Since most students spend a full academic year in the United States, there is a good chance they will celebrate their birthday while they are here. We always love hearing from students and host families about the festivities, because it’s a unique bonding moment. It’s a chance for the host family to show the student how Americans celebrate birthdays, and for the student to really feel like they’re part of the family. While reflecting on some of the memorable birthdays from programs past, we took a look at birthday customs around the world.
In China, birthdays are always celebrated on or before the actual birthday – belated celebrations are taboo! Good things are believed to come in pairs, so people will often give birthday presents in pairs. It is tradition for people to eat long noodles on their birthday, because the noodle length symbolizes the longevity of that person’s life. For this reason, birthday noodles should never be cut! 60th and 80th birthdays are both big celebrations because they represent full life cycles.
In Italy, birthdays are more of a family affair. Birthday cake plays a big role, but the cake, the party, and any other birthday plans are the responsibility of the person celebrating their special day. For this reason, celebrations are usually pretty small, consisting of a family dinner and cake. Because the birthday boy or girl is covering the cost of the party, most party goers compensate by showering them with presents.
Birthdays in Mexico are a time for big celebrations. Many birthday parties – especially for younger children – involve a pinata filled with candy, small toys, and other treats. Food plays a big role, with dishes such as arroz con leche (rice pudding), taquitos (rolled tacos), and flan taking center stage. One unique tradition is for the birthday boy or girl to take the first bite of their cake with their hands tied behind their backs – a humorous moment for the friends and family members watching along.
Whether it’s a big tradition like a birthday or a smaller moment like going for a bike ride around the neighborhood, host families around the country are introducing our students to American culture one event at a time. If you’re interested in celebrating life with an exchange student, we’d love to talk to you! Give us a call at (512) 323-9595 for more information, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.