Americans wish each other a “happy birthday” differently than other cultures do. When we’re kids, we play birthday games and make a wish when we blow out the candles on the birthday cake, but in other parts of the world, there might not be candles on the cake, or maybe the cake is a pie or a fruit tart.
A fruit- and cream-filled layered cake called pavlova is Australia’s version of a birthday cake. And at birthday parties, kids snack on “fairy bread,” which is buttered bread covered in sprinkles.
On their birthday, children in Ghana wake up to a traditional birthday breakfast called oto, a patty made with mashed sweet potatoes and eggs and fried in palm oil. And later for dessert, they’ll have a treat of fried plantain chunks known as kelewele.
Instead of cake on their birthday, kids in Brazil eat beautiful candies that are shaped like fruits and vegetables. It’s also traditional for family and friends to pull on the birthday kid’s earlobes once for every year the birthday boy or girl has been alive.
In Atlantic Canada, a coin is often hidden in the birthday cake and whoever finds it gets to have the first turn at party games. And as a birthday prank, the birthday kid’s nose is greased with butter or margarine for good luck (supposedly a greasy nose makes the child too slippery and bad luck can’t catch them).
All birthdays are celebrated on New Year’s in China (the date changes annually based on the lunar calendar, but is always in January or February). A long noodle represents a long life in Chinese culture, so everyone slurps bowls of long noodles during the birthday celebrations.
In Denmark, it’s more common to celebrate milestone birthdays (10, 20, 30, etc.) rather than a birthday every year. At these celebrations, which can last at least six hours, more than 100 friends and family may gather around a dinner table, singing songs and giving speeches in between courses. It’s also tradition to throw a Danish flag outside the window of the home of whoever’s birthday it is to let the neighbors know of the occasion.
Sesame sticks and gateaux (small individual cakes) are treats that might be served at birthday parties in Egypt. And because birthdays are such a big celebration with lots of friends and family, there are also usually two large birthday cakes, one with birthday candles, one without.
A traditional French cake known as Charlotte aux fraises (made with biscuits, crème patissiere, fresh strawberries, and strawberry sauce) is served at birthday parties in France.
Dudh pakh, a treat similar to rice pudding, is traditionally served at birthday parties in India.
In Israel, the 13th birthday is the most special birthday, which is when boys make their Bar Mitzvahs and girls make their Bat Mitzvahs, which is when they become adults in the eyes of their temple. Traditionally, the birthday boy or girl wears a crown made from leaves and flowers and sits in a decorated chair that friends and family dance around while singing. At one point, the parents of the birthday child lift him or her up in the chair, raising and lowering it 13 times.
Hoping to bring good luck and happiness to a birthday child, parents in Korea place red bean cakes in four special spots in the house. Later, a red and black bean cake is enjoyed at the birthday party.
In Nepal, a mixture of rice and yogurt is smeared on the birthday child’s forehead to bring good luck.
When celebrating a birthday, Nigerians roast a whole cow or goat and serve it with a traditional dish called jollof rice (made with tomatoes, red peppers, and onions).
Breaking open the piñata is the most anticipated part of a birthday party in Panama. It’s filled with candy and confetti and cracked open with a stick.
At a Russian birthday party, pie is always served, with a birthday greeting, equivalent to “Happy Birthday,” carved in the center of it.