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The Big One

What First Birthday Traditions Look Like From Cultures Around The World

Up to this very point you’ve not had to think about one very important thing. It’s a thing you’ll have to think about every year from now until the day you die. A thing that will sometimes include way more children that you’re comfortable with in your home, or possibly a pounding headache in the domain of a sentient cartoon pizza rat. That thing is your kid’s birthday.

Being that this is the first one, you might be looking for guidance. Sure, you could just call it good by making ‘em a smash cake and inviting the grandparents over to sing the birthday song (it’s not like your kid is going to remember). Or you could do away with the typical Western fete and find year one b-day inspiration from your fellow parents around the globe.

The Picking Ceremony

This first birthday tradition is common in Asian countries. It’s particularly popular in China and Korea where divining who a child will become is a fun (and kinda serious) pastime. Family members offer a selection of objects to the kid during the celebration, each with a special significance. These objects may include rice (for wealth), a calligraphy brush (for gaining knowledge), or celery (for hard work, presumably because chewing celery is hard work).

The family lets the kid loose and they go after the object that intrigues them. This choice indicates what their future holds. There’s a similar practice in America — it’s called being a contestant on The Price Is Right.

A Little Off The Top

There are some cultures that use the first birthday as an opportunity for a first haircut. This is the case with Hindus, who connect the first growth of baby hair with bad stuff carried forward from a past life. During the ritual, the kid’s head is shaved (though sometimes not completely). It’s then adorned with a special paste that includes turmeric and sandalwood. Delicious!

The people of Turkmenistan and the Ukraine also have first haircut traditions to commemorate a kid’s first trip around the sun. The ritual offers the child protection. In the Ukraine, godparents clip hair from the cardinal directions of the child’s noggin. In Turkmenistan the oldest uncle on the mother’s side completes the ritual. That wouldn’t work for you, obviously. Drunkle Joe would clearly endanger your kid’s scalp.

All The Foods

Of course a celebration isn’t a celebration without a feast and, frankly, Nigerians are pretty much the leaders in this arena. They bring some some serious grub to what they consider the biggest birthdays, including the first. Not only is everyone the family knows invited, they also roast whole animals to feed them. Whole roast cows are reportedly not uncommon for these parties.

Hawaiians also go whole hog on the first birthday, often with a whole hog. Their first birthday luaus are known to be pretty legendary, though the guest list is a tad smaller than a Nigerian bash. Still, your baby barbecue is clearly inadequate.

Parents in Japan don’t necessarily feast for the first birthday, but they do have an interesting food tradition involving sweet mochii (essentially pummeled, sweetened rice) “cakes.” The cakes are called issho mochi which sounds like the phrase “a whole lifetime” in Japanese.

These mochii weigh nearly 6 pounds. That fact become even more interesting when you learn that the mochii are strapped to the kid. At that point, parents encourage their one-year-old to take a few stumbling steps until they plop down. This, then, is a metaphor for life’s journey. Presumably because we will all stumble because we’re carrying too much food? You could probably do this with your kid, but substitute the mochii with steaks. U-S-A!

No matter how you choose to celebrate your kid’s first birthday, this is the prime opportunity to start a new family tradition. So maybe, from here on out, the kid also buys you a gift for being such a good father for the last year. Hey! Another grand idea!