Birthday Traditions

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Posted by Nupur

April is my birthday month, and around this time of the year, I always think back to the birthdays I celebrated as I was growing up. My busy and harried parents always made time to throw a birthday party for me (and for my sister on her birthday). Year after year, they planned, baked, mixed royal icing, blew balloons until they were blue in the face, armed themselves with a ladder, sticky tape and crepe paper streamers, decorated the living room and put together a homemade party with the works- guests, games, decorations and a decorated cake!

One of the most vivid childhood memories I have: my parents would put together a themed cake (exactly the way Dharm recently shared the birthday creations he makes for his kids). My favorite one was a swimming pool one year (I was an avid swimmer at the time), complete with wafer-cookie springboards, green jelly as the water and little figures (crafted from sugar) bobbing in the pool. A couple dozen kids from the neighborhood would be invited for a party. We would play time-tested games like "Passing the Parcel", "Pin the tail on the donkey" and "Musical Chairs" but my mother had her other favorites too. One of them was the "Memory Game". She would place 20 common household objects on a tray- like a bowl, a banana, a matchbook, a pair of earrings, a newspaper, etc. The tray was brought out, everybody got to look at it for exactly one minute and memorize the contents; then the tray was covered with a dishtowel. The person who could remember the most number of objects correctly was the winner of some tiny but lovingly wrapped prize. Another game that I remember was the "Treasure Hunt". My mother made dozens of exquisite little paper butterflies and hid them over the yard. Teams of 2-3 were given a little map and then went on a butterfly hunt. Now that I think about it, my parents tolerated trampled flowerbeds, a ruined garden and muddy footprints *all* over the house to let us play this game.

The cake and the birthday song are pretty universal elements of a birthday celebrations, but every culture does have its own special traditions. Not all Indian families celebrate a birthday with cake and candles. A sweet something is certainly a must at every celebration in India- some of my friends had a traditional Hindu celebration called the "aarti" with a little lamp lit in their honor, with their parents holding the lamp in front of them, followed by a sweet treat popped into their mouth. In India, it is considered rude to open gifts in the presence of the giver, so birthdays consisted of a long and agonizing wait; the presents could only be opened when the last guest had left! Another Indian tradition: when cash is given as a gift, you are not supposed to give a round figure like 10 or 100 (rupees or dollars or whatever). You always give amounts like 11, 51, 101, symbolizing that it is a gift that is not complete and that it "keeps on giving", so to speak.

Celebrating the birthdays of children results in fun and happiness all around, and memories to last a lifetime. But as people get older, they occasionally say things like, "I'm too old to celebrate my birthday". I disagree! After all, the life of a grown-up is often not an enviable one- it is too full of cares and worries and boring stuff like bills and tax returns. Children get plenty of attention and adoration, but adults are usually the ones looking after the needs and wants of others, not the ones being taken care of. A birthday is the perfect time to shower some special attention on a person, fuss over them a little bit and tell them the simple thing that we all need to hear from time to time: "You are special. The things you do are not being taken for granted. Your birthday is an important day for us to celebrate". Now that I am all grown-up (or so they tell me), I enjoy learning of new birthday traditions and trying to include them into my own little family. Here is one that I particularly like- letting the birthday girl or boy (no matter whether age they are) choose the menu for the day. If they want to eat pizza for breakfast and doughnuts for dinner, so be it. It is their day! This tradition sounds especially fun for birthdays that fall on an otherwise humdrum weekday.

For my sixteenth birthday, my aunt gave me a tiny book as one of the birthday gifts that she always showered me with. It was full of little quotes, and she had highlighted one that read, "Ever since you were born, my days have been happier". To me, this is the essence of celebrating a birthday. To both give and receive such a sentiment is indeed a joyous thing!

Do you have any special birthday traditions in your family? Please share them with us!

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by Nupur from One Hot Stove


I'd love to start some traditions! For my 50th birthday, I asked a woodworker to teach me to make a wooden spoon for my kitchen. For our grandchildren, we have "birthday adventure days", when we take each grandchild out on an adventure with us (the grandparents!) for the day -- to the zoo, a museum, the beach, whatever. It's a special time that we devote to each grandchild individually, and it's always fun.

April 23, 2008 at 4:31:00 AM GMT+2  

It was a very nice post. My daughter has birthday today and I hope she will recall her birthdays when she is grown-up just like you. Last but not least, I found an excellent tip in your final quote to what I could write on her "book cake" she is going to have on her birthday party.

Anonymous said...
April 23, 2008 at 2:38:00 PM GMT+2  

Lydia, how wonderful to add a spoon to your collection that you actually made with your own hands! I love the tradition of "adventure days" that you have with your time with a loved one is a very special gift! I love that much more than large family gatherings.

Uma, Happy Birthday to your little girl! I am positive that she will grow up with cherished memories of her birthdays. Your "book cake" sounds like a wonderful idea!

Nupur said...
April 24, 2008 at 3:38:00 AM GMT+2  

cakes were always important to us - i remember so many beautiful iced cakes that my mum used to pull together. thanks for reminding me nupur.

Anonymous said...
April 28, 2008 at 9:10:00 PM GMT+2  

hey nupur!
this is one beautiful post. birthdays for us always meant a great dinner, rice pudding,a cake and cards. even now when i am far from my family, i make it a point to eat a good meal (or at least a pastry)on their birthdays to celebrate (and also 'coz i'm greedy anyway)!

love, shoots :)

Anonymous said...
May 1, 2008 at 10:37:00 AM GMT+2  

Belated birthday wishes! :D

Your post just brought back so many wonderful memories of the birthday parties that my sister and I had growing up. "Passing the parcel", "Tailing the donkey, "Musical Chairs, the "Memory game", "Simon Says", guessing the number of chocolates in a jar, etc were some of the games we too played every year.

The cake and crisps(as we called them back home) were always from Monginis. And we always got it from this same shop in Andheri.:D
Oh! those were the good old days!

These days a birthday just involves going to a nice restaurant for a good meal.
Thanks for taking me down memory lane.

Hope you had a wonderful birthday, Nupur, and may all your hopes and dreams come true.:)

TBC said...
May 3, 2008 at 12:43:00 AM GMT+2  

Birthday traditions are always grand. We started to celebrate Soeren's birthday in a nature playground in the middle of the woods - simply gorgeous. We celebrated his 4th birthday and his 5th birthday there. This year it seems all his friends are looking forward to his 6th because they love the playground and associate Soeren with it.

Lovely post Nupur and Happy Belated Birthday!

Meeta K. Wolff said...
May 14, 2008 at 9:02:00 PM GMT+2  

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