The best birthday present: a yummy breakfast made by Chris and Katya!
Birthdays, just, well, AREN'T a big deal in American culture, at least not once you're an adult... They can easily pass by without your acquaintances knowing it was your "big day," because it's just not "done" in our culture to tell people about it. There's some sense that you'd be then putting them in the awkward position of having to do something for you.
When friends do know about your birthday, they'll often invite you out and then split the bill to treat you.
Here it's the opposite!
Birthdays are a huge deal in Russia. They rank up there with the attention we give a milestone anniversary, New Year's and even, perhaps, some elements of Thanksgiving. Russians invite their family and closest friends over for a lavish meal (or they go to a restaurant), and the festivities last at least six hours (in my experience). There is usually a lot of alcohol involved, even when it's a child's party (for the adults!).
Famous singers regularly give special concerts for their birthdays, particularly when the age is a "jubilee" one: a multiple of five.
Perhaps the strangest tradition for me is that it's customary to treat all your coworkers to desserts or meal when it's your birthday. You get more dressed up than usual and bring in cakes, etc., to work. It makes me feel so self-conscious! If you don't do it, though, you offend people because you never gave them the chance to share your special day with you, and to wish you all of their long-winded and sincere wishes for a health, happiness, love, success, etc.
The proof? Even the guys who sell me my vegetables and fruits at the market gave me this beautiful bouquet of roses!
The other proof? I now need to spend the rest of the day making homemade tiramisu to bring in for all my colleagues. Since I work equally in two different buildings, I need to cook for both sets of faculty! (I'm just not gonna cook for the elementary school teachers, where I also teach... I do that later in the spring when I make big desserts to simply say "Thank You!" for all they do for the girls).
I could just buy some cakes, but that's, well, just NOT me. I take pride in being a good baker... Since so few of my colleagues actually know how to cook, they really appreciate it. It's also a rare chance for me to show that despite the many cultural gaffes I might make from time time, there are some things we Americans can do rather well...!
My birthday was actually on Sunday, but I haven't cooked yet because Monday and Tuesday were national holidays, and Wednesday there was already tons of food to celebrate "Defenders of the Fatherland Day," which is basically "Men's Day."