Somebody just had a birthday so we thought what better topic to learn about than birthdays in Spain.
Traditionally birthdays in Spain did not matter as much as Saint’s days. We talked a lot about religious names in this Spain Sunday. Most people are named after saints because it used to be mandatory to do so. So people would celebrate the day of that saint rather than their own day of birth. Think of it as a name-day vs the day you were physically born.
For example, Saint Christopher’s feast day is July 25th (according to the pope but not the Russians who think it’s May 9). So instead of celebrating his birthday in December, Chris would celebrate his “Saint’s Day” with snacks and fun on July 25th. It really depends on the persons age/religious conviction/etc if they want to celebrate their birthday or Saints day. And knowing the Spaniards it seems most celebrate both because life is short and there’s no such thing as too much party.
It does not work the other way around. You do not celebrate the saint that is on your birthday. For example August 11th is Saint Clara/Claire’s day, I don’t celebrate Saint Claire on my birthday. But if my name was Claire I might celebrate that day.
The Saints Days are usually the day of that saint’s feast which usually corresponds with the day of their death. So you’re celebrating the day that your namesake died.
Celebrating the Saint’s Day is actually still very accepted in the older generations. Most of the teachers at my school would bring in loads of pastries, cakes or cookies on their Saint’s Day. These were 40+ year-olds bringing food into school like something out of my own elementary days where kids would bring in cupcakes for their birthdays.
Some kids get pretty upset if you don’t know/remember their saints day. I’ve had kids tell me its their day but they don’t know the word for “saints day” so they just say birthday. Close enough. There is no excuse to not know the Saint’s Days because they’re on many calendars and in day planners here.
My planner shows the most common Saint on every day (unless it’s a big holiday like September 8th where they just mention the holiday, not the saint). September 7th is Saint Regina, September 9ths is Maria de la Cabeza which was one of my kids actual full names. Her whole name was Maria de la Cabeza so I imagine she at least got a present on September 9th, if not just to reward her for being able to spell that at 7 years old.
Actual birthdays (not saints day) can and are celebrated, too. Adults usually go out for dinner. The big difference is that the birthday-person always treats their friends. This is pretty different than taking a birthday boy out for dinner and you paying for him. It’s accepted here that if you invite someone to your own birthday dinner, you will be paying all, if not most of the bill for everyone you invite. So if you invite a huge group to an expensive restaurant you’ll be out hundreds of dollars by the end of the night. This has changed a little recently to whatever you can afford – at least paying for everyone’s drinks but maybe not the whole dinner. It also depends on the year, if it’s a big birthday like 50 you’ll probably pay for a big shindig but when you’re 23 or something boring you might just treat your friends to after dinner drinks.
Cards aren’t big, they’re hard to find, even. Presents may be less common depending on the age you’re turning and your family’s culture.
Depending on the family the child might celebrate twice – once with immediate family at home (or on their Saint’s Day) and once with all their friends. Parties can get really elaborate with rented bounce houses or full day ordeals. Party places are common as a result, it’s easier to just rent a party place so you don’t have to cook and inflate your own bounce house.
We actually live right next to such a place – “Mar del Bolsas” aka Sea of Balls. Basically a McDonalds play-place but without the McDonalds. It’s a huge indoor play place with ball pits, slides, and jungle gym, bounce castles and video games. It’s a very popular birthday place and they even have a lady clown you can rent for the afternoon. You can rent the whole place for private parties.
It’s also (we’re told) accepted to just drop your kid off at a child’s birthday. You don’t have to stay and mingle with other parents, you can just leave your kid then run errands for a few hours. Kids parties are also usually later in the day. Since lunch time is from 2-3 pm, the party might not even start until 5 or 6 pm, even for small children.
Pointy birthday hats also aren’t huge here (we haven’t even seen them for sale in stores). But my 1st grade students would make 1 big paper crown then all their peers would sign it. It’s funny to see “signatures” of 6 year olds. But these paper crowns are more common than any pointy hats. You’ll sometimes see a kid downtown with their birthday crown on.
Cakes aren’t really what you’re expecting. It used to be acceptable to have a plate of pastries with no cake. But the most popular cake is actually “Grandma’s Cake” (Tarta de la Abuela). According to our cookbook this is the pivotal birthday cake that every child eats growing up. It is the taste of childhood to Spaniards and very few birthdays went by without this cake making an appearance (at least as a child. Maybe less so as an adult).
They’re the easiest “cake” in the world to make, and barely needs a recipe. You soak bland tea-cookies in milk until they’re soft, then you layer them and vanilla pudding to make a cookie/pudding lasagna. You can add the zest of an orange and a lemon to the pudding to add some complexity, or not. The top is coated in a fudgey chocolate.
There are “normal” birthday cakes here, too. We’ve seen parents with trendy unicorn and rainbow cakes. You can buy licensed cakes at the local supermarket too (we’ve seen monster trucks, princesses, The Avengers, etc. ).