Author: Jasmine Stocks, RIS Quality Assurance Coordinator
*This article was made possible thanks to interviews with immigrants from around the world. Thank you for sharing your experiences and traditions with us!
A birthday is the day you were born – to some, this day is just another ordinary day, to others, it is a celebration of life and years to come! Birthday celebrations in the United States typically consist of birthday cake (of course!), balloons, friends, family, last but certainly not least – presents!
Yet not all birthday celebrations are the same. Some of us are not able to celebrate and others have different traditions, as refugee and immigrant children soon learn upon moving to the United States. As one individual reflects on growing up in Nepal: “We never really celebrated birthdays growing up. A lot of Nepali families call the priest at home and do rituals. Some differences I’ve noticed is in schools and among friends, the person whose birthday it is treat their friends not the other way around like in Nepal.”
Some never got the opportunity to celebrate their birthday whatsoever as a child. This Kurdish Syrian individual told us that birthdays in her family were not celebrated until the first male child was born. “My family didn’t celebrate until we had a boy [her youngest sibling is a male]. My parents were so excited to have a boy. We invited neighbors, family, and friends. Very crowded and lots of dancing to Kurdish music. We prepared cakes and sweets, we cut the cake and served people.”
In Bosnia, birthday celebrations are similar to those in the U.S. with one big difference, “Kids’ first birthday celebration is always a big thing. Part of this celebration often involves their first haircut done by the godmother or godfather. This is called KUM.”
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) having a baby can be a bigger celebration than a wedding. In Congolese culture, it’s custom for the neighbors and family to plan the celebration. “This reminds me when I was in a refugee camp in Tanzania,” reflects an interviewee from the DRC. “My brother had a baby in February 2016, the Congolese knew how to celebrate and give thanks to God. On that day people sang, had traditional dances, and brought food. Even folks I didn’t know came to be celebrated with us. In short, the Congolese are willing to help others and see other people are happy.”
Despite this reflection in birthday traditions in the DRC, it is also important to note that not all celebrations are the same within the same country. Some families simply cannot afford to celebrate birthdays. According to another interviewee from the DRC, “I don’t think we ever celebrated birthdays. It was always like any other day. I remember my parents would always once in a while buy me a new outfit when they were able to. I didn’t have a real “American style” birthday with cake and friends until I was 16, and even then it was a friend of my parents’ that threw the party.”
In every culture food seems to be a common denominator that brings us together. Besides, what’s a celebration without good food?! In Cuba a typical birthday celebration will have ensalada fría, pork asado, ensalada, yucca, and tostones. In New Zealand, fairy bread, sausage rolls, lamington, and cheerios (not the cereal). South Koreans traditionally celebrate with a seaweed soup: “I’m not sure why, but I guess it’s because women have seaweed soup after they give birth. We’re more westernized lately than before; so you hardly see people having seaweed soup. Of course, some people who follow conventional customs make seaweed soup for their own children. Many of us ask our friends or our colleagues on their birthday: ‘Did you have seaweed soup this morning?’”
No matter where we are, what food we have, how we celebrate, or if we receive presents, a birthday celebration is a celebration of life.
In recognition of these important milestones, LSS received Birthday Box donations from Together We Rise and through the sponsorship of Goodwin Proctor LLP. Each Birthday Box is a birthday party in a box for a child 11 years old and under. Each small box includes a birthday card, balloons, banners, candy, stickers, noisemakers, bubbles, poppers, ice cream gift card, color changing cup, and more! Thank you for your generosity and for helping us make our refugee and foster youths’ birthdays just a little more special!