One of the questions that we sometimes receive in our mailbox and over at the ThailandQA.com forums is this one: “How do Thai people celebrate their birthdays?” Well, they don’t often celebrate in the way that we do in the West. This often means no cake, no presents and no party for your friends if you are a child. Birthdays are not usually marked in the same way here as we did with birthday parties when we were younger. When I first came to Thailand I noted that many of my students didn’t receive any presents from their parents. They didn’t even get a cake. If they did get something, it would be a book or something equally unimaginative. But, it is not always like that. Thai people like adopting traditions from other cultures. Christmas is a good example of this. Thai children have seen Western movies and have seen what happens during our birthdays. So, they want the same too. Now more of my students receive presents from their parents than before. Some of them also have cakes. Though, they usually only get one candle. Or, if they have just turned say ten, they will then get eleven candles.
Thai adults might have a party for their friends. Though I know quite a few Thai people who never celebrate their birthday. They don’t do anything special. Either they don’t have enough money or they are just not motivated. One interesting difference with these parties is that the “birthday boy” is expected to pay for all the drinks. I have even been to parties in Thailand where all the guests received presents! On Nong Grace’s birthday last week, she came to school with candy for all her friends! For older people, they are more likely to celebrate the 12 year cycles. For example, on their 60th and 72nd birthdays. If you have a Thai friend who is going to celebrate a birthday then it won’t hurt for you to buy them a gift. They will certainly appreciate it. But, it is not really expected. So, how do Thai people traditionally celebrate their birthdays? What they do is make merit by going to the temple early in the morning and offer food to the monks. This morning was the 53rd birthday of my school. We celebrated by inviting several dozen monks and everyone came early to school to offer them food and other basic essentials.