Our list’s traditions are certainly not representative of entire cultures and certainly aren’t always the reality. I mean, who the United States is still getting birthday spankings at 30? If you see an Irish child hung upside down, having their head touched to the ground, you’ll at least know what’s going on.
1. Denmark: A flag outside a door means there’s a birthday
On a birthday, Danish people will hang their flag outside their door to show that there’s a birthday in the house. For kids, they place presents under their bed while they’re asleep.
2. Brazil: Pull their ears!
One Brazilian tradition is to pull on the birthday boy or girl’s ear lobe. Hungary also shares this tradition but throw in a fun song. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sounds like it could be fun.
3. Canada: Nose Butter
On the east coast of Canada, kids are “ambushed” and have butter smeared on their noses. It’s a superstitious action, as people believe that this will ward off bad luck. Though this is more common in Canada, you can find this tradition in small pockets of Virginia and North Carolina.
4. Ecuador: Two Birthdays, Almost?
In Ecuador, you celebrate your birthday on the day the Saint you were named after was born. On your actual birthday, you receive a card or something small. It’s not like you get two full birthdays, but every little bit extra sounds pretty cool.
5. China: Noodles for a long life
One Chinese birthday tradition is to eat a plate of long noodles. The noodles symbolize longevity, the person celebrating needs to slurp up as much of the noodle as possible before taking a bite for a long, healthy life.
6. Ireland: Hit the Deck
One Irish tradition is for a child to be held upside down and “bumped” on the floor for every year of their life plus one more for good luck. Probably too dangerous for helicopter parents in the US.
7. Jamaica: “Antiquing” with flower
A fun Jamaican birthday tradition is to throw flour on your friends. No matter how old you are, your friends and family will “antique” you with flour in an ambush or an organized party. Not the best tradition for neat freaks, but it sounds like a lot of fun!
8. Indonesia: Pranks!
Indonesians customarily will play pranks on the birthday celebrant throughout the day. These can include mashing cake in your face, dousing you in water, or throwing you in a pool. Sometimes, these pranks do get out of hand. A viral video in 2018 showed a 3-year-old boy have eggs smashed violently on him led to widespread outrage on the internet. Don’t let this taint your views of this tradition – most pranks are harmless. As with most things, some people take things too far.
9. Ghana: A communal birthday breakfast
In Ghana, families and friends share a dish made of mashed yams, boiled eggs, and palm oil called oto. A family gathers together in the morning, scoops up a clump in their right hand, and eats it directly out of their palm. Don’t pick it up with our left hand – Ghanans consider the left hand dirty and never eat with it.
10. Mexico: Birthday Piñata
This is one you’ve probably partaken in or at least know about. The birthday piñata is a paper mache person, animal, or object that is often filled with candy. The birthday boy or girl is blindfolded and given a bat or broomstick to break it open. Talk about a fun time!
11. Australia: Fairy Bread
Americans eat cake on their birthday, and Australians have something called fairy bread. It’s so simple, you could probably make yourself some right now. It’s white bread smothered in butter and covered in sprinkles.
12. Germany: Sweeping City Hall
If you’re single and 30 in Germany, there’s a tradition that you sweep the steps of city hall while your friends throw trash at you. The only way to get out of it is to kiss a passerby. In another fun twist, you buy drinks for your friends, not the other way around.
13. Vietnam: Birthdays On The Same Day?
In Vietnam, everyone in the country comes together to celebrate their birthday on New Year’s Day, which they refer to as “tet.” The actual birth date is never acknowledged, and your age changes only at the beginning of the year.