The Ring of Congratulations

For the past one month, I’ve been attending birthday parties. To be exact, Dutch birthday parties. While I like to refer Dutch birthday parties as birthday parties like any other; Dutch celebrates their birthday quite differently.

In Singapore, anyone that passes the age of 21 usually only celebrate their birthday with very close friends. 21st birthday will usually the next BIG thing after the sweet 16th after that most just keep really quiet about their birthday or only celebrate with very close friends over dinner at a nice restaurant.

On the other hand, Dutch celebrate their birthday quite differently. In fact, it seems to me these Dutch loves birthday celebration and they totally love the way it is being celebrated.

The first birthday party I attended in Holland was mine own! How ironic ? Well, during that time, I had just arrived in Holland and because Jos and mine birthday is only 3 days apart, he decided to throw a party for OUR birthday and also to welcome me to Holland. Because, I was kind of a host then, I didn’t realize how different a typical dutch birthday party will be. I was just busy serving and was totally overwhelmed with a whole load of Dutch language which I cannot be bother to understand at the point. I was only focusing on making sure the day ends fine.

Well, last month was one of the months since I’m here in Holland where I had to attend quite a fair bit of birthday parties. Although I had excuse to skip one but I didn’t make up nice excuse to skip the other two. One of them was Rob & Marjolein; a couple whose birthday happen to falls quite close to each other. So they always throw their yearly party together.

Well before the party, I’ve twisted my tongue almost entangling them just to make sure I pronounce the word “Gefeliciteerd” correctly. So Jos made me say it repeatedly to him. I know, it is dumb; but I did anyway. Just so you know, the word Gefeliciteerd really means congratulations. And yes, I’m suppose to congratulate the birthday boy or girl for surviving another year alive ! πŸ™‚

And so, I guessed I managed to say it quite well for the first time to the couple who stayed alive. They replied with “Goed Zo” and “Dank Je Wel”. They are basically implying my dutch is getting better and thank me for congratulating them.

So, I brave myself and walk on in, found myself standing in front of a group of people (I don’t know) sitting in a big circle, turning their eyes upon me. I stand in anticipation. I told myself, I will only do what Jos does, that must be the safest way to get through this cultural crisis. So I did. Jos started going around shaking hands, giving 3 kisses from the beginning of the left side of the circle. But seriously, I hardly know any of them, so, am I suppose to pretend I know them so well or am I suppose to stay cold. Quite honestly, I feel awkward. I walk through the circle with firm hand shake and a smile of course. I guess, a smile like mine always get by. πŸ™‚ The very strange thing happen, I realise, each time I hand shake someone, they “Gefeliciteerd” me! But It isn’t my Birthday. I wish I could reply in Dutch clearly this is not my birthday!

Jos had explained, this is their culture. When someone celebrates their birthday, everyone is congratulated. And it commonly come from an “ouder” meaning an older person. But why? There is no definite answer to that. I’ve read this strange culture somewhere before, but experiencing it myself feels even more weird. So we are suppose to congratulate everyone for staying alive and make it to the party?!?!

The other thing I realize about these Dutch Birthday Parties is they only serve cakes, at most finger food and not more. Don’t expect to have a spread of delicious yummy, because there will only be drinks, a piece of cake and maybe some cracker with spread. The rest of the time we will be chatting with the one seated next to us.


The other “Gefeliciteerd” birthday party I had was at Jos’ Mum. That one was really fun because there was a lot of food! And Jos’ mum make delicious food. From Cakes to Hot Meals to Ice-Cream. From Dutch food to Asian. She is a very good cook. Although it was her birthday party, she didn’t fail to impress her guest with all her delicious cooking. Jos’ Mum Party was the only birthday party I went to that serves cooked food. I guess it is the host that makes the different, definitely not a dutch culture.

If you ever been to a Dutch Birthday Parties, do share your views on how you feel!


6 thoughts on “The Ring of Congratulations

  1. I think they (we) congratulate the loved ones of the person whose birthday it is as an acknowledgement that they are alive and loved too. For my sister’s birthday, I’ll call my mom and congratulate her on the birth of her daughter, and she’ll congratulate me on the birth of my sister. It’s like our lives are better because of the person we’re celebrating so we congratulate each other. That’s my take on what it means… I’ve never looked it up but I know it feels good!

    As for Dutch parties, the birthday person celebrates their own birthday by bringing cakes or sweets to the office or school to share with friends. And at parties I’ve been to, usually they start late with cake and coffee, then followed an hour or two later by sandwiches and finger food, and if you stay into the wee hours, the deep fried foods come out. Along with wine and beer. And typically they go until 2 or 3 in the morning!!

    • Wow now I know it’s common to congratulate everyone ! I’ve never stayed till 2-3 am in a Dutch Birthday Party, guess that’s why never had fried food n sandwiches! I will make sure I stay till the real food come out next time! πŸ™‚

  2. Oh this is so true… That weird custom of congratulating to everyone at the party. I had some funny/weird moment with those. When my boyfriend had a birthday, his mom called me to congratulate… I get the idea, but still it’s hard for me to understand why to bother so much πŸ˜‰ On the other hand one of our friends has his birthday on exactly same day as me, so last year when we came to his party and everyone started congratulating me, me, the birthday gay and my boyfriend started laughing explaining to people that it’s also my birthday. So what did they do? Congratulated me… AGAIN!

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