The Role of Food in Birthdays

On her birthday, Ann-Kristin Afflerbach muses on why food is so essential for bonding with friends and family on your birthday. To her, food is the ultimate way to celebrate your loved ones a little more than usual and to shower them with attention and love on their special day.


I get very excited for birthdays. If you are a friend of mine, I probably have sent you a weekly reminder during the four weeks leading up to my birthday. However, I do not only get excited for my own birthday but also for family members’ and friends’ birthdays. I get all enthusiastic weeks in advance, to the annoyance of the person whose birthday it actually is.

Lately, I have been thinking about why I like birthdays so much. For me, it is not about receiving presents, although it is of course very sweet when someone puts in the effort to get me a little something they think I will enjoy. I also love making people smile by giving presents, but I realized that it is not what I like the most about birthdays. Above all, I love the getting together and enjoying a nice meal with my loved ones. I always love how every birthday has this festive atmosphere where everyone dresses nicely and the night is accompanied by good food that everyone will enjoy. A great dinner at my favourite Indian restaurant that makes the most delicious chicken curry I have ever eaten, my favourite meal such as baked salmon made at home, or even take-away sushi – it does not really matter.

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Birthdays are also a great excuse to bake cakes, muffins, and tartes. I have a major sweet tooth, so I really enjoy cakes or other sweet treats. Everyone at work brings a treat with them the day of their birthday and the whole team will set some time aside to eat cake together in the afternoon. I love that food has this ability to bring so many people together, even in a busy day. Setting this time aside to eat a piece of cake with the person whose birthday it is makes them feel special, honored, and appreciated, which everyone needs once in a while. But cakes are not only a part of birthdays at work, they are also special at home. My mom is not the biggest fan of cakes or other sweet things, but every year she would bake a special cake for me. Apple pies are my favourite, but also hedgehog slice, chocolate cakes, and strawberry cakes – really anything you can think of!

In the past few years, she has gotten into decorating cakes and over the years, they got more and more spectacular. This is very special to me, not only because I just love cake in general, but also because someone put in the effort and time to bake a cake for me and decorate it with something they think is suitable or enjoyable for me. My cake decorations over the years have ranged from glittery flowers, to a DNA strand, to a suitcase and eventually to a neuron that I worked with during my bachelor’s thesis. Getting to enjoy a lot of personalized sweetness with my family has been such a great experience for me.

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To celebrate my birthday with my friends, I would usually go out to a nice bar and enjoy some cocktails with them. As I am getting older, I enjoy birthday breakfasts and brunches more. Good food, lots of laughter, and my favourite people by my side – what better way could there be to start the day? I understand why people would rather have nights out on their birthdays, but I appreciate the casual setting of a brunch. I love going to a buffet, telling my friends what they should absolutely try, enjoying the meal, and eventually leaving with a full stomach and heart.

This year, my birthday will be a new experience. I will be on my own, with no special restaurant and no cake. I have moved away from my family recently, so I will not be able to spend the day with them. I will still have a birthday catch-up dinner with them when we see each other again. In the meantime, I will make myself a fancy dinner, try some recipes that my family would probably not enjoy that much, and then treat myself to a nice dessert and enjoy it on my own. It does not make me sad, but rather appreciate the times I get to share a meal with them on my birthday even more.

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Birthdays are special because they are an excuse to celebrate your loved ones a little more than usual and to shower them with attention and love. Birthdays are also an excuse to be a little extra, to go to a nice restaurant, or to make something fancy at home. Most importantly, the food brings everyone together by celebrating that one special person’s date of birth. And I love that.


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