Celebrating Birthday Traditions Around the World

Every day on tour is memorable. But if a traveler’s birthday happens to fall during their time abroad, that’s especially true. Being able to celebrate your birthday in a city like Paris, Rome, Barcelona or Beijing—with many of your friends right there by your side—is an experience not to be forgotten.

On my first EF tour to Rome and Paris earlier this year, one of the girls in our group was celebrating her 16th birthday. After an afternoon spent admiring the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo at the Louvre, our group gathered for dinner at a nearby restaurant. We devoured all the Flamkeuse, or traditional flatbread pizza, that we could eat as we compared notes on our favorite Louvre masterpieces.

As the waiters brought out our dessert, they dimmed the lights and delivered a special flan for the birthday girl, complete with a candle. Our entire group of 40 began serenading her with “Happy Birthday,” which drew a few looks from the restaurant’s regulars. They may have been a bit taken aback by our impromptu sing-a-long, but no one really seemed to mind. It was a nice touch by our Group Leader, and certainly a birthday dinner this girl will never forget.

Celebrating a birthday on tour doesn’t have to be elaborate. Even a small gesture—a card at breakfast, a song on the bus, a candle with dessert—can make someone’s day. And if they happen to be missing their family and friends back home while being so far away on their birthday, it can help bring a smile to their face.

As we realized in that restaurant, birthdays are celebrated in many different ways around the world. Part of the fun of learning about new cultures and customs is learning about the birthday traditions in the countries you are visiting. Here are a few examples:

  • In England, where the custom of sending birthday cards is believed to have started a century ago, you get a Fortune Telling Cake for the birthday. Symbolic objects are baked into the cake. If your piece has a coin in it, you will be rich (which is good because fixing a broken tooth can be expensive).
  • The tradition of children’s birthday parties, or Kinderfeste, is believed to have started in Germany. Children are never given homework or chores on their birthday.
  • In England and Ireland, the birthday child is lifted upside down and “bumped” on the floor—one bump for each year plus one for good luck. If you celebrate your birthday here on tour, you may want to bring some ibuprofen.
  • If you’re going to Brazil or Argentina, however, you may want to bring earmuffs. They pull on the earlobes of the birthday boy or girl for each year of their birthday.
  • Noodles Hong Kong

    bionicgrrrl/Via Flickr

    When a girl turns 15 in Ecuador, she wears a pink dress during her big celebration. The father puts on the birthday girl’s first pair of high heels and dances the waltz with her.

  • In Denmark, you can’t ignore getting a year older—a flag is flown outside your window so everyone knows it’s your birthday. For children, presents are placed around their bed while they’re sleeping.
  • In Hong Kong, extra-long noodles are served for lunch to symbolize a long life.
  • In Egypt, the inside of homes are decorated with paper garlands called zeena that look like chains of snowflakes.
  • And in the United Kingdom and Australia, men are given the key to the house when they turn 21, symbolizing their permission to come and go as they please.

No matter when—or where—you celebrate your next birthday, we hope it’s a happy one.

-Ed / Google+

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