Serbian Birthday Traditions

"One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them." ~ Virginia Woolf

Celebrating with Aleksandra (Sept.  2011) - my first Serbian birthday experience. 
For children growing up in America, birthdays never seem complete without a visit to the McDonald’s play place or a frilly, princess themed birthday party. For a lot of American teenagers, parents flip the bill for large dance parties or weekend getaways to celebrate another year of adolescent survival. As a young, working adult, usually one can expect a few hundred Facebook birthday messages, a decorated work cubical and perhaps a dinner out with a few close friends. Your few close friends pay for their own meals and perhaps you treat everyone to an after dinner drink or dessert just to celebrate surviving another year. The big birthday celebrations seem to disappear once you finish college (except for milestone birthdays – those are still a big deal in America).

There is something very special and unique about the way that birthdays are celebrated in Serbia. These are our observations and experiences in Serbia, but I am sure there are other birthday traditions that we have not yet encountered. 

Dad celebrated his birthday in Serbia. Check out that wrapping job!
My Dad's birthday just happened to fall on the weekend he visited us in Serbia. I planned a dinner and invited our friends and just casually mentioned that it was Dad's birthday. I had contemplated not telling our friends because I didn't want them to go overboard and buy a bunch of gifts. Of course they went overboard, but it was glad I mentioned his birthday because it was such a blessing to my father and we all had a great time celebrating. 

We bought a bunch of little cakes at Ravel Bakery in Subotica. 
If it is your birthday in Serbia, you (the birthday boy or girl) pay for everything. You don’t ask your friends to bring food if you’re throwing a house party, and you don’t expect them to pay for their own meals if you are celebrating at a restaurant. If it’s your big day, you treat. For every birthday we have celebrated in Serbia, this has been the case. In fact, it is offensive if a guest offers to pay for part of the birthday celebration. Believe me on this one - we have tried and been reprimanded. Chris and I had to quickly learn to just go with the flow when a birthday celebration was in question.

Another unique thing about Serbian birthdays is the way that gifts are given. In America, each guest gives the birthday boy/girl a gift, bottle of wine or gift card, and it typically costs around $25(ish). In Serbia, everyone pools their money and gives one big gift rather than several small ones. This way the gift is more expensive and often something that the birthday boy/girl really needs or wants. There is something special about this tradition because the whole community is involved in planning, purchasing and paying for a nice and truly meaningful gift.

I am not sure if these are Serbian customs or just the way that our friends throw a birthday celebration. If you’re a Serbian reading this post - and you happen to celebrate differently, please leave a comment and share how you throw a birthday party.  

Here are a few of the birthdays we have celebrated in Serbia. And lets hope there's a whole lot more to come!
Sladjana's birthday - and her fancy green heals  
We missed Zoran's celebration, so here he planned a second evening so we could attend
We went bowling for Marko's birthday and chipped in to get him a new computer chair
Did you know there's a great bowling alley in Subotica, Serbia?!