Tag Archives: happybirthday

German Birthday Superstition

Context: The informant was speaking about a birthday of a friend and how this belief was something she practices.



Informant: One of the superstitions that like a lot of, I think it’s just German people, but like maybe in general European people, that you can’t say Happy Birthday to someone before it’s their actual birthday. It just like causes bad luck and is like a bad omen.

Collector: So in terms of this birthday thing, did you learn that from your parents?

Informant: Yeah it was just like I think like as a kid like I would say like “Oh, it’s almost your birthday” and stuff like that and they would be like oh don’t you don’t say it, you just don’t say it you just don’t say happy birthday before someone’s birthday, it almost jinxes it like you’re not gonna make it to the next birthday

Collector: Do you put this into practice?

Informant: I never say happy birthday before it’s their birthday, I usually don’t mention it until it’s their birthday.


Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent whose parents raised her with German influence. She also travels to Germany often.

Analysis: This superstition deals with luck and life span. The negative connotation of prematurely wishing someone a happy birthday insinuates that because the yearly cycle has not been completed yet, that there is space for the life to be broken or ended overall. It’s interesting because in American culture, just the act of wishing someone a happy birthday is thought of as a kind gesture. But this piece shows that for German culture it is about the timely nature of when it is said. This probably reflects German ideology on being on time and doing things by the book rather then just for completetion.

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday Ritual


Primary Language- Spanish

Occupation- Factory Worker

Residence- Los Angeles, CA

Date of Performance- 3/19/16

Every Time it is someone’s birthday, you have to sing Haaaappy Birthday to you, Haaaaappy Birthday to you, Haaaaapppy Birthday to Anthony, Happy Birthday to you. Ya queremos pastel! (Translation- We want cake now!) Shortly after you blow the candles, everyone chants, que lo muerda, que lo muerda (Translation- bite the cake) and when they go in for a bite, you grab the back of the person’s head and slam their head into the cake. After that, we start to cut pieces off the cake where the face did not touch and give a slice to everyone. In Honduras, it was the same tradition except we said feliz cumplanos which is just happy birthday but in spanish.

The happy birthday song alway brings a smile on anyone’s face because it is the time of the year where you celebrate the day you were born. Reina loves to go birthday parties and sing happy birthday, especially the recording of when their faces get plastered on the cake. She learned the song when she was in Honduras from her mother who would sing happy birthday to her along with her other relatives and bought a cake to eat as well. The song means a lot to her because in Honduras, they did not have the money to throw any parties but they had enough to buy a cake so to be able to do the same here and much more makes her feel happy and remember the celebrations she had with her mother.

When performing the happy birthday song, you must say it with a group a people while the birthday person sits in front of the birthday cake. While the candles are lit on the cake, before they blow it, you must sing the song, let them blow the candles, and tell them to bite the cake. Even if they do bite the cake, it’s tradition to just smash their face on the cake either way. Then everyone screams from laughter, takes pictures, and eats the cake that does not have any face on it.

I have had a lot of experience from this birthday celebration since my aunt Reina has celebrated almost every birthday with me. Her husband has usually been the one who bought the cake for us. I have also had an enormous amount of cake in my face. My mother also sings the same song and everyone does the same performance at any hispanic birthday party. It even happens for grown people because the tradition will most likely never change. There are a couple alterations such as saying cha cha cha after you say happy birthday in the song, but in our family, we just clap three times instead. One thing that will most likely never change is the fact that the birthday person must get cake on their face somehow. Finding the root for the tradition through history would be difficult, there is also no particular reason for why it happens. It is all in good fun and just keeps the party going. The face smashing also creates memories in which tons of pictures are taken. The singing is also very special because everyone can have a meaningful birthday celebration despite their income with the song and a cake. The photo uploaded is a picture of my last birthday party where my family and friends completely masked my face with cake. There is almost no chance of escaping so sometimes it is best to just take it in and laugh at it later. This long simple tradition will be maintained in my family for generations to come.