Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20
Primary Language: English
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.