The Western idea of celebrating a birthday with cake and candles has certainly caught on in other parts of the world, but many cultures have long-standing traditional ways to celebrate that don’t involve a sugar rush.
Obviously, the practices found in the list below are not entirely representative of the preferences of every household or individual. We’re sure many of them are more traditional and hypothetical than a reality, but if you happen to be in Germany and see a group of men with a broom on the steps of city hall, you’ll at least know what they’re up to.
1. Canada: Nose Grease
On the Atlantic side of Canada, birthday boys and girls are sometimes “ambushed” and their noses are greased, usually with butter, to ward off bad luck. A friend who lives in Pictou told this writer that “The butter got worse as you got older. It was good luck as much as torture as I remember it.” We would imagine so!
2. China: Long Noodles for Longevity
Chinese birthday tradition maintains that one should symbolize their longevity by eating a plate of long noodles, slurping them in as far as possible before biting.
3. Germany: Sweeping the Streets of City Hall
When single men in Germany turn 30, an old tradition is for them to sweep the steps of their local city hall as their friends toss rubble onto them. The ordeal, meant to embarrass, is supposed to carry on until the birthday boy is able to plant one on a passing woman. Also, as this author personally found out recently, you buy the drinks for your friends on your birthday, unlike in the States where it is the other way around.
4. Ireland: Hit the Deck
Think the Irish had a few when coming up with this one? Tradition maintains that a child is held upside down and is “bumped” on the floor, once for every year of their age plus one for good luck. We’re guessing lawyers would have something to say about this in the United States!
5. Jamaica: Modern Day Antiquing
Just like that one friend you had in college, Jamaicans think dousing their friends with flour is fun. Regardless of age, tradition calls for the birthday boy or girl to be “antiqued,” or coated with flour, by friends and family, either at an organized party or as part of an ambush.
6. Mexico: The Birthday Piñata
Mexicans sure know how to have a good time, and it’s no surprise that they have what is in my opinion the most fun tradition for children: The birthday piñata filled with candy. Grab a blindfold and a broomstick, and let the celebration begin. I don’t know about you, but I certainly would trade my birthday cake for a piñata any day.
7. Vietnam: Happy… New Year?
Everyone celebrates their birthday on New Year’s Day in Vietnam, a day they refer to as “tet.” Vietnamese tradition is that the actual day of birth is not to be acknowledged. Rather, people become a year older every year at tet.