Everyone loves a день рождения (birthday), right?
Okay, maybe not everyone. But everyone has a birthday.
And lots of people enjoy parties. So, what could be better than a birthday вечеринка (party)?
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 отмечать день рождения (celebrate someone’s birthday) in Russian.
Or, at the very least, you’ll get to say “happy birthday” in Russian!
Are you ready to do that?
If not, here’s the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about celebrating a birthday in Russian!
How to Say Happy Birthday in Russian… And How to Celebrate a Birthday, Russian-style!
Birthdays in Russia: Fun Facts and Essential Traditions
The easiest and quickest way to wish someone a happy birthday is with a simple С днём рождения! (Happy birthday!)
But 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. It sounds like an odd practice, but be ready for it! Guests pull the birthday celebrant’s ears for each year of their age plus one.
So, if someone’s turning 20, you’d pull their ears 21 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!
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.
С днём рождения (Happy Birthday) is the simplest and most traditional birthday greeting.
Поздравляю с днём рождения (I congratulate you on your birthday) is a more formal birthday greeting.
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:
Я желаю тебе… — I wish you… (informal)
Я желаю Вам… — I wish you… (formal)
Then, add one of these choices:
всего самого наилучшего — all the best
здоровья, благополучия, и счастья — health, wealth and happiness
успехов во всех начинаниях — success in all your endeavors
исполнения всех желаний — that all your dreams come true
удачи — good luck
Put it all together, and you’ll have a heartfelt birthday wish.
A fun way of wishing children or very close friends a happy birthday is to say С днём варенья which literally means “Happy Jam Day.”
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 on FluentU for extra Russian practice.
FluentU is an innovative platform that takes real-world Russian videos (like classic cartoons and birthday songs, and much more!) and transforms them into language-learning materials. Each video features native Russian speakers, so you’ll be able to work on your pronunciation and accent while also exploring authentic Russian culture. And, since each video comes with interactive subtitles in both Russian and English, this content is accessible even for beginners.
Check out FluentU’s free trial to watch Gena the Crocodile’s birthday song, plus hundreds of other great Russian videos for all levels.
Eating, Drinking and Toasting at a Russian Birthday Party
- 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 with the name of the birthday girl or boy noted on the top are typical at birthday celebrations. The first piece is always given to the celebrant. Russians often choose to make their own cake and take it to work or school and share it with their colleagues or classmates.
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:
За здоровье! — To your health!
За хозяйку этого дома! — To the hostess!
За родителей! — To your parents!
За именинницу! — To the birthday girl!
За именинника! — To the birthday boy!
Выпьем за то, чтобы мечты исполнялись не только в день рождения! — May all your dreams come true, not only on your birthday!
A quick note: The expression На здоровье! is often used incorrectly by foreigners. Ill-informed foreigners frequently say На здоровье! to say “Cheers!” 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 кафе. — Thank you for the coffee.
На здоровье, Саша. — You’re welcome Sasha.
A Few Final Thoughts…
Russians believe you can never congratulate someone enough on their birthday.
As you’re leaving a birthday party, be sure to thank your host and reiterate to the birthday boy/girl Ещё раз с днём рождения! (Once again, Happy Birthday!)
And if you find out you’ve missed someone’s birthday, you can always redeem yourself by saying С прошедшим (Happy Belated Birthday! — informal) or С прошедшим днём рождения (Happy Belated Birthday! — formal).
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