Posted by Juliana Szucs on August 7, 2014 in Ask Juliana

UnbirthdayGrowing up, birthdays were a big deal in our house. Everybody had to be nice to you and you got to choose dinner and what kind of cake you wanted. I always wanted either Hungarian nut torte (a family favorite) or white cake with seven-minute frosting. The lamb on the torte in this picture was one of two that was on one of my previous cakes and I still have them. One’s been broken and glued back together a few times, but for some reason I hung on to them and they were on my daughter’s first birthday cake.

I was a bit envious of my sister Tricia’s cake one year when she got angel chimes on it. The heat from the candles turned the angels on the top so that the chimes would ring. We didn’t want to blow out the candles that year.

My sister Diana and I always celebrated our birthdays together since they’re only five days apart. One year Diana wanted a Cinderella-themed cake and there may have been a bit of sibling rivalry in the quest to get the carriage. To be fair, it was a pretty cool carriage.

Cinderella cake

When I was in grade school, your friends made you a birthday bows to wear. They were a large bows with ribbons hanging down. On the ribbons we taped gum and candy so you were very popular in school that day.

Another tradition we borrowed from my mother’s childhood growing up in El Paso and Mexico, was a candy-filled piñata. For many of our birthdays, we got a piñata and the birthday girl got to take the first crack at it. Since everyone shared in the spoils once it was broken, it made us all look forward to birthdays.

One of our more unusual traditions was the un-birthday party. Our cousins were spread out across the country from California to New York, North Carolina to Texas, Illinois to Ohio. Whenever we had the opportunity to see each other, we celebrated everyone’s birthday at once in the un-birthday celebration. We didn’t do gifts, but there was cake and a special dinner and lots of laughs.

That tradition actually goes back a bit. When my mom was two, her father became ill and she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle and their children in Texas. Her five siblings stayed in New York. Since they were separated, they would have an un-birthday party to celebrate my mom’s birthday from afar.

Over the years, our birthday celebrations have morphed and new traditions have found their way in. One of my brothers-in-law eats his cake in a bowl of milk. (Is that an Indiana thing?) Some of my nieces and nephews now do the same.

What are your birthday traditions? Share them with us and, more importantly, share them with your family.

Juliana Szucs

Juliana Szucs has been working for for more than 19 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program.


  1. Wonderful achievements and accomplishments. In the last few months I spent long hours with consecutive days researching, editing, adding comments, photos, etc.
    I’m an Amateur, but I’m beginning to understand a little more how to prepare the tree.
    However, I’ve found a lot of problems in the translations of names, index for marriage, birth and death certificates not belong to the person of interest.
    As matter of fact, even the written informations to translate and transfer the names, place of births etc from spanish to English are not accurate sometimes.
    Thank you for listening about my concern.

  2. I don’t remember anything special for our birthdays, but our kid’s we always had a picnic lunch for the cousins and then had cake and sometimes ice cream and if we could afford to they got a gift. The fun thing was getting together. When my nephew was six, I made him a train cake.

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