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Fun with Birthdays

(The above painting is Salt Lake City- where Dowdle was founded in 1990)

Imagine going for a ride on a vehicle that spins at around 1000 miles per hour while racing forward at 67,000 miles an hour, giddy-up. Am I right?  Now imagine doing that all day every day for, let’s say, 365 days. That would be worthy of a celebration, don’t you think?  Well, we do celebrate that breakneck blazing ride on the earth around the sun, and we call it your birthday.  In reality, even if you just sit in a chair all day, you are racing through the universe at an incomprehensible speed, well done and worthy of some festivity. Since we are celebrating Eric Dowdle’s 53rd orbit around the sun, we thought it would be fun to look at some of the unusual birthday traditions from around the world.


Starting in the United States, one of our traditions is to subject the birthday celebrant to spankings and pinches. One swat is given for every year, counted out loud, culminating with the blessing of “and a pinch to grow an inch,” followed by a pinch to their person.  Now, to be fair, this usually doesn’t begin on children from birth to say two or three years old but after that, hold on. I have even seen partygoers form a spanking machine that the person celebrating must crawl through. Unfortunately, the practice normally stops when the person is a teenager and can fend off the “joyful event,” but that is when it is needed the most.


Other countries have similar traditions; for example, in Italy, Argentina, and other lands, they will tug your ear once for each year of life. In Ireland, they “bump” the birthday boy or girl by holding them by the ankles and bumping their head gently on the ground once for each year. While ear tugging could be done at pretty much any age, bumping probably ends pretty early in life as the whole hefting of human beings gets exponentially harder each year.  You would need a crane for me.


A tradition of our neighbor to the north is getting “greased” on your birthday.  Getting “greased” means that “well-wishers” ambush the birthday person and try to apply a smear of butter to their nose. This is, of course, to ward off bad luck, I suppose. In Jamaica, the birthday person gets flour thrown at them, and they are considered “antiqued.” Brazilians take it one step further and add throwing eggs at the birthday-er. So, if you’re a Canadian visiting Brazil with some Jamaican friends, your celebration would “take the cake.” Get it? Because flour, eggs, and butter make a cake.  Never mind, just a dad joke.


Many are familiar with the Latin American tradition of quinceañera when a young woman turns 15. However, the more fun Latin American tradition is where a paper mache effigy of a person, place, or thing is held out on the end of a rope, aka piñatas. Party participants take turns with a stick to beat the candy and toy guts out of the piñata so that children can rush in and grab them.  Las piñatas que fiesta, no?


In Germany, it used to be; if a man was unmarried by his 30th birthday, he had to dress in drag and sweep the steps of city hall until he found a virgin to kiss.  Nowadays, men just get inebriated and sweep the stairs to show that they are available. The dressing in drag may or may not still happen depending upon how many beverages the celebrant has consumed.


In China, your first birthday is the day you are born. This is different in the western world, where we celebrate at the completion of the year, not the beginning. Here is the fun part, on the Lunar New Year, each person adds a year to their age. So if a child is born close to the end of the year, they can be a couple of days old and be considered two years old because they have lived in 2 years. Talk about getting old before your time.  I understand that in Japan, they also celebrate birthdays with the turn of the Lunar New Year. 


Regardless of how it is celebrated, be it with cake, pies, noodle soups, pancakes, or potato dumplings, birthdays are worth celebrating.  Whatever your traditions are, make sure to have fun with them. Enjoy each trip around the sun and rotation of the globe. Treasure them for the new lessons, options, and opportunities their passing has given and their coming will bring—so “Happy Birthday” from Dowdle. Oh, and a word of advice, on your birthday, avoid Brazilians with grocery bags.




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