Happy Birthday to you! The gifts, the cake, the celebration…
Birthdays are a joyful occasion, to be sure!
Traditions for celebrations around the world always vary, but birthdays are one of the things that all people have in common, even if they speak different languages. So take this as an opportunity for more speaking practice! After all, who doesn’t like to be wished a Happy Birthday? You could even plan a birthday celebration in the language you’re learning!
Have you wondered if other cultures sing a Happy Birthday song, like in English? Do they give gifts? What about cake? Read on and learn how to say Happy Birthday in many languages around the world, and the cultural meaning behind it.
Happy Birthday in Spanish: Feliz Cumpleaños
Translated as “Happy Completed Years,” everyone’s birthday is a big day of celebration in most Spanish-speaking countries. In Mexico, they sing their own unique birthday song, Las Mañanitas (“Little Mornings”). And instead of blowing out candles on your cake, the birthday boy or girl has to eat the first bite without using utensils or hands. Usually, a family member will shove the cake in their face, all while singing “Mordida! Mordida!” And, of course, a birthday party is not complete without the world-famous piñata!
Happy Birthday in French: Bon Anniversaire
In French, people wish each other a “Good Birthday!” Birthday parties in France are much like those in English-speaking countries. They celebrate with a big party, cake and presents, and sing Joyeux Anniversaire. The big difference is that schoolchildren have Wednesdays off, and go to school on Saturdays. So most birthday parties are actually thrown on Wednesday when all the kids are out of school. As for Sundays, that’s considered family time. So most parents won’t organise birthday parties then.
In Quebec, you’ll hear Bonne fête! far more often than Bon anniversaire. This literally translates as “Good party!”
Happy Birthday in Italian: Buon Compleanno
The most notable thing about birthdays in Italy? They prefer to stay home! The food and cakes are often homemade. But when it’s your 18th birthday, everyone goes all out. It’s not unusual to see an 18th birthday party with hundreds of people wishing you a “Good Birthday!”
Happy Birthday in German: Alles Gute zum Geburtstag
This is more accurately translated as, “All the best on your birthday.” Birthday parties started in Germany in 1200 A.D. and are known as kinderfeste. In Germany, it’s considered quite bad luck to wish someone a Happy Birthday early, and they have many fun celebrations based on their age. Such as turning 16 and getting flour dumped all over you, or having eggs cracked over your head when you turn 18!
Happy Birthday in Japanese: お誕生日おめでとうございます (Otanjoubi Omedetou Gozaimasu)
“Congratulations on your birthday!” In Japan, they celebrate Shichi-Go-San, which literally means 7-5-3. These are lucky numbers and children go to a Shinto shrine on 15th November if they had a lucky birthday that year. They pray and give thanks for their good health and strength. All children go when they are three years old, boys when they are five, and girls when they are seven.
Happy Birthday in Korean: 생일 축하 (Saeng-il Chugha)
Also translated as “Congratulations on your birthday.” In Korea, 100 days after you’re born, you celebrate your first birthday! Parents celebrate their child’s life with a small feast, and they predict the child’s future by the items he or she picks up. If the child is sick, the parents will skip over the day so as to not bring bad luck on their child. They also send rice cakes to as many friends and family as possible because sharing rice cakes brings a long life. Lastly, they offer up food such as rice to Samshin Halmoni, the Grandmother Spirit, for taking care of the baby.
Happy Birthday in Chinese: 生日快乐 (Shēngrì Kuàilè)
In China, birthdays are mostly celebrated when you are very young or older than 50. It’s common on your birthday to eat longevity noodles without breaking them so you bring in good luck and a long life. Some people even wait until they are 60 years old to have their first birthday bash! There are also some taboos about certain ages, so men don’t celebrate their 40th birthdays, and women don't celebrate 30, 33, or 66.
The literal translation of Shēngrì Kuàilè is something like, “Birthday is Happy.”
Happy Birthday in Cantonese: 生日快樂 (Sang Yat Fai Lok)
Be careful with your birthday gifts! Never give a clock or a pair of shoes as a gift, as the words for them sound like “funeral,” which is terrible luck. And gifts should be given wrapped in red or gold paper, especially for an elderly person.
Happy Birthday in Russian: С днем рождения (S Dnem Rozhdeniya)
In Russia, the birthday tradition is to pull on the birthday boy or girl’s ears by how many years old he or she is. They tell the child, “Grow up — don’t be noodles,” so the child will grow up strong. They don’t sing a birthday song, but if the person has survived a dangerous incident – like a car crash – they celebrate that day as their second birthday.
Happy Birthday in Portuguese: Feliz Aniversário
Feliz aniversário means “Happy Anniversary,” and it's the frequent translation for “Happy Birthday.” But it’s more common to just say “Parabéns” (“Congratulations”). Birthdays in Portugal are very similar to those in English-speaking countries. But birthdays in Brazil, like Russia, include pulling on the ears for good luck. They also decorate their homes with brightly-coloured paper flowers and banners for the festivities.
Happy Birthday in Dutch: Gefeliciteerd Met Je Verjaardag
“Congratulations on your birthday!” Birthdays are a big deal in the Netherlands. And most people have a Birthday Calendar that, interestingly, they keep by the toilet! The calendar reminds them of everyone’s birthdays for the year because forgetting one (or trying to skip your own!) is a major slight to your loved ones. A 50th birthday is the biggest celebration of all, as it’s said the man or woman “sees Abraham” or “sees Sarah” – referring to the biblical couple who bore a child in old age.
Happy Birthday in Afrikaans: Veels Geluk Met Jou Verjaarsdag
Like Dutch, this saying means “Congratulations on your birthday.” Do you see a consistent theme here? Most countries say “congratulations” instead of “happy.” In South Africa, the 21st birthday is the most significant. Parents usually give their children a key made of gold, silver, or aluminium, to symbolise unlocking the future and all it has to offer.
Happy Birthday in Polish: Wszystkiego Najlepszego Z Okazji Urodzin
“All the best for your birthday!” In Poland, they have their own birthday song which goes: “Sto lat, sto lat, niech żyje żyje nam” (“A hundred years, a hundred years may they live”). It’s also common to have a separate celebration for your birthday called, imieniny. This is a celebration on the feast day of the saint the person is named after!
Happy Birthday in Swedish: Grattis På Födelsedagen
“Birthday congratulations!” The Swedish love celebrating birthdays, and often wake up the birthday boy or girl by bringing breakfast and presents in bed. They sing their own birthday song, “ja, ma du leva” (“Yes, may you live”). They traditionally celebrate with cake coated in green marzipan, and presents are wrapped in the colours of the Swedish flag: blue and gold.
Happy Birthday in Danish: Tillykke Med Fødselsdagen
“Good wishes for your birthday!” The Danes make a BIG deal about birthdays. They have a huge love for their flag, and a miniature flagpole by your birthday cake (or on your birthday cake) is a must. They also make great fun with the Danish birthday song. The birthday boy or girl gets to choose which instruments the singers will pretend to play while singing! (Like air-guitar, except nearly a full band or orchestra.) It’s quite a lively event.
Happy Birthday in Norwegian: Gratulerer Med Dagen
“Congratulations with the day!” In Norway, it’s a big deal to celebrate “round” birthdays – 30, 40, 50, and so on. They’ll sing “Hurra for deg som fyller ditt år” (Hurray for you who fills the year) and host a huge party. For children in school, the birthday child will dance in front of the class while the others sing the Norwegian birthday song.
Happy Birthday in Finnish: Hyvää Syntymäpäivää
While “Hyvää syntymäpäivää” is most commonly said, you can also say, “Onnea syntymäpäivänäsi,” which is more common on birthday cards and Facebook. The Finnish also celebrate Name Day, where a different name is assigned to each day of the year. The day that your name is assigned to, you get to celebrate!
Happy Birthday in Tagalog: Maligayang Kaarawan
“Happy wishes!” Because the Philippines is predominantly Catholic, birthdays often start with Mass. They have four big birthday milestones: 1st birthday, 7th, 18th (for girls), and 21st (for boys). Seventh birthdays are celebrated as the age which kids make the first steps towards adulthood. This is the age where kids are held more accountable for their actions and start primary school. A girl’s 18th birthday is called her “debut” and is celebrated with 18 flowers, 18 candles, and 18 treasures.
Happy Birthday in Swahili: Furaha ya Kuzaliwa
“Happiness for the day of being born.” Birthdays aren’t a major thing in most Swahili-speaking countries, and many times it’s only the day of birth that's celebrated. The baby’s birth is cause for a big community celebration and party. Each group has individual traditions – even as simple as the baby’s first journey with his or her mother.
Happy Birthday in Hindi: जन्मदिन की शुभकामनाएं (Janmadin Kee Shubhakaamanaen)
“Good wishes for your birthday.” In many parts of India, birthdays are celebrated with both Western and Hindu practices. A birthday usually starts with a blessing at a temple, abundant prayers, and a mixture of rice and turmeric paste anointed on the forehead. Then the day's followed with more Western traditions such as the Happy Birthday song and cake cutting.
Happy Birthday in Bengali: শুভ জন্মদিন (Śubha Janmadina)
Birthday celebrations are not very common in Bangladesh. But when a baby is born, sweets are given out amongst family and friends to celebrate. They also hold a small celebration for the naming ceremony.
Happy Birthday in Tamil: பிறந்தநாள் வாழ்த்துக்கள் (Piṟantanāḷ Vāḻttukkaḷ)
This translates as “Wishing success and happiness on your birthday.” In Sri Lanka, babies celebrate their first birthday at 31 days old and receive a special gift from their parents. Usually it’s a good luck charm, one that the child keeps with them for the rest of their life. Going to a shrine and doing good deeds to attract good karma on one’s birthday is also common tradition.
Happy Birthday in Telugu: పుట్టినరోజు శుభాకాంక్షలు (Puṭṭinarōju śubhākāṅkṣalu)
In the Telugu-speaking region of Andhra Pradesh, girls will often decorate their hair for their birthday. They'll weave in many flowers (think of Rapunzel’s braided hair in the film Tangled) and will receive gifts of turmeric rice from their parents.
Happy Birthday in Malayalam: ജന്മദിനാശംസകൾ (Janmadināśansakaḷ)
In the southern state of Kerala, India, birthdays don’t always follow the Gregorian calendar. Many South Indians follow the Malayalam calendar instead. This system calculates their birthdays based on astrology. So many times, their birthdays aren't celebrated on their day of birth, but their astrological birthday.
Happy Birthday in Arabic: عيد مولد سعيد (Eyd Mawlid Saeid)
“Happy feast of birth.” Birthday celebrations are not always a priority in Arabic-speaking countries. But most celebrations are like those in Western culture. In Egypt, some people celebrate the birth of the baby by dipping the child in the Nile river, a ceremony stemming from Pharaonic times. On the seventh day after birth, they hold a celebration called subu and celebrate with many flowers, fruit, and rituals for good luck.
Happy Birthday in Esperanto: Feliĉan Naskiĝtagon
Although Esperanto is an artificially-constructed language, it does have one birthday tie: an Esperanto holiday, Zamenhof's Birthday. Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof created Esperanto to be a universal second language and to promote internationalism. So, people who speak the language use his birthday as a good excuse to get together.
Spread Well Wishes All Over the World!
There you have it! You’re now an expert polyglot in Happy Birthday the world over. It always means a lot to be wished a Happy Birthday, but to hear it in your native tongue from a foreign friend is truly special. It shows you put thought and effort into it.
So now you can in get some speaking practice with your friends worldwide. Even if it’s just to say Happy Birthday in other languages and spread some good cheer.
What are your favourite ways to wish someone a Happy Birthday? Do you have a favourite language to say it in? Share your thoughts in the comments!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.