How do different countries celebrate birthdays? The variety is endless, and the world will never want for either whimsical or sinister birthday traditions. Some, like the Danish custom of cake decapitation, are a bit more jovial than others. The Indian ritual of tossing one's newborn off the roof of a temple, on the other hand, straddles the fine line between celebrating birth and hurling new life headlong into death.
Whether your own preferred mode of celebration is morbid, traditional, or Scrooge-like and non-existent, read on to learn more about some of the world's sometimes funny and sometimes scary international birthday traditions.
For most kids, turning seven is a joyous occasion that involves ice cream, cake, games, presents, and general merrymaking. But for children of the Sambia Tribe of Papua, New Guinea, things take a decidedly more... intense turn.
Boys are taken from their families on their seventh birthdays and ensconced ("imprisoned" might be a more accurate word) in an all-male hut for the next ten years of their life. During this period they engage heavily in nose bleeding, forced vomiting and defecation (by way of sugarcane), and forced semen ingestion (at the hands of adult men) in order to rid themselves of impurities and become men.
This, of course, would be child abuse anywhere else.
For most newborns, actual birth days are all about cards, congratulations, mother's milk, and flowers. Things are different in certain parts of New Delhi, however, where it's customary for some believers to toss their infants off the roof of the Baba Umer Durga Shrine.
It's worth noting that this harrowing ritual does have a hopeful ending: babies aren't hurled to their deaths, as one might suppose, but rather into some kind of bed sheet and/or net, which is often held by one of the parents themselves. Still, this is a newborn we're talking about here, so any amount of falling really isn't recommended. 10/10 doctors agree.
The trope of the sinister birthday clown is a common one, but one particularly enterprising visionary in Lucerne is well on his way to establishing a new tradition: the stalking Bozo. The clown's ominous presence is designed to generate the kind of built-up excitement generally only associated with the final countdown to Christmas morning.
For a fee, Dominic Deville will pseudo-terrorize your child (in the form of "menacing" phone calls, texts, and letters) for the week leading up to their birthday. Then, on the day itself, he'll show up in person and smash a cake into their face.
Don't worry: as macabre as it sounds on paper, it's all in good fun, more in the spirit of a good-natured Halloween prank. And parents can always call it off if their kid gets too freaked out, but apparently most kids "love it" according to Deville.
Been thinking about celebrating your birthday belatedly, like people sometimes do with Halloween when the actual date falls on a weeknight? If you're in China, it might be prudent not to. In parts of the country, observing your birthday early might be okay, but it's frowned upon to celebrate after the actual day. Moreover, there are some birthdays that you might have to skip altogether.
First of all, when Chinese children are born, they're already considered to be a year old, so it's important to keep that in mind when doing the math. For Chinese women, the 30th birthday is associated with danger and chaos, so they remain 29 for an extra year instead. The 33rd birthday is likewise stigmatized. To avoid bad luck, women must hide in the kitchen and chop a piece of meat 33 times, which transfers evil spirits into the meat, which is subsequently tossed out. A similar ritual occurs on the 66th birthday ... but a daughter or a close female relative has to carry out the chopping. For men, there's a little less to remember: many of them simply skip their 40th birthdays, as said occasions are considered "inauspicious." They simply remain 39 for an additional year.
Moreover, some Chinese people don't actually start celebrating their birthday at all until they're 60. The advanced age is seen as the start of a new life cycle, full of children and grandchildren. After 60,some only celebrate their birthdays every 10 years until they pass ... and each party is successively grander and more lavish.