An old friend excuses herself to go to the bathroom, and on the way back, she secretly stops by the hostess’ stand to tell them it’s your birthday. Waiters arrive at the table and form a ring around you, singing “Happy Birthday” with a surprise dessert in hand. Later, you might head to a couple of nearby bars for drinks. And at work that morning, your coworkers probably presented you with a sweet treat. This looks like a common birthday in the United States, but traditions vary in the rest of the world. In some countries, birthdays aren’t celebrated at all.
Birthday rituals first started with celebrations of the birthdays of rulers or religious figures. The earliest celebrations trace their origins back to ancient Egypt, when pharaohs were “reborn” as Gods and their new “birth day” was celebrated. Ancient Greeks offered moon-shaped cakes lit with candles to honor the radiance of lunar goddess Artemis. The first such recorded birthday celebrations for non-religious reasons took place in ancient Rome, which started with celebrating only men’s birthdays.
The Daily Meal rounded up the food and drink birthday traditions of 13 countries from around the world. For some, we pulled personal anecdotes from people who hail from or currently live in these countries. No matter which way you slice the cake (or the pie, if you live in Russia), birthdays are a time to celebrate.
Additional reporting by Alexandra E. Petri.