Tag Archives: birthday tradition

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.

“Thôi nôi”: Vietnamese 1st Birthday Celebration

Main Piece:

A: It’s like a birthday. Your friends, family [are invited], cook food, give you something like– like baby clothes, toys… but it’s different like, I have to do a tray. I put on scissors… hammer… mirror… cái này là gì– chỉ, everything like on the tray. Then let the baby pick. The first thing the baby picks up, we think, “Oh, in the future, she will do thợ may, thợ cắt tóc, một cái người designer, hay là bác xĩ, này kia đó. 

  • “ It’s like a birthday. Your friends, family [are invited], cook food, give you something like– like baby clothes, toys… but it’s different like, I have to do a tray. I put on scissors… hammer… mirror… what is this– just, everything like on the tray. Then let the baby pick. The first thing the baby picks up, we think, “Oh, in the future, she will be a seamstress, a hairdresser, a designer, or a doctor, this and that.

Me: So what kinds of things are on the tray? You said scissors, thread…

A: Everything you can think of…. But, don’t put anything like– not lucky. 

Me: Did you do this celebration for anyone?

A: You. 

(Dad interjects: You did?

A: Yeah!

D: What did she pick?

A: Nó bóc cái gương với là cái micro. Chac là [our son] không có làm.

  • “She picked up the mirror and a microphone. I don’t think we did one for [our son].”

D: That’s why he’s not going anywhere [we all laugh])


My mother is the one telling me this story. This is a traditional way of celebrating the baby’s first birthday in Vietnam. Thus my mother, who was born and raised in Vietnam until immigrating to the United States in the 1990s, became familiar with this practice while she was there. She likes this celebration because of the fun of predicting what the baby’s future career will be, however, she does not fully believe in it. She explains to me that when she was younger, before she had me, she believed that these predictions would come true, but now, it is simply a fun activity. 


This is a transcript of our live conversation. We were in the process of eating dinner when I asked my mom if birthdays are celebrated in Vietnam. She responded no. Instead, certain milestones of a baby’s life are celebrated. She explains the baby’s 1st birthday after explaining how guarded the baby’s first month of life is.


I had known other cultures in Asia had this celebration of a baby’s first large milestone, such as Korea’s 100-day birthday, where they practice homeopathic magic to predict the baby’s future career, but I did not know that there was something similar in Vietnamese culture. To further explain how this is homeopathic magic, the act of the baby choosing symbols of a career mimics the career the child will have in the future. This is the first time I learned about this celebration. After my parents’ generation immigrated to the United States, I was never old enough to recognize if my cousins’ first birthdays were celebrated in this traditional Vietnamese practice. When one of my cousins had children, at that point, our family celebrated birthdays in the American way, as my mother explained that birthdays aren’t celebrated in Vietnamese culture aside from a baby’s first milestones. Such is a common occurrence in folk practices pertaining to the life cycle, where a baby’s life is more unpredictable in the beginning stages, and thus is celebrated when they pass markers that indicate better chances of survival. Though my mother said she doesn’t believe in the prediction, it is interesting that you could make a case that my selection was pretty accurate (I am a theatre major). 

Pork and Sauerkraut and Birthday Wishes

Main Piece:

This is a transcription of the informant’s New Year’s Day tradition.

“Every New Year’s Day we always go over to my brother’s house with all the extended family, cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone. He is a really good cook and makes a giant roast pork and sauerkraut meal that we have been doing since we were little. Then New Year’s Day was my mom’s birthday so we’d cut her the first piece and then she’d put a candle in it for her birthday. It was like a fake little pre-birthday celebration with the whole family. She passed away many years ago but we still light the candle and do the whole thing but instead of a birthday wish it’s a wish for the new year for everyone. It’s sweet I think.”


The informant is from a large German-American family. 


The informant described this to me when I inquired about her family’s traditions around the holidays. 


Pork and Sauerkraut is a very common New Year’s food, especially for those of German heritage. The combination of a birthday wish and luck for the new year appears to go hand in hand. There are certain theories as to why pork is associated with luck for the new year, “In Europe hundreds of years ago, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year. Also, a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground in the forward direction” (Sherrow 28). The symbolism of a pig digging forward is meant to represent forward movement for those that eat the pig in the coming year. The luck of pork and a birthday wish create a hopeful start to the year for this family  

Sherrow, Victoria. “EAT FOR LUCK!” Child Life, vol. 86, no. 1, Jan, 2007, pp. 28-29. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy2.usc.edu/docview/216762697?accountid=14749.

Seaweed Soup

Main Piece:

Seaweed Soup is a popular traditional Korean dish.

Original script: 미역국

Phonetic (Roman) script: Miyeok-guk

Translation: Seaweed soup

The following is transcribed and translated from a conversation between the interviewer and the informant.

Informant: Out of all the Korean soup dishes, and there are lots and lots of it, miyeok guk (seaweed soup) probably has the most ties with meanings and stuff. It’s most famous for being the soup that people eat for their birthday breakfast. And it’s mostly breakfast, I don’t think people eat this for their birthday lunch of dinner. So a lot of foreigners call miyeok guk the ‘birthday soup’.

Interviewer: Where did that birthday tradition start?

Informant: I’m not sure when or where, but it originates from how miyeok guk is served to women who had just gave birth. It’s like, high inn iron and iodine and stuff, so it’s seen as really good postpartum food. It’s the first thing moms eat after giving birth, so it’s the first thing that babies eat when they’re born too. I think people eat this soup for birthdays because of this, to remember where they start from and remember their mothers.

Interviewer: Is there any other meanings tied to the soup?

Informant: Koreans also avoid this soup the day before or the day of an important exam. Seaweed has this slippery texture and I think it reminds people of like, slipping, falling, failing, all that bad stuff you don’t want reminded of before an exam.

Interviewer: What if there’s an exam on the day of your birthday?

Informant: (laughs) I guess you have no choice then.


My informant, woman in her 50s, was born and raised in Korea but immigrated to the United States when she was in her 30s. Though she doesn’t recall when or where she acquired this piece of folklore, but she describes it as such a common piece of food knowledge that all Koreans are aware of it from a very early age.


The conversation was conducted over a phone, while the informant was at the comforts of her own house. The conversation took place in Korean, and was then translated into English by myself.


Korea has a rich history with its traditional cuisine, and plenty of lore around these food items. Eating a meal on your birthday to remind yourself of your mother’s labor sounded appropriate, as Korean culture is built heavily around Confucianism.