Birthdays. It’s the one day you get each year to celebrate you and all the accomplishments you’ve achieved, struggles you’ve gotten through, and plan for what’s to come. Typically celebrated with family and close friends, it marks the beginning of the year you’re about to face and how much you’ve already gotten yourself through.
As this fall semester has progressed, birthdays have been on the forefront of my mind. Many of the people I was friends with in middle and high school have finally turned twenty, posting about their special day celebrated with the family and friends who could make it. It’s been lovely to see; while I’m no longer friends with these people, it’s nice to see that their special day wasn’t ruined. My friend Viktor, who moved back to his home country of Norway in 2020, spent the entire day with his childhood soccer team, bringing them back to when they were participating in russfeiring just a few months ago. As they remembered their celebration of completing upper secondary school and all the tomfoolery that came with it, they looked on to their twenties with fondness.
Well, me and my best friend (Ida) didn’t get to participate in russfeiring since it’s a Norwegian practice, so we were quite confused when he started referencing his twentieth birthday as “the second russfeiring.” I asked Ida more about it, seeing as her parents both grew up in Norway, but for them, their birthdays were nothing like a “second russfeiring.” And it got me thinking – how have birthday celebrations been shaped by cultural experiences (using my friends as reference)?
Viktor has lived most of his life in Norway, but from the ages of 14 (almost 15) to 17 (turning 18), he studied abroad at my third high school (and then my rival high school). Norwegian birthday celebrations are similar to American ones; there’s a party thrown, gifts received, and cake eaten. Typically, traditional Norwegian foods are eaten (primarily seafood dishes) and the cake is either chocolate or fruit flavored. However, the birthday is planned by the birthday person rather than their family or friends (Meleen), leading to a bit of a culture shock when Viktor came home from school on his fifteenth birthday to see a party waiting for him, and his entire junior varsity soccer team already there. However, by the time we celebrated his last birthday in the US, he had really grown to love the “surprise” aspect of the party and how much livelier it was because of it. Which is why two years after his return to Norway, his twentieth birthday became a second russfeiring – his friends planned it and included all the shenanigans present months earlier.
Like Viktor, Ida also has grown up with a Norwegian cultural lens on birthday celebrations since her parents grew up in Norway. However, after immigrating to the US and having more cultures present in her daily life, she’s started to celebrate her birthday in a variety of ways as she’s gotten older. Mixing both American and Norwegian celebrations has always been a part of her day, but ever since she was seventeen and started living with her sister and brother-in-law, she’s introduced some Korean traditions to keep herself connected with the additional culture in her family, the main one being her first meal of the day. On the morning of someone’s birthday in Korean culture, they will eat miyeok-guk, a soup made of seaweed that is meant to represent a mother’s love towards their child due to its history of being eaten by pregnant Korean mothers (Betts). With its rich vitamin content and history, miyeok-guk’s connection from mother to child is a reminder of the strength needed to bring a child into the world.
As the end of the year comes, and birthdays happen ever-so-frequently, hopefully, there’ll be more cultural birthday celebrations to observe! To anyone whose birthday has passed, I hope you had a splendid day, and to those whose birthday is almost here happy early birthday!
Betts, Jennifer L. “Korean Birthday Traditions Passed down over Time.” LoveToKnow, https://family.lovetoknow.com/cultural-heritage-symbols/korean-birthday-traditions-passed-down-over-time.
Meleen, Michele. “Birthday Traditions around the World.” LoveToKnow, family.lovetoknow.com/cultural-heritage-symbols/birthday-traditions-around-world.