GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — The melody is the same, but the words differ slightly. In Germany, “Happy birthday to you” changes to “Zum Geburtstag viel Glueck,” meaning, “Good luck on your birthday.”
And that luck must only come on the day of birth.
While Germans may not mind celebrating their birthday weeks after the date, celebrating early is considered bad luck.
To be polite and circumvent superstition, avoid wishing your German friends and colleagues a happy birthday before the actual date.
“It’s a common superstition,” said Bianca Davis, current Amberg resident who grew up in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. “You are celebrated all day long, but never before.”
In fact, it’s a year of bad luck if someone prematurely wishes you Happy Birthday or you open gifts before the official date, said Davis.
Belated birthday gifts don’t seem so bad anymore, eh?
Superstition is not the only cultural difference when it comes to celebrating birthdays, however.
Davis, who turned 40 in December, organized the celebration for her big day. There was no surprise party, and no black streamers hanging from the ceiling.
When partygoers sang “Happy Birthday,” the candles where lit on a cake she baked herself.
“I’m married to an American, so I’m used to that way of life also, but when I’m here it just seems commonplace to handle everything yourself.”
And that’s the way it is in Germany.
If you work at an office, it’s your responsibility to bring baked goods for your colleagues. If you go out to dinner, you foot the bill. For a party, you provide the food and beverages.
“That’s why a lot of people don’t mention it’s their birthday when they go to work; they don’t want to pay up,” said Davis, laughing.
While adults shoulder a lot of responsibility for the celebration, children in Germany are allowed to skirt theirs.
Kids celebrate from sun up to sun down and are exempt from doing any household chores. A special torte, a multi-layered cake fruit or jam, replaces birthday cakes, but still dons candles for a special wish.
Young or old, birthdays in Germany is what Davis calls “Gemuetlichkeit” meaning “cozy.”
“Birthdays are very family oriented. You don’t invite everyone to the party, just family and close friends,” said Davis.
“Although that’s probably because you foot the bill,” she added.
Editor’s note: Article originally published Apr 14, 2014.