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?