The various traditions and customs people follow to celebrate their birthdays have their origin lying in the sphere of religion and pleasing the supernatural powers for safety of the person. It is an occasion for offering congratulations, presentation of gifts, and celebrations.
It is believed that the tradition of celebrating birthdays started in Europe. If you turn the pages of history, you can trace these customs in the cult of Mithras, which was initiated in Persia and later spread throughout the Roman Empire by the soldiers.
Although superseded by Christianity in the Middle Ages, it again started spreading after the movement of Protestant reformation. During the middle ages, people used to conceal gold coins, rings, or thimbles inside their cakes as symbol. This symbolic item was associated with a certain prediction. If a person found a gold coin in his/her birthday cake, it was considered as symbol of wealth; and if someone found a thimble, it was predicted as lifetime bachelorhood.
Over the years, many traditions held roots in different cultures across the globe. Some of them are quite similar to each other, while others are unique. One of the most observed custom is cutting a cake covered with lit candles. The birthday boy or girl makes a silent wish and blows out the candles. In most English speaking countries, it is very common to sing the famous Happy Birthday Song. Even in non-English speaking countries, local versions of these songs are sung by the people, like Zum Geburtstag Viel Glück in German or Sto lat in Polish.
It is believed that candles carry the wishes to God. Another commonly observed tradition is games in which a child is judged on comparison between his/her present achievements with the last year's in the same game.
- In Argentina, on the occasion of fifteenth birthday, they have a huge party in which the birthday girl dances the waltz with her father and other boys.
- In Canada, the birthday boy or girl is ambushed and their nose is greased with butter or margarine. It is believed that a greased nose makes the child so slippery that bad luck can't catch them. This tradition is presumed to have origination from the Scottish culture. In some parts, like Quebec, the birthday boy or girl receives punches equal to the number of their ages, plus one for good luck.
- In most of the African nations, they have a tradition of an initiation ceremony instead of birthdays. When children reach a chosen age, they are taught the laws, customs, beliefs, songs, and dances of their tribes.
- In China, the birthday boy or girl pays respect to his/her parents. The friends are invited to lunch and noodles are served to wish the child a long life.
- In Denmark, a flag is hoisted outside the window to symbolize that someone in the house is celebrating their birthday. Generally, parents place the presents around the child's bed in the night itself, so the child sees them immediately upon awakening.
- In Holland, special years such as 5, 10, 15, 20, and 21 are celebrated as "crown" years. The birthday boy or girl receives particularly large gifts on this day. The family decorates the child's chair at the dining table with seasonal or paper flowers and balloons. The child offers his/her classmates something to eat and their teacher offers a birthday hat to the child, which is usually made up of paper streamers.
- In South Africa, they follow a presentation of a key made up of aluminum wrapped with silver or gold foil at age twenty-one. It is presented by the parents as a symbol of the child's readiness to unlock the door to their future.
- In Israel, the child sits in a chair while grown-ups raise the chair and lower it a number of times depending on the child's age, plus one for good luck.
- In countries like Ireland or UK, the tradition of bumping is very common.
- In Nepal, a certain mixture of color and rice-yogurt is placed on the birthday boy's forehead to fetch good luck.
- In Russia, they celebrate the occasion with a pie instead of a cake.
- In Scotland, the birthday child usually gets a note of pound and soft smacking.
- In Vietnam, they do not recognize their individual birthdays, but celebrate collectively at the beginning of the New Year.
Thus, there are numerous traditions observed from generation to generation to preserve those moments of birthdays- the cherished mementos of sweet memories!