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A Typical Swiss Birthday Party

Birthday Cake - Helene Souza  /
My son and I recently attended a birthday party here in Cocachimba, Peru. It was the birthday of one of the kids in the village and since it's such a small place, almost everyone is invited. To be honest, I don't like going to children's birthday parties - or grown up's birthday parties - because there is usually too much noise and fuss and chaos. My husband usually takes it on himself to accompany our son to these birthdays but this time he was away so I had to step in.

If you've never been to a Peruvian birthday party, let me tell you one thing: it's loud and crowded! There is dancing and food and once in a while people are trying to say something above the deafening noise of the music. I guess, if you grew up with this it's probably normal and enjoyable but for me it was way too much noise. I could see all the children's ear go deaf in my minds eyes. Argh. Probably one of those cultural differences you'll have as a foreigner.

Memories of Birthday Parties in Switzerland

I haven't been to a kid's birthday party in Switzerland in a very long time. Obviously I was invited to a good share of birthday celebrations as a child, especially during the primary school years. Those first years of kindergarten and school were the first time in my life I consciously made friends (and some enemies). Being invited to a birthday party was a big deal because it meant you were a friend, a close friend even. On the other side, deciding whom to invite to your own birthday was a bit tricky because you might offend someone if you didn't invite them but there was also a chance that you could make a new friend if you invited someone. Is this the same all over the world?

I remember that these birthday parties were small and included about 4-8 of the birthday girls best friends plus her mom or dad. Other parents were never there, we always went by ourselves. And we walked. Living in small village we were used to walking. Walking to school. Walking to see friends. Walking to the bus stop. Walking to go sledding. Rarely ever did a parent pick up someone by car!

I also remember that most birthday parties were held on Wednesday afternoon since this was usually a school free time. Sometimes lunch was included, most times it would start after lunch at 2 or 3pm. We brought gifts and they were set on a table to be opened sometime later. First, it was play time. I'm sure parents struggled to find new and exciting games for every years birthday party (and woe to you if you had more than one child!) but there were some classics that almost never failed.

Birthday Party Games 

One was called "Schoggi ässe" (lit. eating chocolate) where everyone took turns in rolling a die and if you rolled a six you were allowed to start eating a bar of Swiss chocolate. Only it wasn't that simple to eat the chocolate. First you had to put on gloves, a hat or cap, a scarf and then open and eat the chocolate with knife and fork! And as soon as somebody else rolled a six you had to hand over everything including the chocolate.

Another favorite game was called "Mohrechöpf ässe" (lit. eating Mohrechöpf, something a bit like a chocolate covered marshmallow but softer). Two blindfolded kids dressed in garbage bags with holes for head and arms cut out had to try to feed the opponent a Mohrechopf. You can imagine the mess! It was as much fun watching as it was playing the game!

What About the Gifts?

After the games it was time for the gifts. It was custom (and I believe it is still the same and goes for adults as well) to open the gifts while the guests are present. One after the other we or the parent would hand the gifts to the birthday girl and she would open them be more or less excited about it and then thank everyone personally. I was surprised to learn that here in Peru people wait to open gifts until after everyone is gone and they are alone with the gifts so to speak. It might actually easier to hide disappointment at a gift that way.

And Finally the Cake

The gifts done with, everyone's attention turned on the cake. More often than not it was a typical Swiss carrot cake. I grew up in a the canton of Aargau, a region that is famous for it's carrots (and people wearing white socks even though I'm sure that's not the case anymore!) and is considered the birth place of this delicious cake. The mom lit the candles, everyone sang happy birthday in Swiss German and English (with a strong Swiss accent), the birthday boy blew out the candles and then everyone was served. Delicious!

My husband told me that in his family there was never a party. He and his siblings were allowed to chose the meal for the day (usually guinea pig, a typical Peruvian dish) and there was cake but there was never a big get-together like I had. How did birthday parties during your childhood look like? How do you celebrate your child's birthday today?



  1. I am from the Philippines but my boyfriend is Swiss (from Zurich) and I recently just attended his younger sister's birthday party. They also had a carrot cake but I thought that that was just exclusive to their family because the younger sister is vegetarian so her mom needs to bake a special carrot cake to meet her dietary requirements. I didn't know that it was the typical cake for such an occasion in Switzerland! Good to know. In the Philippines, the Filipino sweet spaghetti and cake are the staples of any birthday party, and yes, it it also very loud.

    1. Sweet spaghetti? Sounds interesting!

      Yes, carrot cake is a Swiss classic. It's good for any kind of celebration in Switzerland really. You can see how popular it is when you go to any supermarket and check out the pre-made marzipan carrots.

    2. Now, I realize why I keep hearing about carrot cake so much in the German speaking regions of Switzerland...interesting


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