Sunday, June 19, 2011

Celebration Traditions

In the US, if you're celebrating your birthday, it's anticipated that you friends and family will treat you. Maybe a lunch date, or some cake and balloons, or perhaps even gifts.

In India, it's done the opposite way. While I was still stateside and celebrated my most recent birthday, my Indian friends inquired as to what I was treating my friends with. I was completely puzzled. "What do you mean what am I treating them to? It's my birthday, shouldn't they be treating me?" Here, if you are celebrating an engagement, or a birthday, or promotion, you are responsible for treating them.
[Photo courtesy of]
The standard "treat" is any assortment of Indian sweets. There's a huge variety of unidentifiable things to chose from, and you'll find a sweet shop every few feet. I must admit, the Indian sweet is an acquired taste. I accepted them only out of sheer politeness in the past, but over time, they've grown on me. I've even identified a few favorites such as Gulab Jamun (which I've even helped make).

Not only is it customary to provide the sweet if you're the one celebrating, but typically, you'll also place it in the mouth of the person you're offering it to. I've been scolded a few times for not doing so.

When celebrating a birthday, you'll find the standard delicious cake (although the Indian's really do an amazing job of decorating them).
What happens with the cake, however is a bit of a "sticky situation." After the singing (yes the same birthday song we all know) and blowing out of the candles, the individual celebrating will cut the first piece of cake, and hand it to an elder or boss. After receiving the piece of cake, the elder will then smear the piece of cake on the birthday girl/boys face. Several other folks joining in the celebration may also do the same.
As you can see, it turns into quite the sticky situation. Everyone always takes it well and it can be a lot of fun provided you're the one doing the smearing!  

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