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

April 6, 2013


Janmashtami is the Hindu celebration of Lord Krishna's birthday. It is always celebrated on the eighth day of the waning moon during the Hindu month Shravan, which is in August and/or September. In 2012 Janmashtami was celebrated on August 10.

Krishna is considered to be the most important human incarnation of Lord Vishnu. According to legend, he was born at midnight on the eighth day of the waning moon during Shravan around 5200 years ago in Mathura. His purpose in coming to earth was to free earth from evil, according to calendarlabs.com. Krishna is portrayed as pious yet mischievous, and loving and understanding to all people.

Krishna's birthday is celebrated all over India. The biggest celebrations take place in Mathura and Vrindavan, cities in which Lord Krishna spent his childhood. Devotees all over the world flock to these cities to participate in Janmashtami. People fast until midnight and chant Hindu mantras. Homes and temples are decorated. At temples, people perform kirtan (singing Lord Krishna's name with other devotees ) and japa (private prayer.)  A feast of over a hundred dishes is prepared for Krishna. Some children dress up as Lord Krishna.

The most important part of the celebration occurs in the temple at midnight, since that is the time at which Lord Krishna was born. A statue of baby Krishna is bathed with a mixture of holy water from the Ganges River, milk, ghee, curd, and honey poured from a conch shell, then placed in a cradle.

Rejoicing continues into the second day. Devotional songs and dances are performed to honor Krishna. Reenactments of important events of Krishna's life take place in temples. In cities, dahi handi (large earthen pots) are filled with milk and curd and hung from tall poles, and devotees form a human pyramid to try to break the dahi handi. This reenacts a time in Lord Krishna's childhood when he managed to grasp a pot containing curd that had been placed out of his reach.

A human pyramid: credits to about.com
Members of the Hindu community look forward to Janmashtami every year. People love Lord Krishna, who was the main propagator of the theory of good karma. It is believed that he will reciprocate any love and devotion that is offered to him.

April 5, 2013

Family birthday party

My mom's family gets together several times a year to celebrate all the birthdays in that time of year. The birthday celebration often coincides with a holiday. I mentioned our annual Fourth of July/ summer birthday celebration in an earlier post. We also get together on Easter to celebrate winter and spring birthdays. Our recent celebration included all birthdays from January through March, ten birthdays total. There were three cakes.
Our Easter/ birthday party with three cakes!
Imagine singing Happy Birthday at a birthday party like this one! No one sings the names of the birthday people in the same order. I have taken to not singing names when singing Happy Birthday at a family birthday party.

After eating cake, presents are distributed to the birthday people and opened. Many pictures are taken. There is usually some confusion. Our birthday parties are always crazy and loud, but I would not want them any other way. I look forward to every family birthday party.

April 4, 2013


Tet, Vietnamese New Year, is the most important holiday for the Vietnamese. Everyone celebrates their birthday on Tet, according to birthdaycelebrations.net. The actual date of Tet depends on the lunar calendar and varies from year to year, though it always coincides with Chinese New Year, which takes place in January or February. Vietnamese New Year is a time to get together with family and celebrate one's ancestors and culture.

Tet officially lasts three days, but the preparations begin a week in advance. A week before New Year's Eve, family members clean the house. Some families even repaint the house. It is believed that cleaning the house gets rid of bad fortunes from the old year. That night, the family offers a farewell ceremony to the Kitchen God, who is known as Ong Tao. The Vietnamese believe that Ong Tao goes to the Heaven Palace to report on the family to the Jade Emperor.

On Giao Thua, New Year's Eve, family members offer a ceremony to welcome Ong Tao back to earth, as well as to bid farewell to the old chief and welcome the new chief. The chiefs are the same twelve animals from the Chinese zodiac; the chief for 2013 is the Snake. Vietnamese children say what chief they were born under rather than saying how old they are. At the stroke of midnight, family members beat drums, light firecrackers, and encourage dogs to bark to welcome the new year.

Tet is a holiday to honor family and ancestors. On New Year's Day, family members gather in their hometowns. Incense is burned in honor of deceased family members. Traditionally, people visit close friends and parents on the first day of Tet. On the second day, people visit in-laws and other friends. Distant relatives are visited on the third day. There is a belief that the wealth of the first visitor on Tet will determine the family's luck for the entire year, so families try to invite wealthy people to their homes. Children wear their best clothes and everyone is on their best behavior, since the Vietnamese believe that one's actions during Tet influence a family's luck for the entire year.

Tet decorations are very important and symbolic. The plate of five fruits represents the five basic elements: metal, wood, fire, water, and earth. The fruits are arranged in a pyramid, and the plate is sometimes decorated with flowers.

A five fruits plate: credits to missouri.edu
 Parallel sentences are hung by the door. A pair of parallel sentences contain the same number of words, with contrasting or corresponding meanings. An example of a parallel sentence is "On the New Years’ Eve, pay debts on all sides; bending your legs, kick out poverty. On New Years’ day, rice wine makes you drunk; stretching your arms, carry in wealth" (credits to missouri.edu.) A piece of bamboo, known as a Cay Neu or New Year's Tree, is raised in the front yard and decorated with bells, clay fish, and thorny branches. It is taken down after seven days. Flower symbolize new beginnings, so many homes are decorated with flowers during Tet. Peach flowers and apricot flowers are the most popular.

Traditional Tet foods include banh chung (sticky rice cake) and pickled onions. Pork dishes, sugarcoated coconut, and boiled chicken are also common. Eating is an important part of Tet. The Vietnamese expression an Tet (to eat the Tet) refers to the tradition of celebrating Tet with a feast for the entire family.

A very important tradition is the presentation of sealed red envelopes. Older people give red envelopes to younger people to congratulate them on being another year older, as well as to remind them to live harmoniously with others. The envelopes contain li xi, lucky money.

Birthday shoutouts to Nathan and AJ. Sorry it took me so long to do these birthday shoutouts!