4 Latin American Ways to Honor Birthdays

Thanks to an article in Latina magazine, I can now share with you some of the unique ways in which those of Latin American heritage celebrate birthdays. Or, as someone would say in Portuguese, aniversário. 

Peru is on my list of places to go for birthday celebrations. Apparently the birthday celebrant gets to indulge in un torta de chocolate (chocolate cake). Others might eat pastel peruviano, a crusty bread filled with raisins. However, just as at home I prefer my pie and cake without ice cream, I’d probably defer from an accompanying scoop of helado lucuma, an ice cream made with the lucuma fruit, native to Peru and Ecuador.

I could handle Colombia — as long as the typical egg was cracked over my head early in the day, before I was dolled up for a night out of festivities.

I’ll steer clear of Mexico, though. Apparently they like to sing LAS MAÑANITAS and then push the person’s face into the cake. What a waste of a perfectly good cake! Sounds a little like the smash cakes I wrote about for one-year-old’s birthdays here in North America. On the flip side, I wouldn’t have minded going when I was 15 — having a Quinceañera Celebration would have been fun! Although it looks as if you still get your face smashed into the cake:

Latin Birthday traditions

Photo credit: amslerPIX via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

I’m also going to give Argentina and Brazil a miss on my birthday. I don’t have any interest in having my ears pulled, thank you very much. This also means I’ll be steering clear of Hungary (where they also have this tradition).

Interestingly, there was no mention of the piñata though! Maybe it’s like spaghetti (which we associate with Italy, but isn’t actually from there?).

What country would you want to travel to for your birthday? Imagine you could go anywhere in the world…



10 Reasons not to work on a birthday

Jumping for joy in sunset

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October 6 marked the second anniversary of this blog. Yippee.

It also marked the who knows how many anniversary of me not working on my birthday.

As a freelancer, I used to make sure I had no interviews or articles to write on my special day.

When I taught, I would always make sure that my classes had a paper to revise or research that day. Or perhaps I’d assign an online scavenger hunt. But I didn’t go to class and teach.

Now, with a regular office job, I took the day off. Unpaid even as I’m out of vacation days. Even still — it’s worth it.

Why? Here are my 10 ten reasons:

  1. Sleeping in. Even now that I have a kid to get on the bus in the morning, I can still go back to bed afterwards and snooze a little longer.
  2. Getting to read in bed before starting the day in earnest. Always a treat.
  3. No time limit on birthday lunch. It can take as long as I want and be wherever I want. I would love for it to be at Pompeii, my favorite Italian sandwich shop in Chicago, but living in North Carolina makes that more difficult these days.
  4. Flexibility on movie matinee. By going to a movie in the middle of a weekday on my birthday, I can see whatever movie I want without worrying whether or not the person accompanying me will also enjoy it.
  5. Time for a leisurely chai. With a book, outside on a sunny Fall day is even better.
  6. Ability to shop without a child in tow (and parent who enjoys retail therapy gets me there). Plus, there’s the added benefit that buying things on your birthday is really just getting yourself presents and therefore totally legit.
  7. Exercise without a deadline. Since I don’t have to go to the office, I can go on a hike or go for a run or go to a Zumba class (if I am so motivated) without the pressure of getting home and showered and back out again in time for work.
  8. Dinner reservations made easier. Simply book a table at a favorite restaurant without worrying about finishing up a task at work before the appointed time.
  9. Luxury to decide not to do any of the above things and simply hang out on the sofa all day watching HGTV.
  10. Me time. Everyone needs a mental health day every once in a while. I make my birthday a day to do whatever I want to do, without guilt. The only mandate is that I relax and enjoy myself. To me, even as I move into my mid-40s, that is what birthdays are all about.

Well, that and cake…always cake.

melted birthday candles

Photo credit: kevin dooley via Foter.com / CC BY


Birthday Bargains or “Bargoons”


Birthday Free Stuff

Photo credit: JwvanEck via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

It has been a long time coming, but here — at last — is the free stuff on your birthday blog.

I have mentioned in the past my own family’s habit, when I was younger, of going each birthday to Baskin-Robbins for a free scoop of ice cream. Rainbow sherbet for me please! Although now it’s in stiff competition with gold medal ribbon. We would get a postcard in the mail rewarding us as members of the BR birthday club.

I have signed my son up for the online equivalent, but it is not quite a childhood tradition in his mind yet.

He is also part of a Toys R Us membership club that has Geoffrey the Giraffe sending him a bday gift certificate for some nominal amount each year. Since it is only $2 or so, he is unaware of this corporation’s good wishes. I do not want to let him loose in the store and have to make up the difference. I did so once, and he ended up with roller skates. Yes, I can be a sucker.

Nevertheless, part of enjoying the day you are born is taking advantage of marketing ploys to congratulate you on your good fortune in being born.

Here are some of the offerings I found in an online search (though membership in the loyalty club is often the price you must pay since nothing is truly free):

  • Ice cream. Along with 31 flavors, you can also enjoy a scoop at Ben and Jerry’s or Coldstone Creamery.
  • Chai. Or for those who like coffee, you can get a caffeine kick that way too at Starbucks with a free drink on your birthday.
  • Hardware. Yep, loyalty club members get a $5 birthday certificate.
  • Shoes. DSW sends its club members a $5 gift certificate.
  • Appetizers. Restaurants such as Chili’s or Lone Star Steakhouse send you a certificate for a free appetizer.
  • Breakfast. Einstein’s will give club members a free bagel. Denny’s lets birthday celebrants chow down on a free original grand slam of pancakes, eggs, and bacon.

It’s all in the name of marketing, of course. But, it’s your birthday — enjoy! Although I will also remind you, as much as I love a “bargoon,” that your birthday is a good day to treat yourself too.

Birthdays are a time for…humiliation?

Birthdays when you’re single may be cause for frustration in North America — especially if one’s parents are particularly determined to see their offspring happily paired off. Nevertheless, we don’t make as big a deal of the single status on birthdays as some other countries around the world.

In Germany, according to Mental Floss, bachelors receive “sockencranz” on their 25th birthday. This means any German guy will be treated to a wreath of socks outside his home if he’s unmarried after a quarter of a century’s worth of opportunities to resolve this imbalance. The old socks are meant to represent old age.


That’s disappointingly obvious for my taste. I’d been hoping it might represent a now-dated (let’s hope) belief he was unable to wash his own socks and was stinking up the neighborhood (unless he lived at home with his mother).

Anyway, a search of sockencranz on Google nets a link to a #sockenkranz on instagram that clearly depicts women celebrating 25 with strings of socks too. Actually, many of the images have women or men and shot glasses…so alcohol seems to be involved as well (in a astoundingly rare showing of a culture incorporating liquor into its celebratory traditions).

Other global traditions that mark multiples of five are seen among:
• Latin Americans who celebrate a girl’s coming of age at 15 with the quincanera, which going by the amount of advice on the web about taking a “quince to the next level” is a trial run for a wedding
• Nigerians who celebrate the milestones of 1, 10 and 15 with massive parties and feasting
• Dutch who mark the “crown years” of 5, 10, 15, 20 and…uhm 21…with bigger presents.

But back to the public humiliation of the unmarried — in Denmark, the Danes who live to be 30 and unmarried wake up to what’s called a pepper person. These are often huge representations of men or women made out of oil drums.

Because nothing says “Happy Birthday, we love you” like a little singleton shaming, right?

The Queen can’t “Pooh Pooh” this gift.

In my diligent following of all things birthday I am often confronted with yet another article about why the Queen has two birthdays. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of year it is, although the coverage does pick up around May when she is feted in several places. (C’mon she already gets to wear a crown AND she gets multiple birthdays?! Must she rub it in?)

Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised when recently the coverage around the Queen and her birthdays informed about a new book featuring Winnie the Pooh and her Royal Majesty. Both celebrate 90 years in 2016. Pooh has many fewer wrinkles though.

I have always loved Winnie the Pooh. I was an avid teddy bear collector for years, and even in college had a Winnie the Pooh key fob. One of our favorite games to play on a bridge when my boy was little was “Pooh sticks” where you throw the stick into the water and run to the other side of the bridge to see whose stick would come out first the other side.

So I am particularly pleased to see Pooh still part of the storytelling fabric of the universe. In this case, he and Piglet want to give the Queen a present. Penned by Jane Riordan, the takes Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin and Eeyore through London in an open top red double decker bus, visiting the lion statues in Trafalgar Square, seeing the Buckingham Palace guards and even encountering Prince George (who is given a balloon by Piglet).

The colourful drawings in the classic EH Shepard style are by illustrator Mark Burgess, who also drew the 2009 pictures for the first authorized Pooh sequel. There’s even an audio video version narrated by the talented Jim Broadbent.

In the spirit of embracing the wonder of Winnie further, though, I share some of the New York Public Library’s fun facts about the beloved bear and his 90-year old friends:


  • The curious name of Winnie-the-Pooh came from Christopher Robin, from a combination of the names of a real bear and a pet swan. During the 1920s there was a black bear named “Winnie” in the London Zoo who had been the mascot for the Winnipeg regiment of the Canadian army. “Pooh” was the name of a swan in When We Were Very Young.
  • Pooh was purchased at Harrods department store in London and given by A.A. Milne to his son Christopher Robin on his first birthday, August 21, 1921. He was called Edward (proper form of Teddy) Bear at the time.
  • The rest of the toys were received as gifts by Christopher Robin between 1920 and 1928.
  • Winnie-the-Pooh had adventures with Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Owl, Rabbit, and Tigger in the 100 Aker (Acre) Wood (based on the Ashdown Forest in southern England, located near the Milne family home).
  • The stuffed animals range in height from 25″ (Eeyore, the biggest) to 4 1/2″ (Piglet, the smallest).

You can enjoy the birthday book in full and share it with the kiddos in your life for free from www.Disney.co.uk/WinnieRoyalBirthday.

Bleak Birthdays per Seinfeld

Birthday party

Photo credit: Άbdullah ; unique via Foter.com / CC BY

It’s been more than 15 years since Seinfeld went off the air, but it’s fun sometimes to revisit gems from this American sitcom’s nine seasons (1989 – 1998).

Recently, I enjoyed a clip in which George Costanza berates Jerry for being too funny. George is certain, by contrast, he’ll fall lower in his date’s estimation. When the woman returns to the dinner table, having left to wish her aunt a happy birthday, Jerry chimes in with quite a dire view of birthdays.

In a bleak voice he characterizes birthdays of a reminder of “how little we’ve grown” and “that for the rest of our sad, wretched pathetic lives, this is who we are to the bitter end.”

It’s true, yes, that many people see their birthdays in this light. Especially, research has shown, around the big-0 birthdays.

But I’m on the side of people such as the 100-year-old I wrote about recently who embraced his birthday on social media.

Big Birthday at 60!

In my researching this blog, I learned that people in China don’t actually pay a lot of attention to their birthdays until they are 60! There are big parties for the person each new decade they reach — getting bigger and more festive every 10 years.

My guess is this is related to the whole population-out-of-control-thing over there; with so many people being born every day, maybe they don’t want to get too caught up in celebrating birthdays until the person has proved they can last. If that’s the case, one would think this tradition will be whittled away with longevity being more expected (noodles served on birthdays or not).

Still, the perspective that 60 is a great age to reach is one I find more and more appealing as I age. In China this is an age to be proud of. Instead of marking wretchedness a la Seinfeld, this is a celebration of all that has been accomplished in the life cycle. Thus, turning 61 marks the start of a new life cycle.

Perhaps this is really the way we should be looking at birthdays universally? If we could see them as each decade as a new cycle’s beginning, we might always be able to look forward instead of getting sidetracked by the thought of how much closer we are getting to the bitter end.






The Happy Birthday Song Goes Public

Birthday Song

Photo credit: Shawn Hoke via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

A longstanding copyright dispute over public access to the birthday song was resolved late last year in favor of the song entering public domain.

A Los Angeles judge ruled invalid the copyright claim of the companies collecting royalties on the “Happy Birthday” song for the past 80 years. The LA Times reported, Warner/Chappell never had the right to charge for the song’s use, as it had been doing since 1988, when it bought Birch Tree Group, the successor to Clayton F. Summy Co., which claimed the original disputed copyright.

The paper also offered a thorough history of the controversy surrounding the song that “evolved into the well-known birthday song, with lyrics by Patty Smith Hill, and became what the Guinness World Records book has said is the most widely sung song in the English language.”

I am, of course, happy to think nothing untoward will happen to me for singing happy birthday in public. Well, not legally anyway, I cannot blame anyone who questions my enthusiastic yet often dischordant efforts.

Nevertheless, this may lead to a loss in the world of eateries. After all, the way in which all assembled waitstaff serenade a dining guest is part of a restaurant’s character.

I am clearly not alone in this theory, as I found a blog about birthday song experiences by an If You’re Wondering author, Connor, who decided Chuck E. Cheese has the best version with these lyrics:

Clap your hands!
Now stomp your feet!
You’re a Birthday Star at Chuck E. Cheese!
You’re our special guest,
We all aims to please
You’re big time, big stuff, going far
Here’s to you our Birthday Star!

Connor also checked out Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Chili’s, Texas Roadhouse and more.

Despite the silliness he finds in the derivations, I still believe that if everyone turns to the same familiar song, it will take away the flair! I am all for public access to the song, but I hope to see restaurant owners continue to strive for creativity in the ways in which they celebrate their celebrant diners.

Birthday celebration

Photo credit: Peter E. Lee via Foter.com / CC BY-NC


Birthdays as Anniversaries of Grief

Birthday Grief

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I’ve been binge watching the Gilmore Girls and just this week watched a Season 5 episode where Luke has a “dark day” on the anniversary of his father’s death.

This made me think also of Facebook friends marking death anniversaries. One woman bakes cookies for breakfast on her dead child’s birthday and encourages her friends to do the same for their children. Another does acts of kindness on her loved ones’ birthday and invites us to do the same to honor her daughter.

As one blogger, a co-founder of a group that comforts families facing infant loss, wrote, “the years go so quickly, even as some of the days drag their feet.” She puts a cupcake at her daughter’s grave and sings Happy Birthday there.

Grief doesn’t magically end at a certain point, the Mayo Clinic observes. They reassuringly note a resurgence of grief on special days throughout the year is “sometimes called an anniversary reaction” and isn’t “necessarily a setback in the grieving process.”

The clinic’s suggestions for reawakened grief include:

  • Be prepared. Anniversary reactions are normal. Knowing that you’re likely to experience anniversary reactions can help you understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing.
  • Reminisce about your relationship. Focus on the good things about your relationship with your loved one and the time you had together, rather than the loss.
  • Start a new tradition. Make a donation to a charitable organization in your loved one’s name on birthdays or holidays, or plant a tree in honor of your loved one.
  • Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions. It’s OK to be sad and feel a sense of loss, but also allow yourself to experience joy and happiness. As you celebrate special times, you might find yourself both laughing and crying.

Dr. Christina Hibbert, who created a three-minute therapeutic YouTube video addressing “Death Anniversaries, Birthdays and Holidays,” notes the first year is the hardest because we don’t know what to expect.

Moving forward, expectations may be clearer, but grief can still rise and fall. Some years the birthday will go by as a day of happy memories. Another day, it will be a rough day recalling sadness.

In addressing sorrow on anniversaries such as birthdays, there’s no best advice. Everyone experiences grief differently, just as we all celebrate our birthdays with individual flair.

If someone you love’s candle has been snuffed, I hope you find some solace in a few of these strategies about marking the birthday with grief or laughter.

Brace for a Birthday Flour Storm

Before today, I’d always associated flour with birthdays in terms of making a cake. Now, however, I will have to rethink this.

Did you know that in Germany, on someone’s 16th birthday it is tradition to throw flour over his or her head? Apparently at 18 they do eggs. (I did not find any indication they continue through the cake recipe with sugar at 21 or baking soda at 25). Actually, at 25, unmarried men are treated to sock garlands around their homes. The Sockenkranz labels them confirmed bachelors. Sort of like the Pepper Person tradition in Denmark.

Better yet, in Jamaica, no one is immune from this powdery tradition. Mango Salute magazine reports family and friends “spend days devising cunning ways” to enable a so-called “Flour Shower” before adding on some kind of liquid leaving the birthday boy or girl covered by goo (Too bad giving umbrellas is verboten).

This tradition is also seen in Indonesia. Blogger Lily Wiggins shared her own experiences being floured there, along with her appreciation for how the tradition prompted even strangers to smile and wish her “Selamat Ulang Tahun!”

There are other cultures that butter the nose of the birthday celebrant, so I pity the single man of Canadian and Jamaican descent spending his 25th birthday in Germany. He’d be surrounded by socks and slipping into his birthday with a buttered nose and floured head!

Birthday tradition

Photo credit: martinak15 / Foter / CC BY

Decoration & Decimation = Piñata time!

I know I’m not alone in having thought the piñata originated in Mexico. Turns out piñatas may instead have come from China. Apparently the Chinese used colored paper to fashion cows, oxen, or buffaloes filled with seeds to mark their New Year.

Wendy Devlin writing about Mexico Culture & Arts tells us Marco Polo brought the idea back to Europe where they incorporated these fragile vessels (“pignatta” is the Italian for fragile pot – I dare you to see the word fragile and not think of A Christmas Story) into Lenten celebrations.

From the 14th to 16th centuries this stayed in Europe until Spanish missionaries headed over to North America, where the indigenous people already had a similar tradition of hanging a colorful clay pot filled with treasures outside the temple and breaking it open with a stick or club.

Piñatas even once had religious meaning. For instance, Devlin points out the seven points on a traditional piñata represented the seven deadly sins. (I’m not sure how letting kids grapple on the ground for a pile of sweets is competing the sins of greed, gluttony, envy or wrath, but that’s a debate for theologians I guess).

I’m amazed the piñata tradition has been around for centuries. Then again, my son begged for another one at his birthday this year.


Surely, it helps they are so easy to make. Check out this video for a Mexican-style piñata that cost just $8 to make (not sure if she included the candy). Or visit Piñata Boy’s site for more varied instructions.

If you’re truly worried about etiquette for properly pounding the piñata, check out this blogger’s tips on How to Avoid Piñata Event Failure.

Finally, I’d encourage you to check out this awesome art project of a cowering human piñata!