happy-birthday-in-chinese-mandarin

Chinese Birthdays 101: “Happy Birthday” in Mandarin and More

Your Chinese partner just invited you to their mother’s birthday celebration.

It’s your first time meeting the parents (and the rest of the family).

You want to make a good first impression, so you decide that you need to learn how to say “happy birthday” in Mandarin.

Though that’s not really enough, is it?

You think, “Okay, I really should learn how to sing the birthday song in Chinese, but once the song is over, then what?”

Breathe.

There are lots of different ways you can wish a Chinese person a happy birthday. As a foreigner, knowing the birthday song alone may be impressive enough to the birthday celebrant, but it never hurts to go above and beyond with additional well wishes.

Before we get into birthday wishes and the birthday song in Mandarin, let’s go over some of the key cultural differences between birthdays in China and elsewhere.
 


 

Chinese Birthdays 101: “Happy Birthday” in Mandarin and More

A Bit of Background on Chinese Birthdays

Here are a few points to be aware of when it comes to celebrating birthdays in China.

Traditional Chinese birthday parties are mostly reserved for infants and the elderly. It’s a sign of respect for the elderly, while infants’ birthdays are celebrations of the succeeding generation.

Additionally, children are born as one-year-olds because of the lunar calendar. They also have a one-month birthday.

Another important feature is the concept of a life cycle. Sixty is considered one cycle of life, which is cause for celebration. After that, every 10th birthday is celebrated.

Chinese Birthday Traditions

Not all Chinese people celebrate their birthdays according to older Chinese tradition, though it never hurts to learn more about customs surrounding such occasions. In fact, more and more families are celebrating more birthdays than the ones listed above with cake, lots of food and gifts. But for the sake of learning more about Chinese birthday culture, let’s talk about some traditions that are specifically Chinese:

  • Food: Common dishes served on birthdays include birthday “longevity” noodles, called 寿面 (shòu miàn), as well as red dyed eggs called 红鸡蛋 (hóng jī dàn), which symbolize happiness. The elderly are often presented with “peaches” for long life that aren’t really peaches, but rather peach-shaped steamed buns that are sweet, known as 寿桃包 (shòu táo bāo).

  • Gifts: Any of the food listed above can be given as a gift, along with wine or a red envelope with money known as 红包 (hóng bāo) for infants. Something worthy to note about gifts is that you should give them with two hands, no matter how small the gift.

Chinese Birthday Taboos

With birthday traditions come birthday taboos. Here’s a list of Chinese birthday no-nos:

  • It’s bad luck to celebrate belated birthdays, so you must celebrate the day before or on the day.
  • Thirty is an unlucky year for women, so they’ll celebrate a 29th birthday two years in a row and then hit 31.
  • Forty is the unlucky year for men, so they end up staying 39 for two years, then turn 41.

Now that you have a bit of background on Chinese birthdays, let’s move on to the birthday song and greetings in Mandarin.

Saying “Happy Birthday,” Plain and Simple

If you’ve been learning Mandarin for even a little while, you probably can recognize some easy characters and terms, including 生日 (shēng rì), or “birthday.”

Plain and simple, the most common way to wish someone a happy birthday is “生日快乐 (shēng rì kuài lè),” which is one of the many basic Chinese phrases you’ll learn (or already have learned) as a beginner.

To specifically say, “I wish you a happy birthday,” or, “Happy birthday to you,” you would say “祝你生日快乐 (zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè).”

The Chinese “Happy Birthday” Song

While the English and Chinese versions of the birthday song use the same tune, the lyrics vary slightly in the Chinese birthday song.

For comparison, here are first the lyrics for the birthday song as we know it in English:

“Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday, dear ___

Happy Birthday to you”

Traditional Chinese birthdays being celebrated on rarer occasions compared to birthday celebrations in other parts of the world may be the reason why the Chinese song incorporates additional well wishes. But that’s just me speculating.

Here’s how to sing “Happy Birthday” in Mandarin, with pinyin and the English translation:

祝你生日快乐 (zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè)

(Happy Birthday to you)

祝你生日快乐 (zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè)

(Happy Birthday to you)

祝你幸福, 祝你健康 (zhù nǐ xìng fú, zhù nǐ jiàn kāng)

(Wish you happiness, wish you good health)

祝你前途光明 (zhù nǐ qián tú guāng míng)

(Wish your future is bright)

祝你生日快乐 (zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè)

(Happy Birthday to you)

祝你生日快乐 (zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè)

(Happy Birthday to you)

祝你幸福, 祝你健康 (zhù nǐ xìng fú, zhù nǐ jiàn kāng)

(Wish you happiness, wish you good health)

有个温暖家庭 (yǒu gè wēn nuǎn jiā tíng)

(And have a warm/cozy family)

If you feel like singing along, here’s a YouTube video to help you practice.

Chinese songs are great for improving pitch and fluency, but remember, it’s best to simply read out the words first to make sure you’re getting the right pronunciation and intonation. Sometimes, tones aren’t that clear in melodies, thus it’s important that you master the pronunciation before you sing, and this goes for any Chinese tune you might come across.

As you may have noticed, the Chinese birthday song is a little longer than the English version. There’s actually a shorter version of the song, which more people are familiar with, and it goes like this:

祝你生日快乐 (zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè)

(Happy Birthday to you)

祝你生日快乐 (zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè)

(Happy Birthday to you)

祝你生日快乐 (zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè)

(Happy Birthday to you)

祝你永远快乐 (zhù nǐ yǒng yuǎn kuài lè)

(Wish you happiness forever)

Other Ways You Can Say “Happy Birthday” in Chinese

The “Happy Birthday” song and the general phrases we looked at above aren’t the only ways to wish someone well on their birthday. Below are a few phrases and idiomatic expressions you can use as additional greetings and wishes.

General Well Wishing

“心想事成。” (xīn xiǎng shì chéng) — “May all your wishes come true.”

“天天快乐。” (tiān tiān kuài lè) — “I hope you’re happy every day.”

“祝您年年有今日,岁岁有今朝。” (zhù nín nián nián yǒu jīn rì, suì suì yǒu jīn zhāo) – “May you have a day like this every year.” (Note: There are several different translations for this saying, but they all generally wish happiness on the birthday and future birthdays.)

“笑口常开!” (xiào kǒu cháng kāi) — “Be happy and wear a smile often!”

Wishes for Children

“希望你健康快乐地长大!。(xī wàng nǐ jiàn kāng kuài lè de zhǎng dà) — “I hope you grow up to be happy and healthy!”

Wishes for the Elderly

“祝您福如东海,寿比南上。” (zhù nín fú rú dōng hǎi, shòu bǐ nán shàng) — “May your fortune be as boundless as the East Sea, and may you live a long and happy life.”

“祝您身体健康,越活越年轻。” (zhù nín shēn tǐ jiàn kāng, yuè huó yuè nián qīng) — “May you be healthy, and get younger and younger.”

Questions to Ask the Birthday Celebrant

Want to get the conversation rolling with the birthday celebrant? In addition to these basic conversational phrases, here are a few questions you might want to have on hand:

“你现在几岁了?” (nǐ jǐ suì le) — “How old are you now?”

“你属什么的?” (nǐ shǔ shén me de) — “What year of the zodiac are you?” (This is a traditional way of asking for someone’s age.)

“你的生日愿望是什么?” (nǐ de shēng rì yuàn wàng shì shén me) — “What is your birthday wish/What are your birthday wishes?” (literal) or “What did you wish for?”

“你会有生日派对吗?” (nǐ huì yǒu shēng rì pài duì ma) — “Will you have a birthday party?”

Useful Phrases for the Birthday Celebrant

And if you’re the one who’s turning a year older, here are several phrases you might want to know as the birthday celebrant:

“我__岁了 (wǒ wǔ suì le) — “I am __ years old.”

“谢谢你的礼物。” (xiè xiè nǐ de lǐ wù) — “Thank you for the present/s.”

“谢谢你来参加我的派对。” (xiè xiè nǐ lái cān jiā wǒ de pài duì) — “Thank you for coming to my party.”

“你要蛋糕吗?” (nǐ yào dàn gāo ma) — “Do you want cake?”

Obviously, there are a million other questions to ask the birthday person and phrases to say as the birthday celebrant, but these are hopefully enough to get you started.

 

Though you might not be an expert on Chinese birthdays at this stage, you at least now have enough knowledge to attend a traditional Chinese birthday party without making a fool of yourself!

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