Expat Magazine

Nepali Birthday Customs

By Hanna

Yesterday, it was N didi’s birthday and we had a lovely day celebrating followed by a pub trip in the evening! As I am living with N didi, M came round early in the morning for us to giver her presents and a cake. Her favorite cake is Red Velvet so we had spent the morning before trying to find a Red Velvet cake that would be ready by the next day. Luckily, we found a beautiful cake and N didi loved it!

n cake

In Nepal, it is a custom to continue singing Happy Birthday, for a very long time. Which meant after N didi had blown out the candles, M was continuing the song solo! In western culture it is a bit strange to keep on singing Happy Birthday, especially in England where no one really wants to sing in the first place.

After N didi had cut the cake (accompanied by M’s serenading) the first slice was supposed to be fed to each other. Another custom that I was not familiar with until I went to Nepal! I still find it very strange and thought it was only something that happened between a bride and groom at their wedding. Little did I know that my father-in-law would be putting cake in my mouth when I went to Nepal! N didi and M understood as I sat out of the cake feeding this time. Sometimes, it is a custom to get cake all over each other’s faces, especially if it is a cake with lots of cream or frosting!

M and N didi were even discussing that it is quite common not to have a cake at all on birthdays. M did not have a cake until he was about 18 – so even the notion of a cake is a very modern thing. Birthday’s are not given such special treatment as they are in English. M and N didi even quoted a phrase which is said to children in Nepal If you do not study on your birthday/special day, then how will you study on any of the other days in the year!


It took N didi a bit of time to open the gifts as there was so much sellotape and wrapping paper on them! In Nepal they never lick card envelopes shut and barely wrap up presents. This is something I find a little sad as my family is really big on wrapping paper! When I was growing up, my dad used to put our presents in big cardboard boxes and then wrap them in wrapping paper so we could not guess them for the shape – I love watching everyone unwrap their presents, especially when you know what is inside!

Also, in Nepal, and a lot of South Asian, whoever’s birthday it is has to give treats out to others. This was something that I have not done since I was at primary school and we were expected to stand at the door to give out sweets to each person in the class when it was your birthday. After I left primary school, every year I have enjoyed receiving treats on my birthday and never thought anything else of it. But after I had more South Asian friends, on my 18th birthday I was asked why I didn’t treat them. It left me baffled for a long time until M had told me years later about this custom.

M and I had gifted N didi a huge box of Thornton’s chocolates and some individual bottles of wine. Even before N didi had gotten the box out of the wrapping paper M was already teasing her that she can share her chocolates with us. They were certainly a sharing size but as you can tell – in Nepal, it is already expected!

Nevertheless, the day went down very well and we all enjoyed the global custom of a drink in the evening – something everybody is familiar with!

Readers: How do you celebrate birthdays? Are there any customs that are celebrated in your country but not elsewhere?

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