Tag Archives: birthday ritual

Birthday Football Game

Text: “For my birthday, my dad and I used to go to the first UT Austin football game of every season.”


Informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California studying mechanical engineering, originally from Austin, Texas from Chinese descent.

“My dad really likes UT football and my birthday always fell around the time of the first game of the year. I haven’t really heard other people doing this. I mean, I’m sure people did it, but I haven’t heard. It’s fun, I like it, it’s good time with my dad. When I go, I remember the previous years.”

Analysis: This is an example of the ritualization of individual life cycles. Ritualizing individual life cycle is a way in which we derive our identity and symbolize the identity we are trying to project. For the informant, this ritual integrates football, her hometown, and family as a part of her identity. The when is clearly defined as the ritual occurs at a scheduled time each year and commemorates a very specific event of her birth alongside her father who also symbolizes her birth somewhat.

Midnight Birthday Candle and Banana

Text: “At midnight every year, I blow out a candle, but I save it for midnight Eastern Time, ’cause that was the time that I was born in. And then I also eat a banana at midnight.”


The informant is a student at the University of Southern California studying Political Economy and originally from Minnesota, speaking almost in a hurry and without much emotion resembling nostalgia or fondness.

“Apparently I used to coincidentally eat bananas for the first couple of years of my life, and now it’s just kind of become my little tradition for my birthday. I think it’s when I was a kid, my grandma used to always be a really strong advocate for bananas because she said potassium was good for you. And the night before my birthday I would normally spend the night at her house, just because you know, who doesn’t want to spend the night with their grandma on their birthday. And they just sort of started happening. But when I was a kid, I also didn’t really stay up till midnight for my birthday. So it was normally like, right before I went to bed, right when I woke up. Now it feels like I have to do it because it just kind of reminds me of home, I think. And I think that it’s a nice way for me to just kind of remember my childhood a little.”

Analysis: This tradition is an example of a ritual performed in celebration of a commemoration of a significant event, in this case a birthday. In ritualizing a birthday, an individual life cycle is being celebrated which contributes to the formation of one’s identity. This individual life cycle is being ritualized in a manner that puts it on the calendar cycle. This specific tradition occurs at midnight, ritualizing the liminal or the “in-between” which is often considered to be where the magic happens. In the uncomfortable nature of change, the transition is celebrated to make it more exciting and desirable. The sequence of this tradition is also evidently important as many are in rituals, with the candle first and then the banana.

Birthday Breakfast & Dinner Ritual

K: “Okay so another one that we have is when it’s somebody’s birthday, in our family, uh, for- for breakfast, they would get a choice between, um, cinnamon rolls for breakfast or donuts for breakfast, like, specifically dunkin’ donuts or like the pillsbury cinnamon rolls that you would buy at the grocery store. And then every night for dinner they got to choose a place to eat out, or like, choose what we eat for dinner.”

Interviewer: “That’s awesome! Where did the food selections come from? Like, who kind of decided that those were the food selections?”

K: “I think my mom, uh, because cinnamon rolls for breakfast or donuts for breakfast, those are like- like a big deal in the house. Like, that’s not something we do, we would normally- I mean I don’t get really hungry around breakfast time, but whenever, like, whenever we would eat breakfast it would just be waffles or a bagel or like, a piece of you know, toast. So like making cinnamon rolls or ordering donuts is like a special occasion. They’re like special breakfast foods.”

Interviewer: “And for the choosing, um, where you wanna go for dinner, is that something that’s discussed beforehand or is it like, the person no matter what is like ‘we’re going here’?”

K: “It’s pretty much your choice. Like, whenever I choose dinner, I go to, um, Potbelly’s, which is this sandwich chain that started in like Chicago and they just got a couple in North Carolina. So I just- I choose there, and I mean, someone can not like it but you don’t really have a choice because it’s not your birthday, so everyone just has to go with whatever the um, the birthday person wants to do.”

K is a current student at the University of Southern California. They spent most of their childhood in Chicago, Illinois before their family moved to North Carolina, where they currently live when not in school. In addition to birthday breakfasts, K stated that theri family would sometimes also have donuts after Mass and typically have cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast, which they thought contributed to the idea of these foods being for “big exciting occasions.” They also described that they would typically consider and eat these foods as dessert foods. For dinner, K added that their family goes to Potbelly’s outside of K’s birthday celebrations, but that they really like the food there. Now that they’re in college, K says they see it as an extra special opportunity, since they have a summer birthday and the Potbelly’s chain has no locations on the West Coast, where they go to school.

Both K’s family’s breakfast and dinner birthday rituals seem to showcase some form of ritual inversion. In the case of breakfast, foods that are typically only had for dessert are instead the main focus of the meal in order to emphasize the special nature of the occasion. In the case of dinner, what restaurant to go to or what food to each, which would perhaps otherwise be a group or family decision, is handed over to the birthday person, attributing them extra power and special status on their birthday. This ritual seems to have taken on an added meaning for K now that they attend college on the West Coast; by almost always eating at Potbelly’s, a restaurant they enjoy, K is able to reaffirm their identity ties to Chicago and North Carolina.

Dim Sum Birthday Celebration

Informant: N.N

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): N/A

Age: 19

Occupation: Student

Residence: Burbank, CA

Performance Date: 04/26/2024

N.N is 19 years old and is from Burbank, CA. I am close friends with his brother, so N.N is an acquaintance of mine.  I asked him if there are any festivals or rituals he participates in regularly. He tells me about a life cycle celebration / birthday ritual that his family does every year for his uncle’s birthday. 

“Oh, so in my family, we have this tradition that’s all about celebrating my Uncle B.’s birthday. It all started back when I was around 10. My mom offered we do this for Uncle B. and we just kept doing it. Every year we all get together and head out for dim sum around the afternoon. Honestly, it’s less about the birthday cake and more about stuffing ourselves with all kinds of dumplings. For me, it’s just a great excuse to eat good food and catch up with everyone.”

I think that this tradition of them getting together for dim sum is really about connecting with their Chinese heritage through a simple yet meaningful ritual. It’s also lets them bond over food and celebrate someone’s birthday together which is always a meaningful way to appreciate the simple joys of being with your family. Uncle B., from my knowledge, always played a big part in raising his nephews like N.N, and now that he has his own kids too, the family would want to show appreciation for him through this birthday ritual.

Beltane / Birthday Celebration


“What Beltane actually is it’s like an old holiday, like Pagan but also Greek and Roman, it’s just an old holiday back when we were relying on crops cause it’s like the peak of spring, right in between the spring equinox and summer solstice. So what I do is I have a bowl of water that I place at the window at the start of the morning, and it collects the sun during the day and you put in your yellow flowers, or just any flowers you have to symbolize spring, and you can manifest over it. It’s an offering to the Mayday goddess, she’s not necessarily someone I follow, but I just like that it’s the same day as my birthday so I always do a little thing for it, a little offering. It’s more of like, a new beginnings thing, cause it’s actually the start of my next year of life. It’s sort of cleansing, I think in general spring is the time for that, new growth, birth and all that. A lot of people do fertility stuff, for me it’s just clean slate, new beginnings, on my birthday. I find it calming to have my own space, mediate, manifest, and go about my day.


Y is a 19-year-old college student from Denver, Colorado. She started celebrating Beltane when she was in middle school, after she found out it was on the same day as her birthday. She doesn’t follow any pagan faith or celebrate any other Sabbats, so this celebration is both a Beltane ritual and more of a personal birthday ritual. She is actually of the Muslim faith, and says the ritual is technically a sin in her religion. She interprets the ritual and Beltane celebration more as a birthday cleansing ritual and as a quiet moment for her to calm herself before her birthday begins and reflect on what she wants in the year ahead.


Beltane is one of the holidays that follows the agricultural calendar and also follows our life cycles, representing the cyclical calendar.. It happens on May 1st, during a time of great agricultural reproduction and the planting and growing of new crops. It also represents the time of budding youth in the life cycle. It’s similar to the saying of a May-December wedding, referring to when a young girl (in her May era) marries an old man (in his December era). May, spring, and Beltane are associated with new beginnings and growth in both the life cycle and agricultural cycle. This particular Beltane ritual especially represents new beginnings, as for Y it represents a new year of her life. The fact that she celebrates this holiday is very interesting because it illustrates an inter splicing of faiths. She is Muslim, and doesn’t usually celebrate the pagan holidays of the Sabbats. She chooses to celebrate this one because it’s on her birthday, which makes it also a birthday celebration. Birthday celebrations are one of the three big steps in life that are usually celebrated: birth, marriage, and death. Birthdays represent coming into a new identity, and are a time of liminality when a person is first becoming that new age. A lot of birthday celebrations are group celebrations, such as singing Happy Birthday together. Some people say that birthday parties started because the birthday, as a day of liminality, is a day when a person is more vulnerable to spirits, so groups would gather to protect the birthday person. Birthdays are also a time of private ritual though, many people have their own private rituals they do on the day to either reflect back on their life, or imagine the possibilities the new age will bring them. Y uses her birthday ritual to manifest good things into her life for the next year. This illustrates Dundes’ argument that the American worldview is very future centric. Instead of reflecting of the past, she looks forward to the future on her birthday. It is also an example of how American society looks at time linearly. Despite celebrating a festival like Beltane that uses cyclical time, her perspective of her birthday moving forward linearly is an example of her experiencing linear time.