Residence: La Jolla, California
Date of Performance/Collection: Jan 2007
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Japanese
This phrase was said to the informant on her birthday in January every year since she could remember speaking. It is tradition for the family and/or friends to sing “Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear [informant’s name], happy birthday to you.” Following the Happy Birthday song, the family members and friends are supposed to remind the birthday person to make a silent wish and blow out all of the candles in one blow so that the wish will come true. For her family especially, they like to blow out the candles, make a wish, and then keep the wish a secret or else it will not come true. The informant feels that this is not especially symbolic of anything, except that as the birthday girl, she should have something special that sets her apart from the others whose birthday it is not, so she gets a wish. In turn, she likes to give the same opportunity to everyone else she celebrates birthdays with and the secret wish is always made.
This tradition is a tradition found commonly everywhere around the United States, especially because the Happy Birthday song is in English. However, there are variations in other languages such as Spanish. In both cultures, it is traditions to have the same number of candles on the birthday cake as the number of years the birthday girl or boy has lived. Sometimes this tradition lasts until old age. As a young person blows out the candles, she is blowing them all in one blow in hopes that her wish may come true. She usually also blows out the candles herself, without any help, showing the strength and independence of the younger generation. As the birthday person grows older and is blowing out seventy or eighty candles, blowing out the candles is a symbol of health and strength. Often if the person is old she will also be helped by the younger generation, often little children younger than five years old, which I believe is symbolic of the young helping out the old. However, though the people blowing out the candles may change, one thing always remains the same. The birthday child, teen, parent, or grandparent will always receive one silent wish after the candles have all been blown out.