June is a month of birthdays in our family. And I like to plan the birthday meals of my son and myself around noodles, a symbol of long life and prosperity. There are many similarities between how Filipinos and Americans celebrate birthdays. There are also stark contrasts.
Birthdays for Filipinos are a mix of east meets west. The differences are interesting.
Years ago, when we just moved to the USA I had my first experience at having a birthday in an American corporate setting. To my surprise, my co-workers bought a birthday cake for me, gave me cards and presents and called me to the company’s conference room so they could sing “Happy Birthday”. At other times, my co-workers and even my neighbors treated me out to lunch or dinner, as a birthday gesture.
In contrast, in the Philippines, the celebrant is expected to host one’s own birthday party or pick up the tab at the restaurant for the birthday dinner. So be warned, folks. If you are not Filipino and are headed to the Philippines at the time of your birthday….be ready to foot the bill of a huge banquet in your honor, that is if you let everyone know it’s your birthday. You will have no escape because there will be massive ribbing, taunting and teasing that it’s your birthday and you need to buy everyone dinner. If you are not Filipino, this takes getting used to while living in the Philippines. On the same token, if you ask me, ever since I have lived in the States, today I am more partial to the American way of celebrating birthdays and relish it when my friends treat me out to a nice birthday meal.
Cultural differences are my explanation for these opposites in birthday celebrations between the Philippines and the USA. But there are similarities though – like a birthday cake for the celebrant, there are gifts from family and friends, and everyone sings to you in English (no matter what country you are in) the “Happy Birthday” song.
One thing is universal though, the desire for long life, prosperity and good fortune. No one turns down the prospect of a better year and many more birthdays to come. This is why on every birthday in our family, no matter where we are in the world I make sure we all eat together a huge, bountiful bowl of noodles or pasta like this scrumptious Shrimps and Vegetables on Pasta which I made for a family birthday. Twirl the fork, and dig in, folks!