This is a big year at Duolingo HQ: Our beloved Duo the Owl is turning double digits! For his 10th birthday, all he wants is for learners around the world to do their daily lessons. As we planned his party, we took a look at global birthday traditions—from special foods, to special songs—to ensure we give him the worldly celebration he deserves!
Are you curious about how birthdays are celebrated around the world? Check out these traditions, and bookmark them before planning your party:
Birthday rituals around the world
Cake is a common theme on birthdays, but the rituals around cake can vary! In Mexico, the birthday song is known as “Las Mañanitas,” which is usually accompanied by pushing people’s faces into their birthday cake. In Brazil, the person you give your first slice of birthday cake to is seen as the person most “special” to you. Of course, this isn’t taken too seriously, since you have to pick someone to get the party started, but it can have meaning!
In some parts of India, one birthday candle on the cake is never blown out. Instead, it’s allowed to flame out naturally! In the U.S., a single candle has extra meaning too—traditionally, the candles on a cake line up with the person’s age (at least until they get on in years 🤣), and one extra candle is always added for “good luck”!
In Poland, birthdays are fun, but name days are just as special. The Polish calendar has two saints’ names (male and female) assigned to each day on the calendar (remember how we talked about Sylvester for New Year’s Eve?) Because many Polish people share names with saints, whatever day lines up with their name becomes their name day! These celebrations are pretty similar to birthday celebrations—for some families, they are much more significant.
Birthday foods go beyond cake
In Chinese folklore, peaches represent longevity and immortality, so birthday celebrations often include steamed buns made to look like peaches. Another typical food is “longevity noodles,” long noodles meant to represent a long life.
In Sweden, breakfast in bed is a birthday tradition, and the family brings a special birthday breakfast tray and sings to the celebrant!
In Korea, it’s customary to eat seaweed soup on your birthday. Seaweed was long-thought to be a “superfood” for expecting mothers, full of nutrients that were good for their baby-to-be (some would eat it for their entire pregnancy!) Now, it’s eaten on birthdays to honor your mother and remember the love and care that she took in bringing you into the world.
In Spain and Italy, the birthday person isn’t treated—they’re the one opening the tab. So if you are meeting friends at the bar for your birthday, be prepared to buy drinks 🍷🥂🍸
Birthday milestones are different everywhere
In Latin American culture, young women celebrate their quinceañera when they turn 15 years old (and some celebrate a doble quinceañera at 30!). This coming-of-age ritual is celebrated with family and friends, and the birthday girl designates a group of 15 young men and 14 young women to be her “court of honor,” and perform choreographed dances during the party. 🎉 (You can learn more about the quinceañera on our Spanish podcast!)
In Chinese culture, the day you’re born is generally known as your “first” birthday, which means you turn 1 the day you’re born.
In Vietnam, people also have two ways to count their age: one is by the Gregorian calendar, which marks your *Tuổi dương* (“normal age”) and the other is by the lunar calendar, which marks their *Tuổi âm/Tuổi mụ* (“lunar age”). Every year on Tet, the Vietnamese new year, everyone symbolically “turns” a year older —but most people count their age based on their “actual” birthday. The exception is for elders who are turning 70, 80, 90, or 100 on the lunar calendar—this special occasion is marked by *mừng thọ*, or a Celebration of Longevity, in the birthday person’s home.
In South Africa, your 21st birthday is an important coming-of-age milestone. To commemorate the day, it’s customary to receive a key as a gift, symbolizing freedom, autonomy, and “unlocking” the door to adulthood.
In Danish culture, your 25th and 30th birthdays can get a little, well, *spicy*. On your 25th birthday, if you’re unmarried, your friends and family are allowed to douse you in cinnamon! (Yes, you read that right.) And at 30, if you’re unmarried, you receive a lot of pepper—not doused like you were five years ago, but you might get a few pepper shakers as a present!
How to say “Happy Birthday” in 25 languages!
Want to switch up your birthday wishes this year? Here’s more than 20 ways to say Happy Birthday. Sometimes, the birthday wish carries a little extra meaning, so we’ve included the direct translations as well!
|يوم ميلاد سعيد
|Per molts anys!
|For many years!
|All the best
|Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag!
|Wishes from the heart to your birthday
|יום הולדת שמח
|जन्मदिन की शुभकामनाएँ
|Good wishes for birthday
|Selamat Ulang Tahun
|(I wish you) All the best
|La mulți ani!
|Happy Birthday ("May there be many years")
|C днём рождения
|İyi ki doğdun!
|Happy Birthday! (It's good that you were born)
|З днем народження!
|Chúc mừng sinh nhật