The end of year winter season is a time when many of my family and friends celebrate their birthdays. This year I came across a Cantonese birthday song beyond the basic “happy birthday” / 生日快樂 that made me ponder whether other such “folk” birthday songs existed.
What are people singing about when they sing a common happy birthday song in their own language?
Let’s start with the baseline:
Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday dear <NAME> Happy birthday to you
Origin: an American children’s 1911 songbook derived from various earlier works going back to 1850s, possibly further.
(Additional “forgotten” verses to the same tune)
From good friends and true From old friends and new May good luck go with you And happiness too How old are you now? How old are you now? How old, How old How old are you now?
Happy Birthday to you You live in a zoo You look like a monkey And you act like one too
(For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow - alternate celebratory song commonly used on birthdays)
For he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow For he's a jolly good fellow (pause), and so say all of us And so say all of us, and so say all of us For he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow For he's a jolly good fellow (pause), and so say all of us!
Origin: Wikipedia entry
恭祝你福壽與天齊 > Wishing you good fortune, health, and stability 慶賀你生辰快樂 > Let's congratulate the dawn of your birth 年年都有今日 > Let this day come every year 歲歲都有今朝 > Let there be a beginning for every age 恭喜你 > We celebrate you 恭喜你 > We celebrate you
Origin: 1960s pop-opera song
恭祝你生日撼穿個頭 > Well done on cracking your head open on your birthday 慶賀你死埋老豆 > Congratulations on dying, bury your dad too 年年都要乞食 > Every year you'll be a beggar 歲歲都訓街邊 > Every year you'll sleep on the street 恭喜你 > Congratulations to you 恭喜你 > Congratulations to you
(Alternate, same tune as happy birthday)
朋友來慶賀 Friends gather in celebration 圍住來歌唱 Singing this song all around 齊聲祝你快樂 Together wishing you joy 恭祝生日快樂 Congratulations this happy birthday
Curiously, Mandarin Chinese doesn’t have any happy birthday songs which aren’t direct translations of the modern English happy birthday song to the exact tune. This is likely due to a traditionally significant cultural difference for counting age originating from China: East Asian age reckoning.
Like Mandarin Chinese, Japanese also sing “happy birthday” literally to the same tune as the English version; straightforward due to modern adaptation of birthday practices from western culture.
As with the majority of other CJK (Chinese Japanese Korean) languages, there aren’t any alternate happy birthday songs; a standard substitution in Korean for the same tune.
төрсөн өдрийн мэнд хүргэе
Likely same as other East Asian languages above.
Bon anniversaire, nos vœux les plus sincères > Happy birthday, our most sincere wishes Que ces quelques fleurs vous apportent le bonheur > That these flowers bring you joy Que l'année entière vous soit douce et légère > That this entire year will be sweet and light to you Et que l'an fini, nous soyons tous réunis > And that at the year's end we'll reunite with you Pour chanter en chœur :"Bon Anniversaire!" > To sing in chorus: "Happy birthday!"
Origin: the film
Un jour avec vous (1951).
(Alternate Quebecois version)
Notre chère <NAME> > Our dear <NAME> C’est à ton tour de te laisser parler d’amour > It's your turn to let yourself speak of love Notre chère <NAME> > Our dear <NAME> C’est à ton tour de te laisser parler d’amour > It's your turn to let yourself speak of love
Feliz, feliz en tu día > Happy happiness in your day amiguito que Dios te bendiga > God bless you, my litte friend que reine la paz en tu vida > That peace reigns in your life y que cumplas muchos más > And have more years
Origin: Hispanic TV clown trio song from around the 1960s
(Mexican version: Las Mañanitas)
Estas son las mañanitas > These are “Las Mañanitas” que cantaba el rey David > that King David used to sing. hoy por ser día de tu santo, te las cantamos a ti. > Today because it's your birthday; we sing them to you. Despierta, <NAME>, mi bien despierta, > Wake up <NAME>, my love, wake up. mira que ya amaneció, > Look at what has dawned, ya los pajaritos cantan, la luna ya se metió. > Already the little birds are singing, the moon already went in. Qué linda está la mañana > How pretty is the morning en que vengo a saludarte > In which I come to greet you. venimos todos con gusto > We all came with pleasure y placer a felicitarte. > and joy to congratulate you. El día en que tu naciste, > On the day you were born nacieron todas las flores, > All the flowers were born. y en la pila del bautismo, > At the baptismal font cantaron los ruiseñores. > The mockingbirds sang. Ya viene amaneciendo, > It is starting to be dawn, ya la luz del día nos dio. > The day has given us light. Levántate de mañana, > Get up in the morning, mira que ya amaneció. > Look that it has already dawned.
Origin: Zacatecas, Mexico circa 1896.
Very nice lyrics. Personally am a fan of this long-form birthday song!
(Hoch soll er leben)
Hoch soll sie/er leben! > Long may she/he live! Hoch soll sie/er leben! > Long may she/he live! Dreimal hoch! > Three cheers!
Origin: chant from at least the 1960s, likely much older
(Wie schön, dass du geboren bist)
Wie schön, dass du geboren bist > How wonderful that you were born wir hätten dich sonst sehr vermisst > we otherwise would have missed you much wie schön, dass wir beisammen sind > how wonderful that we are together wir gratulieren dir, Geburtstagskind > congratulations to you, birthday child
Origin: written by singer-songwriter Rolf Zuckowski (early 2000s?)
If you have an interesting popular folk birthday song that’s missing from this list or have a correction for this page, please let me know! Always curious to learn about different languages and cultures comparatively: email@example.com