Your favorite greeting ever. Everyone waits a whole year for their birthday. Colorful decorations, prettily wrapped gifts, a special birthday cake, confetti flying around and lots of fun marks the day. A ‘sweet sixteen’ birthday is the most memorable as are eighteenth and twenty-first birthdays. Friends and family treat you with all your favorite things. But birthdays have not always been this way.
In the Egyptian culture, birthdays were celebrated only by the Pharaohs. Lavish celebrations in the palaces and festive decorations were the order of the day. It was sometimes celebrated on his coronation day every year because it was the day the Pharaoh was considered to be reborn as ‘God’. The Greeks are said to have offered crescent shaped cakes to the Lunar Goddess. To recreate Her beauty and incandescence, candles were lit around the cake. It is a tradition that has remained to this day. The idea that the masses could celebrate their birthdays is not as old as you think. Only the Emperors were entitled to celebrate their birthdays in the Egyptian and Greek cultures. Only men were later allowed in the Roman times. The common people celebrating their birthdays started in around the 9th century.
The most iconic part of a birthday celebration is the singing of the happy birthday song. Everyone sings it with reckless disregard to singing expertise. But hey, that is how you are meant to sing it. It is a song for everyone to enjoy. People from around the world sing the birthday song in their own languages. Check out the most popular ones here.
Happy Birthday To You
This is the most popular birthday song of all time. It is a reimagining of a song called “Good morning to all” that was written by Mildred Hill and Patty Hill in 1883. The Happy birthday song as we know it today was written to the tune of this song by Robert Coleman in 1924. Sung by about 360 million people around the world, there is no beating this song anytime soon.
Hayom Yom Huledet
This is the Jewish birthday song sung most popularly in Israel. It translates to ‘today is the birthday’ and is sung by family and friends stood around the birthday kid in a circle. This song is set to the tune of the English version of the Happy Birthday song. Children are usually sat in decorated chairs while people make merry around them. A cool way to grow up, you can say.
Sixteen candles by The Crests
This song was a runaway hit in the 1960s in Britain, and catapulted the rock band The Crests to the teens number one band. The lyrics wish a sixteen year old girl a very happy birthday. Like all teenageers trying to pour their hearts out, the song tells the girl how she is the best ever. A forever green track, it is still enjoyed by old school rock worshipers.
Zhù ni shengrì kuàilè
The Chinese traditionally celebrate the first, tenth and sixtieth birthdays with grandeur. The younger generations though, have begun to celebrate all their birthdays with fancy cakes. Though the origin of this birthday song in Mandarin Chinese is not clear, it is quite popular among the residents of China. It is easy to sing as it is in the same tune as the Happy Birthday song in English. Go ahead and try to sing along.
This Mexican birthday song is also set to the tune of the Happy Birthday song in English. There are many Spanish birthday songs that are sung in different Spanish-speaking countries. In Chile the popular song is Cumpleaños feliz which translates simply to happy birthday. In Peru, people sing a similar song called Feliz Cumpleaños a ti, during the birthday celebrations of a loved one. The famous Spanish actor Miliki popularized a different version of the birthday song Cumpleaños feliz called Feliz, feliz en tu día, This song remains popular among the youth.
Parabéns pra você
The Portuguese birthday song is full of life and revelry. It is set to a catchy and foot-thumping tune. Parabéns pra você is the most popular birthday song in Brazil. True to their celebratory nature, Brazilians also sing other songs after this. They have many and varied regional variations of this song. They also have wonderful call-and-response song routines that keep the audiences on their feet. Usually celebrated outdoors, the birthday marks the true Brazilian way of life.
Zum Geburtstag viel Glück
The Germans of this generation have begun catching up with the traditional Happy Birthday To You song in English. But the Zum Geburtstag viel Glück remains a classic. It is in a slower tune than other birthday songs and is usually sung by groups of people who come practiced. Another German birthday song is the Viel Glück und viel Segen which translates to best wishes and many blessings. This too is a slow paced melodious song. A popular but bizarre culture in Germany is that if a man is 30 and still single, he cleans up the local town hall. His friends tease him and throw trash his way. It is a way of saying that this bachelor can clean up well.
Janma Dinam Idam
This Sanskrit birthday song was composed by Swami Tejomayananda of the Chinmaya Mission. He wrote it to replace the English-language ‘Happy Birthday To You’ song that was being sung in his schools. It wishes the birthday celebrant to be blessed and happy. This song is a unique because it urges students to tread the right path and develop a sense of devotion towards their country. A birthday song, a blessing and a patriotic song all in one.
S Dnem rozhden ‘ya
This is the Russian birthday song set to the tune of the English-language Happy Birthday song. It is quite popular among Russian nationals. An equally popular song is ‘Gena the crocodile’s song’. Gena the Crocodile and His Friends was a cartoon released in the 1960s. A birthday song that appears in the animated movie quickly became popular among the Russian-speaking population. It is quippy and fun in its lyrics. Apt for children, the song ends with ‘Its so sad that a birthday can happen only once a year’. You cannot help but agree to that.
This is the most popular French birthday song. It is simple in its lyrics and the title simply translates to happy birthday. A unique culture is that the French name their children based on the name of the Saint whose day it is on the child’s birthday. The Saint’s name is assigned as the middle name. So the children celebrate their own birthday and the one of their namesake. Another French birthday song is Bon anniversaire Nos voeux les plus sincères, which translates to ‘happy birthday, our sincere wishes’.
Saeng Il Chuk Ha Hamnida
The Korean version of the birthday song is also based on the English-language Happy Birthday song. It is set to the same tune and has simple lyrics. It translates to congratulations on your birthday. Koreans have an intriguing way of calculating their age. Instead of counting it from the day they are born, all citizens turn one year older on New Year’s Day. Since this is for the official record, they still celebrate their individual birthdays on the day they were born. The actual birthday is celebrated with cakes, candles and gifts but the aging day (New Year’s Day) is celebrated by drinking soup.
The Japanese celebrate their birthdays differently than Westerners. The most important birthdays are the first, fifth, tenth and sixtieth. On the sixtieth birthday the cake is decorated with cranes and tortoises to signify long life. In recent times, Japanese parents have begun hosting elaborate parties for their children. These parties mimic western ones complete with a white Victorian cake, gifts and candles. The birthday song is a simple translation of the more popular Happy Birthday To You song in English. It is set to the same tune so that children can follow it easily.
The Afrikaans birthday is unlike any other. It is set to a fast tune and makes you want to dance. The title translates quite literally to happy birthday. The South Africans celebrate their twenty-first and fortieth birthdays grandly. It is customary to initiate children into the laws, beliefs, songs and dances of their tribe when they reach a designated age that varies from tribe to tribe.
Sana Helwa Ya Gameel
This Arabic birthday song has Egyptian roots but is sung popularly among the Arabic-speaking community. It translates to ‘happy birthday oh beautiful one’. This is sung usually followed by the Happy Birthday To You in English. They celebrate their birthdays with a semolina cake instead of the traditional birthday cake. They also believe that blowing out candles brings bad luck. So birthday candles are lit but are allowed to burn out. People all over the world may celebrate their birthdays differently and sing different birthday songs, but everyone is connected by the fact we all cannot resist a day of celebration.