Birthday customs and celebrations
The birthday cake is traditionally highly decorated, and typically covered with lit candles when presented, the number of candles signifying the age of the celebrant. The person whose birthday it is may make a silent wish and then blow out the candles. After that, the person can open their presents. It is also common for the person celebrating their birthday to cut the initial piece of the cake as a newlywed couple might with a wedding cake. The birthday boy/girl traditionally gets to eat the first piece of the cake.
In Western cultures, particularly in the United States and Australia, birthday parties are often accompanied by colorful decorations, such as balloons and streamers. A birthday cake is often served with candles that are to be blown out after a “birthday wish” has been made. While the birthday cake is being brought to the table, the song Happy Birthday to You is sung by the guests. A practice most common among wealthy people and celebrities, but engaged in by many others as well, is to hire an event management agency or a party service to organize a birthday party.
A child’s birthday party may be held at his/her home or in a public place. Soft drinks are often had alongside water and both sweet and savory foods are typically served to the guests. In many cultures, a birthday cake is served. Birthday parties for children often feature entertainment, costumes, party games, and a theme. Adults’ birthday parties in Western countries are often held in bars or nightclubs. Though some are held at a restaurant or even at home. Usually a birthday party includes gifts for the person whose birthday it is. Most people who come to the birthday party are the ones who have the gifts.
In addition to parties, it is common for people to receive gifts on their birthday. Popular gifts include toys, books, jewellery, clothes, flowers, technical devices, gift cards, checks, paper money, etc. Items such as underwear and socks are generally not as well appreciated by younger children, even if they are emblazoned with popular characters. Sometimes it is expected of the person celebrating their birthday to treat their party guests instead; this varies depending on the local culture and may involve party gifts or other gestures, for example inviting the guests to the restaurant or bar (some of them offer special birthday programs), arranging parties at home, or at work. In South Africa, however, birthdays are highly celebrated. In the townships, everyone one would be invited including the older family members as well, it did not matter how young or old the person was. This celebrations would be noted by big white tents being erected in the yards, which symbolizes a huge celebration of some sort. Birthday presents would range from things such as toys to extravagant gifts such as an animal being slaughtered in their name.
In most English-speaking countries it is traditional to sing the song Happy Birthday to You to the honored person celebrating a birthday. Happy Birthday songs are common worldwide; similar songs exist in other languages. This song is a common greeting used on birthdays, along with greeting cards and verbal greetings with messages such as "I wish you a Happy Birthday" or "Happy Birthday."
"The Bumps", a birthday torment common in countries such as the U.K., Ireland, Canada, and India, involves the friends and family of the person whose birthday it is taking him or her by the arms and legs, and "bumping" him/her up into the air and down onto the floor. The number of "bumps" given equals the age of the person in years plus one "for luck". Usually "the Bumps" are administered only to children, in part because as people grow up they become too heavy for the process. Sometimes bumps are also referred to kicks where the person celebrating their birthday is held by their arms and legs and their friends kick them. This practice is often disapproved by a lot of people with regards to health and safety concerns. Often due to purposes of excessive drinking, sickness or other extenuating circumstances, birthday bumps are postponed to an agreed upon future date.
In French-speaking Canada and the U.S. "birthday punches" are given in a similar fashion, where the person whose birthday it is being punched a number of times equal to his/her age, often with one additional punch "for luck". In Brazil, Hungary, Argentina, Italy, and other countries, the person has his/her earlobes pulled. The Hungarian tradition also involves at the same time as pulling the earlobes wishing the person a happy birthday or reciting a rhyme whose English translation is "God bless you, live so long so your ears reach your ankles.".
Similar to birthday punches are birthday spankings. While they are usually administered to children, the practice is somewhat common, even in areas and communities or among families where corporal punishment is otherwise frowned upon. The spankings, characteristically, are mostly administered in such a fashion that they do not hurt the recipient at all, or if they do, it is usually only a small "sting". With this tradition the birthday recipient, as a general rule, gets spanked on his or her buttocks the same number of times as the number of years they have been alive, often with a final, extra spank administered as "one to grow on".
In Israel, part of the birthday celebration for a child in kindergarten is to lift the decorated chair that the child sits on into the air several times, once for each year of the child's age, plus "one for the next year".
In Venezuela, a widespread custom is to attempt the pushing of the person's face into the birthday cake when they blow out the candles. This frequently destroys the cake.
A fairly common observance is for birthday "spankings," "slaps," "hits," "bumps" and other such good-natured torments generally administered to the birthday celebrant to "roll over" for exactly one week's time if not administered in the 24 hour period of the actual birthday, thus affording persons whom the celebrant did not encounter on their birthday the opportunity to also indulge in the custom.
Birthday punches are administered throughout the day, but if the "birthday boy" hides from the punches, one final punch is allowed to be given.
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- Kids Parties Connection (2009). "Birthday Traditions in Different Countries". Traditions. Daric Systems, Inc.
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- "Teacher Says Punching Is a Birthday Ritual". The New York Times. 2003-04-20. pp. A20.
- Tony Paterson (2003-03-30). "Turkish children organised reign of terror at German school". The Daily Telegraph.