Does This Count As a Birthday Present?

ingrids-raceWritten by Api Sulistyo

Translated by Tami Sulistyo

May 28th, 2011 was a special day for our daughter, Ingrid Sulistyo. She celebrated her 12th birthday. As usual we would celebrate it with birthday cards and cake. However, I was not used to this custom in the U.S. On that Saturday morning, I did not have any birthday card for Ingrid. My wife had, of course, prepared presents for her and asked our other kids to make birthday cards.

I grew up in a small village in Central Java, Indonesia. We were not used to celebrating birthdays. No birthday cards, no birthday cakes.

Instead, some people in Indonesia mark birthdays with the “momong’ (guarding or supervising) tradition. Though most rural communities in Java have abandoned it by now, in this event the family celebrates the “weton” or birthday of their child by sharing “tumpeng rice” (steam rice shaped like a cone) with other kids in the neighborhood. The elders in my village told me that with “momong” we hope that the birthday child will always be safe and protected and achieve their dreams, like the shape of the rice cone pointing upward as if demonstrating the path to success.

This tradition is based on both the lunar and solar calendars. The Javanese calendar (lunar) has five days in a week: Legi, Pahing, Pon, Wage, and Kliwon. The solar calendar has seven days in a week. Because of this combined calendar tradition, theoretically one could celebrate their birthday every 35 days!

When I was young my mother often reminded me in Javanese, “Your birthday is Jemuah Wage.” It means that I was born on Friday (solar calendar) and Wage (lunar calendar). We are expected to express gratitude and remember our dreams.

Gift Giving

 Many older people in rural areas in Indonesia do not even remember their birth dates. They usually remember events that occurred around the time they were born such as: harvest time, dry season, flood, fires, and other natural events. Whenever I fill out a form that requires my parents’ birth dates, I usually apply the theory of estimation. Their age is up for guess.

People living in urban areas in Indonesia are more familiar with birthday parties. A few years ago, a friend in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, invited me to attend his friend’s birthday. They had the party in a hotel. I was reluctant to come because I do not know the birthday girl and I did not have any present for her. “Don’t worry. You come with me,” he convinced me.

We were in a reserved room for the party. Food and drinks had been prepared. When I offered to pay for some of the bill, I was reminded, “It all has been paid for by the birthday girl,” my friend told me. Many years living in the U.S, I forgot that Indonesia has different customs. The birthday person shares his/her gratitude by treating other people. While in the U.S. other people congratulate the birthday person with cards and presents.

People in Indonesia do not celebrate a few other events neither and they might not even recognize them such as wedding anniversary, mother’s day, and father’s day. Some educational institutions even prohibit Valentine’s Day. Once I had a conversation with a friend in Indonesia about the importance of Valentine’s Day. “Ah, we do not need to celebrate Valentine’s Day. For what?” he said. “We should express our love and affection every day. We do not need to have a specific day for that.” He probably did not say it in front of his wife. They naturally have their own ways to express their thankfulness and happiness.


 That morning of Ingrid’s 11th birthday, I woke up and got ready for my run. The weather was nice and warm in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My morning run that day was dedicated to being thankful for my daughter, Ingrid’s, special day. I was running near my neighborhood.

While I was running I was thankful to God that Ingrid is a part of our family. I thanked God for all the blessings: her health, talents, happiness and comfort with us, and her beauty. While I was running I was also praying for her. I prayed that God protects and guides her. I wished her success with her dreams and that she contribute to the community, and live a happy life. The hope and prayers made the run fun and enjoyable. When I arrived home from the run, my GPS showed 12.12 miles (about 19.5 Km).

That day I told Ingrid that I ran 12.12 miles to celebrate her birthday. “Thank you, Dad,” she said and hugged me. She ran a few times with me in a few places and in various weather conditions. I still remember we ran around Lake Nokomis, near our home and the temperature was 17 F/ – 8C.

To respect the local American custom I made a birthday card for Ingrid. Before we had birthday cake and opened presents, Ingrid invited her friends and our family to volunteer packaging foods to be distributed to hungry people in various countries. This activity was organized by a humanitarian organization, Feed My Starving Children.

In the summer of the same year Ingrid surprised me. She registered for the Cross Country team at her school. A few times I stood on the side of the path to support her during races.

I will always remember that birthday celebration for Ingrid.

  • When have you shown appreciation to someone in a non-traditional way?
  • What opportunities do you have coming up to display a non-conventional approach that could add value?
Please share your answers if you are interested in doing so by leaving a reply at the bottom of this page or at



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3 thoughts on “Does This Count As a Birthday Present?

  1. You have brought tears to my eyes my dear Api…. as usual with your talent as a story teller you have shared with the world your culture, your fatherly feelings, and the love that sweet Ingrid instills in you. Thank you for letting us take a peak into that world! God bless you and your family for many years to come!

    Liked by 1 person

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