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. And the first such recorded birthday celebrations for non-religious reasons took place in ancient Rome, which started with celebrating only men’s birthdays.
Today, birthday celebrations remain popular occasions — though in the Western world, the older many of us get, the less we look forward to them. Nonetheless, birthdays and the ways they're observed help make up the fabric of a culture. Think about celebrations here in the States: perhaps a small party of friends and family, a meal of your choice, a cake decorated with candles, and everyone singing the "Happy Birthday" song.
Though this style of celebration can be found in other parts of the world, many countries have much older birthday traditions. When I was living and working in South Korea, for example, my colleagues brought me miyeokguk, seaweed soup, to eat on my birthday, as is the Korean custom. Korean women eat seaweed soup for nourishment both during their pregnancy and after giving birth, which is why this has become a popular birthday meal; the soup serves as a reminder of the mother’s pregnancy.
The Daily Meal rounded up the food and drink birthday traditions of 10 countries from around the world. No matter which way you slice the cake (or the pie, if you live in Russia), birthdays are a time to celebrate.
In Argentina, birthdays are typically celebrated with sandwiches de miga, which are similar to tea sandwiches, and masas, or sweet pastries from the bakery. Tradition also dictates that friends and family members pull a celebrating child’s earlobes for each year of his or her age.
No Australian birthday is complete without one of Australia’s most, well, confusing foods to outsiders: Fairy bread. Fairy bread is simple and sweet — very sweet. It’s a treat of buttered bread decorated with lots of sprinkles, or “hundreds and thousands,” as they are called in Australia. Fairy bread is a standard part of any Australian childhood.