Last time we dove into the history of birthdays and the evolution of their celebrations. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at some birthday parties from other cultures with a bit more detail. Getting older is important to all of us, but it’s fun to see how different people symbolize that importance and what birthdays are raised above the others.
We briefly touched on the Quinceañera in our last blog, but it’s a truly fascinating subject. To recap, it is the birthday celebration for a girl who is turning 15. It is symbolic of her transition from childhood to young womanhood. In the years leading up to this birthday, the girl is usually taught skills like cooking and weaving to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. While many Quinceañera traditions are carried over across multiple different countries, the differences can be surprising. Most parties follow a program of segments to give the reception a schedule of events, between which food and drinks are served to the guests.
A common thread through the celebrations is the waltz, usually between the birthday girl and her father. This is usually considered the first public dance of the girl’s life, and is quite significant. A segment found particularly in the Mexican Catholic tradition but optional in other countries is the practice of holding mass, commonly at the beginning of the celebration. It can be easy to mistake a Quinceañera for a wedding at first glance and that’s not a mistake. Its origins came from the belief that girls were ready for marriage at 15. Thankfully, kids are allowed to be kids a bit longer nowadays.
A bar mitzvah is held for a Jewish boy when he turns 13, while a bat mitzvah is held for a girl when she turns either 12 (Orthodox and Conservative Judaism) or 13 (Reform). The celebration is held to symbolize becoming accountable for their own actions, where prior to a mitzvah, the child’s parents take responsibility for their actions. Bar and Bat Mitzvah translate to “Son and Daughter of Commandment” in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, meaning that while it is used to describe the ritual itself, its origins stem from what the person going through the ritual was called.
Typically, a mitzvah is held on the Shabbat or Sabbath following the important birthday. While many leaders in the Jewish community have stated they don’t like how mitzvahs seem to have become more about the party than the religious significance of the rite of passage, the parties have gotten more elaborate with sometimes very over the top themes since the 1970s. The festivities typically include a celebratory meal with friends, family, and members of the synagogue, with gift giving and a reading from the Torah taking place.
A Filipino coming-of-age celebration called a debut, which celebrates a young woman turning 18. While men also reach legal maturity at 18, they celebrate their debut at 21, which are less formal than the female counterpart, if they celebrate it at all. A debut shares many similarities with a Quinceañera, however, a debut revolves heavily around the number 18. A Filipino girl will throw a party with 18 guests of her choice and they’re typically dressed either in traditional formal dress called Barong Tagalog or in a more western Black Tie style. Dancing plays a considerable part in a debut, with a waltz known as the ‘Grand Cotillion Dance,’ the ‘18 Roses Dance,’ where 18 male guests provide her with a rose or her favorite flower, and a father-daughter dance taking a prominent position in the party.
The connection to that special number continues with the 18 candles, which are provided by female friends or family members. Each gives a short speech about their relationship, then lights the candle and places it either in her hand or on a nearby display stand. A more modern addition to the proceedings is the ‘18 Treasures,’ where 18 guests present the birthday girl with a gift accompanied by a speech. While similar to what takes place with the roses dance and candle ceremony, this is not separated by gender. The party concludes with a speech about life from the birthday girl while expressing gratitude to the guests.
The bulk of what we’ve taken a look at here has been mostly focused on birthdays signifying the entry into adulthood, but let’s wind the clock back and look at a Korean tradition now. Doljanchi is the celebration of a baby’s first birthday. As civilization was still finding its way, it’s sad to say babies passed due to complications connected to illnesses we’ve thankfully cured now. Because of that, a baby turning one was of incredible significance and something to be celebrated. The entire village would join in on this party, sharing food and well wishes of a prosperous future for the baby.
Many traditions have carried over from this starting point. A custom revolving around fortune telling, doljabi, is often the highlight of the doljanchi. In this portion of the celebration, the baby is sat upon a table which has a variety of food and objects spread across it. The baby is then encouraged to choose one of the objects, which is considered to foretell the child’s future. During the party, guests can try to guess which object the child will choose, with a prize going to whoever guesses correctly. A dol table is set up by the baby’s parents where food is piled high to symbolize a life of prosperity.
Those are just a few of the different birthday celebrations from different cultures. As you can see, there are many similarities and even more differences setting them apart. There are even more traditions that come into play when you look into smaller communities, but we thought it was fun to take a look at how other people celebrate something we all share, growing old. At Rebounderz in Lansdale, we want to make your birthday something really special. Give us a call today to schedule your party!