Today our lovely Jack is turning 25! Of course we had to celebrate this special event with some traditional birthday love and a birthday cake. When it’s your birthday in Indonesia the change is pretty big that your friends or your family will smash a raw egg on your head and immediately afterwards cover you in flower. It might seem like a bit of a harsh tradition, but after it happened to me for the first time and I was riding my bike home it all started to make sense; the fact that I was covered in flour brought joy to everyone in the village as they could all see that it was my birthday.
Complete strangers stopped me in the street and started to sing happy birthday to me. Which is super nice of course but I never really know what to do with myself when people sing happy birthday to me. Am I supposed to smile while everybody sings? Or do I modestly laugh? Do I make eye contact with people individually, or glance by all of them? Would it be corny if I did that little orchestra conductor thing? Is the singing over with yet? No, no it’s not. It’s only just beginning. If somebody out there can provide me with proper etiquette for handling oneself during the singing of Happy Birthday, I would really appreciate it.
I love Indonesian traditions !
And although it made feel a bit awkward and weird in the beginning, over the years I really started to love this Indonesian birthday tradition. And so do my boys! The more eggs and the more flower the better. Somehow instead of only Jack, we all ended up completely covered in raw eggs and flower and we all had to take a long shower before we could go back to work.
In English we say “Happy Birthday” but in Indonesia the greeting, “Selamat Ulang Tahun” translates to, “Happy Repeated Year!”. I never thought much about the difference in specificity between the two greetings – one emphasizing a single day, the other emphasizing the end, or beginning, of an entire year – until I discovered that many of my local friends don’t know their birthdays.
It’s just a number…
They told me that they are part of a generation whose parents were illiterate and thus could not record the date of their birth. They explained that in these cases, the Indonesian government just chooses the 31st of December or the 1st of January as the birthday for all official documents. I suppose that if a birthday is just the mark of another year, repeated, any date would do. After all, it’s really just a number,