Birthday Traditions from Around the World

Birthday Traditions from Around the World

A few years ago, a Cup of Jo reader told us that many adults in Germany throw their own birthday parties. How cool and empowered is that? Curious about other countries, we asked readers on Instagram to share their traditions, and they revealed 14 cool ways to celebrate (what would you add?)…


“In the U.K., lots of people buy caterpillar cakes (log-like chocolate cakes covered in frosting with eyes and a mouth at one end). The national supermarket Marks and Spencer sells them. They’re very nostalgic and incredibly British. — Elspeth

“In Brazil, we eat brigadeiros, which are chocolate balls covered with sprinkles. They’re the best. We also clap non-stop while singing happy birthday.” — Gisela


“Where we live in Holland, the birthday boy or girl usually gives a simple bouquet of flowers to their mother. It makes sense, since mom did all the work to make a birthday happen in the first place.” — Sarah

“In Hong Kong, we don’t like giving out watches/clocks as gifts as they symbolize the passing of time, meaning that you’re getting closer to death!” — Jessica


“My family has a very sweet tradition in India. You wake up the birthday person at midnight with cake and sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ My cousins and aunts and uncles all did it for me, and it’s such a lovely memory.” — Niha

“In Argentina, we call or text the birthday boy or girl when his or her birthday begins, at midnight exactly.” — Alexia


“As the birthday boy/girl in Italy, you get to pay for EVERYONE! So, I’ll let you imagine how expensive it gets when you go out with a lot of friends. But other than that, it’s a blast of a celebration.” — Francesco

“In the Netherlands, people greet each other at birthday parties by expressing congratulations. So, you introduce yourself and say, ‘Congratulations on the birthday of Anna,’ even if it’s a neighbor or friend. And then that person says congratulations back.”

“In the U.K., it’s normal NOT to serve cake at kids’ bday parties, but instead stick a slice in a napkin and put it in the goody bag to take home, so you arrive home with a smushed piece of cake stuck to a napkin. It drove the American expat moms bananas.” — Melissa


“Food in Chinese culture has very symbolic connotations, and during birthdays we like to eat longevity noodles (yi mian, or 伊面) and longevity buns (sao bao, or 寿包) to represent long lives. The noodles are super long egg noodles which you slurp up in one go — we try not to cut them up because it means that you’re cutting your life short! As for the longevity buns, they’re fluffy buns shaped like peaches and stuffed with lotus paste and sometimes egg yolks. In Chinese folklore, peaches were said to have been consumed by immortals. Of course, these are more traditional celebrations practiced by the older generation, and nowadays most people my age tend to just celebrate with cake and a nice meal out — but I hope to be able to pass these traditions on to my future children, not only because I would like them to appreciate their culture, but also because the food tastes so good!” — Jessica


“I grew up in Nova Scotia, and growing up, we got the dreaded ‘buttered nose’ on our birthdays. Basically, a family member would sneak up on you and cover your nose in butter. The sneakiness of the ‘attack’ was usually coordinated with attempts to catch it on camera! It’s said that your buttered nose should bring you good luck for the coming year as nothing bad would be able to ‘stick’ to you.” — Kimberley


“In Argentina, ear pulling is really common, especially with kids. You pull one or both ears as many times as years the person is turning, and you add an extra one for good luck. You also receive coscorrones, which are knuckle taps in the head. They can hurt a lot, so thankfully that practice has been going out of style.” — Alexia


“Danes are very into our flag and we use it for every festive occasion — especially birthdays. We’ll decorate tables and cakes with various sizes of our flag. If you have a flag pole in your backyard, you’ll raise it in honor of the birthday child or the very least put paper flags outside your house for the neighborhood to see.” — Kathrine

“In the Netherlands, it’s traditional to decorate the house with ‘slingers’ (garlands) and balloons on birthdays — this starts young and continues into adulthood. It’s not a birthday without slingers!” – Anna

P.S. What it’s like to parent around the world, including Turkey and Japan.

(Photo by Bettmann.)