7 unforgettable ways to wish someone a ‘happy birthday’

Bumps, ear-pulling, nose-greasing, or just a good belting.

Where did the idea of celebrating your birth start?

The ancient pharaohs were the first civilisation to celebrate birthdays. However, the hieroglyphics are unclear whether they celebrated their birth as a human or their birth as a god  – which happens to be their human death. This historical uncertainty aside, here are 7 original ways to wish someone ‘Happy Birthday’ from all around the world.

As you’ll see, when it comes to being lucky on your birthday,  blowing out all the candles is the least of your concerns…

1. “Happy Completed Years!”

Or ‘Feliz Cumpleaños’ in Spanish. 

happy completed years

In fiesta-loving Spain and Latin America, they have a brilliant centrepiece to any children’s birthday celebration.  The kids are blindfolded and take turns to beat a papier-mache ‘Piñata’ with a broom handle, until it splits open and rains candies. If there was ever a child’s image of heaven, then this is it. Be warned, when those candies hit the ground,  you will see how closely a group of sugar-craving children resemble a pack of blood-thirsty piranhas.

In Mexico, after singing their own birthday song ‘mañanitas’ (or little mornings) they shove the face of the birthday boy or girl in the cake for good luck.  (For safety reasons,  it is important to get the face slam and candle blowing in the right order.)

For good luck, the British give the bumps; where you pick up the birthday person by their arms and legs and bump them on the floor for each year of their age.  

In Ecuador, they dial it up a notch.

The guests whack the birthday person with a belt for good luck. This is fondly known as “correazos’.  I imagine the birthday person receives a bigger serving of luck than someone who has merely been bumped.    

Before the end of the party, the birthday person takes their revenge on their guests by dealing out their own round of correazos.  This tends to level the playing field and prevent any overzealous whacking in the first place.  

2. “All is good on your birthday!”

Or ‘Alles Gute Zum Geburtstag’ in Germany.  

In Germany, there’s a surprising amount of humour to be had at birthdays.  If you’re the guest. 

At a 16th birthday,  you get to flour-bomb the birthday person, ideally water-bombing them first to ensure the flour turns to a sticky dough.  This is a tip borrowed from the Jamaicans.

All is good on your birthday

At an 18th birthday, you get to launch a  volley of eggs at the birthday person. This is considered not just good luck but Zehr good luck.  

If the birthday person is single on their 25th birthday,  you hang a sock wreath (or Sockenkranz) outside their house to attract a mate. There are no reports to whether this has ever been successful. 

If the birthday person is male and still single on their 30th birthday, it’s traditional to dress them drag and make them sweep the steps of city hall until they find a virgin to kiss.   What woman in their right mind could resist? 

3. “Birthday is happy!”

Or Shēngrì Kuàilè in Chinese. 

Birthday is happy

In China, you’re lucky to have a birthday at all.

Birthdays are mainly celebrated when you are either very young or older than 50. I feel your pain, that’s one hell of a break without cake. 

It’s also bad luck for men to celebrate 40ths and bad luck for women to celebrate their 30th, 33rd or 66th. 

But, for good luck and long life,   you can always suck up a bowl of longevity noodles, being careful not to break them on the way up. The longer the slurp the longer your life will be. As long as you don’t choke.

Talking of noodles… 

4. “Grow up and don’t be noodles!”

Or ‘Rastee bal’show ee ni bud’ lapshoy!’ in Russian. 

Grow up and don’t be noodles

In Russia, they have a wonderfully childish tradition where you get to pull the birthday person’s ears as many times as their age, plus one for luck.  (I believe this has been adopted by Italy as Ana in our office has a habit of doing this.)

To encourage the child to grow up strong, during this lobe-stretching ritual they sing “Grow up — don’t be noodles!”  What else would you sing?  Well, now you ask,  In hungry they sing ‘May god vitalise you and your ears reach your ankles’. 

If a child survives a dangerous accident in Russia they’re given the ultimate gift:   a second birthday that year.  This lovely tradition should be adopted everywhere.  Though on further thought and knowing my children, a bonus birthday could be sufficient incentive to deliberately orchestrate a trip to the hospital.  Or,worse still, any graze or bump will lead to a teary-eyed pleading of ‘Do I get a second birthday for that?  Do I? Do I?  Yes? Thanks, Dad. I want a PlayStation’

Yeah, forget it, leave it to the Russian parents. They’re tougher, thanks to all that childhood ear-pulling.

5. “Grease the nose!”

Grease the nose!

In Canada, the birthday guests plan a highly coordinated attack on the birthday boy or girl.

They pounce when least expected, pin them to the ground like a wild hog and then smear butter or goose fat on their nose.  This is to ensure the individual is too slippery for bad luck to stick to them for the next year.

6. “Let in the evil clown!”

Or “Lass den bösen Clown herein” in Swiss German.

Let in the evil clown!

In Switzerland, no children’s party is complete without the evil clown making an appearance.

The clown’s job is to torment the child on their special day, giving them a life-long fear of the circus. This slam a pie in their face for good measure before leaving with a sinister chuckle.  That’s peace-loving Switzerland for you.

Bumped, belted and chased by an evil clown, we appear to have endless fun at the expense of the birthday boy or girl, all in the name of wishing them ‘good luck’.  It’s only fair that we give them a decent birthday gift after all that!

To finish this post, here’s a birthday ritual that doesn’t involve throwing, whacking or beating anything or anyone. It’s really quite wonderful.

7. “Birthday Greetings!”

Or “Ufaaveri ufandhuvahakah edhen” in Maliku.

Birthday Greetings!

On the tiny Indian island of Minicoy, hidden in the southernmost atoll of the Lakshadweep archipelago, they have a tradition where they shave the newborn baby’s head after 20 days. They then weigh the baby’s hair and donate the equivalent weight in gold or silver to a local charity to better the community. 

If anyone deserves good luck on their birthday, it’s a Minicoy baby. 

Especially a hairy one.


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