happy birthday in russian

How to Say Happy Birthday in Russian and How to Celebrate a Birthday Russian-style

Russians love any reason to celebrate

And at some point or another, as your Russian improves and you make more Russian friends, chances are you’ll get invited to a birthday party.

You’ll have the opportunity to celebrate someone’s birthday in Russian. Or, at the very least, you’ll get to say “happy birthday” in Russian!

Here’s the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about celebrating a birthday in Russian.


How to Wish Someone Happy Birthday in Russian

There are a number of ways to greet someone on their birthday and wish them the best for their special day.

Happy Birthday (traditional) — С днём рождения

This is the simplest and most traditional birthday greeting. It’s the one that’s most commonly used and you can use it for a person of any age. 

Happy Birthday (formal) — Поздравляю с днём рождения

This is a more formal birthday greeting.

Happy Jam Day (for fun) — С днём варенья

A fun way of wishing children or very close friends a happy birthday is to say “Happy Jam Day.” С днём варенья is a play on words and sounds a bit like С днём рождения .

Other ways to Say Happy Birthday in Russian

If you want to get a little more in-depth, there are a number of standard phrases that Russians use to convey пожелания (wishes) for a birthday or any other holiday.

If you’d like to compose your own wish for the именинник (birthday boy) or именинница (birthday girl), begin with one of these phrases:

Then, add one of these choices:

Put it all together, and you’ll have a heartfelt birthday wish.

As you’re leaving a birthday party, be sure to thank your host and reiterate to the birthday boy or girl:

And if you find out you’ve missed someone’s birthday, you can always redeem yourself by saying:

Birthdays in Russia: Fun Facts and Essential Traditions

Knowing how to celebrate your Russian friends’ birthdays is about much more than just learning a few words in Russian. Here are some of the most important Russian birthday facts and traditions.

Russian birthdays are very important occasions

As such, birthdays in the Russian-speaking world demand more attention than other holidays.

For instance, birthday подарки (gifts) are typically more expensive than Новый Год (New Year’s) or Рождество (Christmas) gifts.

Birthdays are never celebrated early

Birthdays are always celebrated on the actual date. If the birthday falls on a weekday, it’s celebrated the following weekend.

Never wish someone a happy birthday in advance of the actual date, as this is considered bad luck.

The 40th birthday is considered bad luck

Most people elect not to acknowledge the 40th birthday because the number 40 is associated with death.

Birthday gifts are central to the celebration

If you’re unsure what to get for the birthday boy or girl, there are a few choices that’ll always be appreciated.

Money is always a welcome birthday present, as is chocolate. For men, alcohol is a good choice. For women, flowers or perfume are a good bet.

Flowers are also frequently presented to the mother of the woman being celebrated.

When giving flowers, there are a few things to keep in mind

First of all, you should always give an odd number of flowers because even numbers of flowers are for funerals, so giving an even number of flowers is a bad omen.

Similarly, yellow flowers are a faux pas because they symbolize a separation or indicate the relationship is soon to end.

Birthday открытки (cards) should come with thoughtful messages

While it may be considered acceptable practice to simply write “Happy Birthday” in a card or via text message in other countries, in Russia, that behavior is considered rude.

You’re expected to spend time crafting the perfect message to wish the birthday celebrant good health and a happy and successful life, regardless of their age.

In general, it’s okay to ask someone how old they are

In some cultures it’s considered rude to ask an individual’s age.

As a general rule, this is an acceptable question in Russia, unless you’re addressing a woman who’s older than you. As a sign of respect, don’t ask an older woman her age.

If you’re asking someone with whom you have an informal relationship you can simply say:

Сколько тебе лет? — How old are you? (informal)

However, if the person you’re asking is someone you don’t know well, or likely older than you, you should say:

Сколько Вам лет? — How old are you? (formal)

For extra fun, pull the birthday person’s ears

One final Russian birthday tradition you should be familiar with is pulling the birthday person’s ears, usually if they’re a child. 

Guests pull the birthday celebrant’s ears for each year of their age plus one. So, if someone’s turning 11, you’d pull their ears 12 times.

While this is happening, you should chant Расти большой и не будь лапшой! (Grow big and don’t be a noodle!). In other words, as you grow up, don’t be foolish!

Russian Birthday Songs

Unlike in the U.S. and many English-speaking countries, there’s no “Happy Birthday to You” song in Russian.

There’s a Russian translation of the traditional “Happy Birthday to You” song that’s often used to teach Russian learners the necessary birthday vocabulary. However, this isn’t a song you’d ever hear in Russia.

Instead, Russians commonly sing a birthday song from the cartoon Крокодил Гена и Чебурашка (Gena the Crocodile and Cheburashka):

This song from an old Soviet cartoon has a sweet, nostalgic quality that’s sure to resonate with Russian speakers.

You can watch and listen to this classic birthday song for extra Russian practice.

Eating, Drinking and Toasting at a Russian Birthday Party

As with most holidays in Russia and worldwide, birthday parties involve lots of celebratory food and drink. Typical Russian delicacies include:

  • Борщ (borscht), a red beetroot soup which is often served with sour cream and dill
  • Салат Оливье (Olivier salad), which is a variation of potato salad
  • Пирожки (pirozhki), mini oven-baked or fried pies filled with meat, cabbage or cottage cheese and jam, among other things.

Cutting the Birthday Cake

Russians love desserts, and birthdays are no exception.

Торт (cakes) or fruit-filled pies are eaten and the first piece is always given to the celebrant.

Russians often take cakes to work or school and share it with their colleagues or classmates. More often than not, store-bought cakes are eaten as there is quite a selection and they’re delicious!

Similar to other countries, Russians place the number of свечи (candles) on the cake equivalent to the age they’re celebrating.

Ideally, when someone задувает свечи (blows out the candles) they should be extinguished simultaneously.

Also, if the person загадывает желание (makes a wish), it shouldn’t be shared with others for fear that it may not come true.

Celebrating with Birthday Toasts

Of course, Russians are also known for their love of водка (vodka).

At Russian birthday celebrations, sometimes one person will take the responsibility of toastmaster for the night.

This is an important role, particularly considering that it’s common to make a тост (toast) for each round served.

To start off, you can toast the виновница торжества (female hero of the day, i.e. female celebrating the birthday) or виновник торжества (male hero of the day, i.e. male celebrating the birthday).

Toasts are often directed toward the celebrated individual’s parents or family members, too.

Some other important vocabulary to know in relation to toasts include:

A quick note: Ill-informed foreigners frequently say На здоровье! to say “Cheers!” which is incorrect.

In reality, На здоровье! is more appropriately used in place of “You’re welcome” when someone thanks you for food or other refreshments as in the following example:

Спасибо за кофе. — Thank you for the coffee.

На здоровье, Саша. — You’re welcome Sasha.


Well, there you have it. Soon you’ll be an expert on congratulating all your Russian-speaking friends and acquaintances. Happy celebrating!

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