Birthday Party à la Indonesians

Having many friends from other countries exposed me to different style of birthday celebrations. In many of it, foreigners opt to go Dutch. Everyone pays for their own meal and chip in to cover the birthday person’s meal. To end the celebration, a present is usually given. There is of course a celebration where everyone is invited, and the cost borne by the birthday person, but it’s quite rare.

Contrarily, Indonesian students have a tradition to throw rotten eggs, flour and pour water to the birthday person. The tradition is being kept for years to make the birthday person feels special. Sometimes, it can go beyond, and one can be thrown to the pond. A friend of mine was so terrified with this idea, she put a sling on her hand the day after she was thrown out. Nobody cares, she still had to pay dinner for everyone. In Indonesia, paying lunch or dinner for everyone else, is a must. We call it, sharing happiness. In many cases, the birthday person ended up with neither present nor a birthday card.

As I grew up, birthday celebration changes, not much, but at least birthday no longer involved rotten eggs. Birthday person is still socially pushed to take their friends out for lunch or dinner. Upon wishing happy birthday, a friend (or acquaintance) will unashamedly ask the venue for lunch or dinner. The main problem is that Indonesians have too many friends; I think it’s because we categorized everyone as friend and do not segregate them into different level of friendship i.e acquaintance, travel buddy, colleagues or class mate.  Everyone that you meet, even for an hour, is a friend; hence more than 1000 Facebook friends.


Invited these ‘friends’ for a nice meal and ended up soaking wet (2003)

Another problem, Indonesians do not know how to say NO to such request. They feel bad if they do not invite people for lunch or dinner. Consequently, someone who has lot of ‘friends’ must throw few dinners (and or karaoke) with different group. Wallet and credit cards will of course “scream in pain” as many of these friends often order the expensive meal (and pretended to forget the present). Amazingly, Indonesians do not mind feeding these friends (or maybe they do mind, but they couldn’t say that), even if the price to please these friends will make them live on budget for the next few months.

I celebrate birthday different at work. The birthday person has to buy the cake themselves, give it to a colleague who will arrange a so-called surprise celebration. The birthday person has to act surprised (and touched) by this act of love and thank everyone. If the birthday person wishes, lunch can be arranged, but there is no social pressure for this. People gather, chat and laugh together over a nice cake. Simpler yet nicer.


My last birthday was celebrated in the ICU

What about me? I am very selective in inviting friends for my birthday. Call me proud, call me miser, I do not care. For me, birthday is a moment that I shall only spend with family and close friends over a nice meal to celebrate life. Present is not something that I care about, presence is. I do appreciate birthday card more than the present.

A ritual that I do on the morning of my birthday is to call my mom and my aunt (who raised me) and thank both for showering me with her love.

What do you usually do?

18 thoughts on “Birthday Party à la Indonesians

  1. My bday is approaching soon and reading your post make me remembering all my bday, well the way u write the story as if all indonesians experience the same things. my experience different than urs, my school banned all throwing foods (most strict private-catholic school also have the same rules) hence no such things happened to me and other hundred students untill now 🙂 and usually the girl who feel oblige to take ppl out for lunch/dinner as for the guys its very rarely they throw such things. In my office all the office mate will buy cake for the bday person and sometimes a present (if they are a close friend) usually the bday person will bring something such us snack or lunch, sometimes they dont bring anything, but we still buy him/her cake, so i think u should not generate ur story by saying indonesians in fact not all indonesian experiencing the same. Just my 2 cents. Love the read your writting but do please dont generate all indonesians.

    • Hi Allie, Thank you for your valuable input. I myself spent 6 years in a Catholic school and I completely agree that the school banned its students from throwing food. And I agree that not all Indonesians experience this kind of celebration. I did not mean to generalize it, so I’ll put disclaimer to avoid misunderstanding.

      Again, thank you for your valuable input and I hope you have a great celebration. Happy Birthday!

  2. Tahun-tahun sebelumnya mama selalu telp dan kasih ucapan duluan. Baru suami kasih kado dan doa bersama. Sekarang suami aja baru adik-adik. Hiks….
    Paling menyebalkan waktu ultah dicemplungin ke kolam yang butek buanget dan bau amis setelah seluruh badan disiram tepung, telur, dan semen.

  3. Untung nggak pernah punya temen yang keterlaluan “gila”nya. Paling gila cuman disiram sama air saja….jadi cuman basah, nggak sampe yang aneh2…. 😀

    Sekarang selepas usia 30 malah ulang tahun jadi acara privat yang nggak terlalu penting untuk dirayakan.

  4. Tahun lalu pas ultah di Indonesia, seneng bisa arrange dinner party bareng temen2 ramee2, jadi ga perlu ketemuan di waktu dan tempat terpisah, secara kan ya di Jkt apa2 tua di jalan kalau mau ketemuan :))

    kalo disini biasanya ama temen2 Indo, ritual kita keluar makan & go dutch , dan dikasih cash juga hasil patungan mereka2, nanti gantian dan begitu terus…seru juga sih 🙂

  5. Aku dulu ulang tahun di Indonesia hanya traktir temen deket, 4 orang. Disini ulang tahun hanya makan-makan sama keluarga dirumah. Di kantor aku hanya traktir temen satu team (5 orang) cake/cemilan, ngga pernah pesta.

  6. Oh my, this post brings so much memories of that nasty and smelly birthdays of mine. =)
    I’ve always loved birthday, I’ve made so many hand made birthday presents for my friends I used to have a dream to become a “present maker” LOL.
    Nowadays in my late twenties, I still do love birthday party with chocolate milkshake and party hats. But please, no rotten egg. :p

  7. My birthday is approaching soon…. I always think birthday is a special day. I really want something to remember from that day with my loving family. Well, dulu sih lebih perayaan sama temen2 se gank, yang jumlahnya 3 orang aja. Sekarang lebih ke suami dan anak2.
    Kadang suka sebel sih suami lupa ama ultah istrinya sendiri. Hiksss nasib suami ga romantis! hehehe but Last year, my birthday was awesome. Dapat lil surprise dari orangtua murid disekolah dan mereka nyanyi sambil bawa birthday cake yang godekkk 🙂

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