Birthday Bite (Mordida)


So in like Latin American culture in general, I’m personally Mexican, but we have this thing and you basically sing a person happy birthday on their birthday into a cake. And, it’s called mordida which means bite. So you basically like yeah its mordida, which is bite in Spanish, its m-o-r-d-i-d-a and the whole thing it’s like kinda supposed to be good luck. Yeah, you just kind of shove their face into the cake, and they’re supposed to take a bite of the cake before everyone else, but like with their face. And, the whole point should be like a little bite, but people go a little crazy sometimes. 


Both of A’s parents are Mexican, and she grew up in Texas near the Mexican-American border in a strong Latin American community. She is currently 21 years old and attends USC.

Analysis: The word mordida, which A describes to mean a bite, is also more widely used to refer to a bribe when not in the context of the birthday tradition. It’s also traditional in Mexico to sing the song Las Mañanitas rather than happy birthday during the mordida. Luck associated with the start of a year or new beginnings at a birthday is also a theme in many cultures. Celebrating the year or new age of the birthday boy or girl sets a tone for the next 365 days. In Van Genup’s book Rites of Passage, he explains how rituals are often practical jokes and that in order to change identity (to move from one age to the next), there must be a ritual. Here it is interesting that after attending different birthday parties and their own every year the victim of the practical joke knows what is going to happen, but still allows it anyway. Participating in good humor or being able to “take the joke” is perhaps a sign of maturity. This is also an example of ritual inversion in which the ritual is the opposite of the normal rules of social engagement. Normally, shoving someone’s face into a cake would be rude, but in the Mordida it would almost be rude not to.