October 26, 2013

Birthday Keeper goes to college

Hello again! I'm in college now and have already established a reputation as Birthday Keeper among the people here. Whenever a girl on my floor has a birthday, I leave a sticky note with "Happy birthday! -Maria" next to her name on her door. I recently went on the Facebook pages of everyone on the floor to make sure I had everyone's birthday written down. I would feel awful if I missed a hallmate's birthday.

Whenever someone comes to visit me and my roommate for the first time, I analyze his or her birthday using the book 365 Birthdays Interpreted by Michele Knight. I then go to famousbirthdays.com to discover which celebrities share our visitor's birthday. Sometimes I take it to another level and look up which celebrities share our visitor's zodiac sign. One friend of my roommate's, upon hearing that he shared his zodiac sign with a member of One Direction, said "Never mind, that's not my zodiac sign anymore."

My roommate's eighteenth birthday occurred during the first month of classes. I got her a stuffed dog at the gift shop in the student union building and set it on her desk before I went to bed the night before her birthday, since I knew she would wake up earlier than me. (I sleep late on Wednesdays since I don't have classes until after lunch.) She was pleased with the stuffed animal and said "Birthday Keeper strikes again."

I've been very busy with three honors courses but I still try to keep track of everyone's birthdays in all my classes. In the paper I wrote about this blog for my senior project (see my earlier post about my senior project presentation), I said "I hope I become a birthday keeper among my college friends too." I am happy to say that that prediction has come true.

Half birthday shoutouts to Uncle Steve and Anna

July 7, 2013

Eighteenth birthday

Today I, Birthday Keeper, legally became an adult. When I woke up I found nine small presents waiting outside my door. When I was younger, it was a tradition for my parents to give me the same number of small presents as the year I was turning on my birthday morning. The most memorable instance was my sixth birthday. We'd gone to a baseball game the night before and spent the night at a hotel. When I woke up, I found six round packages waiting for me. My dad said "Maybe Mom got you baseballs." The packages were actually gift balls - they unraveled and small presents, including erasers and troll dolls, fell out. Once I became a teenager my parents added up the numbers in my age to determine how many presents I would receive in the morning. So, today I received nine, since 1 + 8 = 9. These nine presents included Pop-Tarts. My birthday is the only time of year when I eat Pop-Tarts.

A friend came over in the afternoon and we went downtown. After she left I went out to dinner with my parents. In my family, the birthday person gets to pick where to eat dinner. When we got home I had a handmade card to look at and a few more presents to open. Then it was time to decorate my cake. It was star-shaped, as it always is.

My cake was frosted purple and decorated to look like leopard fur
There were twelve candles on the cake - nine for numerology (1 + 8 = 9) and one each for good health, good wealth, and good luck.

Blowing out my candles!
When I was a little kid, I thought every family celebrated birthdays the same way. I remember being surprised to find out that not everyone received the same number of presents as the age they were turning. The research I have done in the past year has helped me to see that birthdays are different everywhere, but no matter what, a birthday is always a day to celebrate.

July 5, 2013

Early birthday celebration

In a post on sharing birthdays with holidays, I mentioned my family's annual Fourth of July celebration. On Fourth of July, my mother's family gets together to celebrate all the summer birthdays in the family, including my grandpa's, which is on Independence Day itself, and mine, which is three days later. I've stopped singing names during Happy Birthday at the family birthday parties since the names always get mixed up. Seven birthdays were celebrated today; however, there were only three cakes.

Our three birthday cakes. Mine is the chocolate cake at the bottom right.
Grandpa and me blowing out birthday candles!
Many people eat more than one kind of cake at the family birthday parties. Today, I ate my chocolate cake as well as my grandpa's white chocolate cheesecake. After we were finished with cake, it was time for birthday people to open presents. I was happy to get gift cards to several of my favorite stores, as well as a calendar for me to use while in college.

We left my aunt's house around six and drove back home in time for the fireworks. Some people might say that Independence Day would not be the same without fireworks. However, for me, Fourth of July would not be the same without the family birthday celebration. We took my cake home. Less than half is left, and that is probably a good thing because I'll get another cake on Sunday, my real birthday.

Birthday shoutouts to Shana, myself, Paige, and Nick
Half birthday shoutouts to Emily and Luke

May 17, 2013


I originally started this blog as a required senior project for my school. In recent weeks I have been very busy studying for finals and AP tests, so I did not post regularly. Now that my senior project is finished, I no longer create educational posts every Saturday night; however, I do hope to still post about birthday celebrations in my family.

Seniors at my high school have been busy presenting their senior projects this week. We had to sign up for time slots last month. Each two-hour presentation time slot consists of four students presenting in the presence of two teachers, one of whom is the senior project coordinator at my high school. Presentations continue into next week, but I signed up for the earliest time slot, which was on Tuesday morning. (I wasn't able to post about my presentation until now because I was busy with AP tests.)

Prior to presenting, seniors had to compile a portfolio or annotated bibliography and write a three page reflection paper about their projects. I chose to keep an annotated bibliography. What with all the research I have done for my educational posts, my annotated bibliography was 43 pages. I actually really enjoy putting sources into MLA format, so I did not mind having to keep such an extensive works cited page. Thankfully I didn't have to print it! I had no problem meeting the three page requirement for the reflection paper; my paper was over four pages since there is so much to say about birthdays.

I presented third in my time slot. The first student had created a recipe book and discussed how she hopes to continue cooking in college. She even brought in samples of her food, which was great. The second student had studied how diet and exercise affected his health. He was very informative and had obviously done a lot of research about different factors that affect health. I was next. I presented a PowerPoint that discussed my lifelong fascination with birthdays, my decision to keep a blog for my senior project, and my experiences researching the many topics I covered in my educational posts. I then showed this blog to my classmates and teachers. I also showed them my annotated bibliography at the request of the senior project coordinator. The fourth student, who was an exchange student in Germany last year, had taught German to two high school juniors. She showed us a video of the two boys speaking in German (with English subtitles so everyone could understand it!) All the presentations were extremely interesting. I really enjoyed learning about everyone's unique projects; I wish I could have seen other people's presentations too.

Soon after I got home, I received an email with my senior project evaluation form. I am proud to say that I got honors on my project (the three categories were fail, pass, and honors.) Seniors were graded in five areas (preparation, research, project, presentation, and reflection paper) on a 1-to-5 scale, where 1 indicated no effort, 3 indicated that requirements were met, and 5 indicated that a student went above and beyond the requirements. I got a 5 on preparation, a 5 on research, a 4 on the project itself, a 3 on the presentation, and a 4 on my reflection paper.

Being Birthday Keeper has been a great experience for me this year. I am much more aware of other cultures and their celebrations and understand research techniques that will help me in college. I was very happy to receive such a high grade on my project; I can end high school proud of my accomplishments. On a similar note, I have been named salutatorian of my class and am glad AP tests are over because I have to write a speech for graduation!

Birthday shoutouts to Uncle Jim, Uncle Norm, Uncle Martin, and Jeff
Half birthday shoutouts to Max

April 20, 2013

Danish birthday traditions

In Denmark, birthdays are very important. The Danish take great pride in their flag, and the flag is usually hung from the window of a house in which someone has a birthday. The birthday cake is often decorated with small Danish flags, the card may be decorated with flag stickers, and a flag is often drawn on the family calendar to indicate a family member's birthday.

If the birthday person is a child, he or she will be asked to make a list of birthday presents he or she would like to receive. The night before the big day, family members will go in his or her room while he or she is asleep and set presents on the bed. A big breakfast is always prepared on the birthday morning.

There are many dishes that could be considered for a Danish birthday celebration. The birthday person will most likely have say in planning the menu. Birthday meals are usually prepared on a large scale. There is often a layer cake. The most important edible creation is the kageman, or cake man, which is a pastry shaped similarly to a gingerbread man. It is traditional for someone to chop the cake man's head off before eating it.

A cake man: credits to danishpastryco.com
If there is to be a birthday party, it will be complete with songs (including the Danish version of Happy Birthday,) speeches, and handshaking, according to hejsonderborg.dk. Some people write songs about the birthday person to the tune of well-known songs. The biggest birthday celebrations occur for birthdays that are multiples of ten (20, 30, etc.) The 50th birthday is a particularly extravagant celebration; some people's 50th birthday parties are even advertised in the newspaper.

If someone makes it to 30 without getting married, he or she is considered a pebersvend (pepper man) or pebermø (pepper woman) and is given a pepper shaker. Sometimes people who make it to 25 without getting married are attacked with cinnamon.

Birthday shoutouts to Sam, Duncan, Lyndon, Ethan, and Uncle Steve

April 19, 2013

Birthday cakes

In an earlier post, I discussed the history of birthday parties, and included a description of the history of birthday cakes. I am certainly glad the ancient Greeks brought cakes with candles to Artemis's temple, and that the Germans gave children sweetened dough in the shape of baby Jesus on their birthdays. Birthdays would not be the same without birthday cake. I am lucky enough to have two birthday cakes in one week - one at the big Fourth of July family party (I mentioned this in an earlier post) and another on my real birthday three days later. My cake on my real birthday is always a star shape, but I have had many different cakes at the family party.

Here are some examples:

Three days before my 6th birthday, I blew out the candles of a cake that looked like my favorite stuffed dog, Taffy.

My family party 8th birthday cake was supposed to look like my cat, Beauty.
 It's too bad that I couldn't find a picture of my 9th family birthday party cake, which looked like a castle.

Three days before my 10th birthday, I had a rabbit cake.
I'm blowing out the candles on my butterfly cake three days before my 11th birthday.
A recipe for my 13th birthday family party cake, which looks like the sky on the outside and a rainbow on the inside, can be found at tasteofhome.com, although it is originally from American Girl magazine. I liked this one so much I had it several years in a row.
Three days before my 16th birthday, I blew out the candles on a cake decorated to look like fireworks.
My cake on my real birthday is always a star shape, but that has been decorated differently over the years. Some of my favorites include:

On my 6th birthday I still believed that my birthday had something to do with the celebration of America's independence just because they occurred during the same week, and my cake was decorated with patriotic sprinkles and flags.
My 9th birthday cake was the last one with flags. By then I opted for pink-white-and-blue rather than traditional 4th of July colors.
My overly sprinkle-laden 10th birthday cake and ocean-themed 11th birthday cake can be seen in an earlier post. 

I wrote my name and my cat's name and something else intelligible in icing on my 13th birthday cake . . . don't ask.
My 15th birthday cake was decorated with sprinkles in several shades of my favorite color, purple.
I couldn't find a close up picture of my zebra-striped 16th birthday cake.
My plain purple 17th birthday cake can be seen in my first post.

Two years ago, I took a cake decorating class and discovered many cake ideas. One friend made a three-layer cake with a rat on top (the rat is our high school mascot.) My favorite cake was the Teddy Graham pool party cake (the pool was made out of blue jello.) There was also a cake decorated with white fondant and black fondant dots. A great list of birthday cake ideas can be found at parenting.com.

Half birthday shoutouts to Aunt Leann, Jake, and Stefanie

April 14, 2013

Chinese birthday traditions

Families are very important to the Chinese. It is considered one's moral responsibility to have children; a common Chinese saying is that "of all who lack filial piety, the worst is he who has no children," according to chinaculture.org. The elderly are considered important and are highly respected. The biggest birthday celebrations in China are those held for infants and for the elderly.

The birth of a child is extremely important in China. Some conservative women try to hide the fact that they are pregnant so that evil spirits cannot kill the baby. Upon being born, the baby will be given a milk name, which is supposed to confuse evil spirits. A child is considered one year old as soon as he or she is born. The Chinese traditionally celebrate birthdays according to the lunar calendar and believe that everyone turns another year on Chinese New Year. Rather than stating his or her age, one will state the animal year of his birth.

Thirty days after a child birthday, a month-old party known as Moon-Yut is thrown and all the relatives are invited. Among Buddhist families, sacrifices are offered to the gods. The child's parents give gifts to guests, and guests bring gifts, often money, for the baby. Gifts are given in even numbers. Red-dyed eggs can always be found at Moon-Yut; another name for Moon-Yut is the "red egg and ginger" party. Eggs symbolize a harmonious life, and red symbolizes happiness. A child's name is often announced at Moon-Yut. (The milk name is only used for the first month.)

 A child's first birthday is very important. It could be celebrated on his or her first birthday according to the yang li, or Western calendar, or according to the ying li, or lunar calendar; the family can choose, according to go.com. A feast is given for friends and relatives. Long noodles, which represent long life, are served. A large number of items are placed in front of the child. The first item that the child grabs is an indication of her future career. For example, a pen indicates that the child will be a great writer, while a stamp means that he or she will become a high ranking official.

Subsequent birthday celebrations are not as elaborate. Long noodles, red-dyed eggs, and dumplings in the shape of peaches, which represent longevity, are always served on one's birthday. Red envelopes containing money are often given as birthday gifts. Clocks are never given, since the Chinese word for clock sounds similar to the word for death. As people get older, they tend to celebrate their birthdays on Chinese New Year rather than on their actual birthday. Every twelve years, one's birthday occurs during the same animal year as one's birth; these are considered important birthdays. 30, 33, and 66 are considered unlucky years for women. On a woman's 33rd birthday, she must chop a piece of meat 33 times and then throw it away; it is believed that this casts evil spirits into the meat. On her 66th birthday, her daughter (or, if she has no daughters, closest female relative,) must chop a piece of meat 66 times. 40 is considered an unlucky age for men.

60 is an extremely important age. At 60, the animal year as well as elemental year (the elemental zodiac is five year cycle, with years representing metal, wood, fire, water, and earth) are the same as one's year of birth. 60 is considered an entire life cycle. Adult children usually throw a large feast for their parents' respective 60th birthdays. Long noodles and peach shaped dumplings are always served, and everyone at the feast eats both as a way of expressing their well-wishes to the birthday person. Gifts include red envelopes containing money, eggs, and more long noodles and peach shaped dumplings. After 60, large birthday feasts are given every ten years.

Birthday shoutouts to Joseph and Magdalen