Original German: Vati hat Geburtstag, freuet euch und singet mit, wünscht Gesundheit und viel Glück.
Transliterate: Dad has Birthday, make merry and sing along, wish good health and lots of good fortune.
Translation: It’s Dad’s birthday, celebrate and sing along, wishing good health and good fortune.
(Translation provided by informant)
“I don’t remember ever learning the song. We’ve just always sung it for birthdays in our family. My parents sang it with us when I was growing up and, obviously, I do it now with you. When there are English speakers around, family and friends, then we sing the English version too. But we don’t not sing the German version. I’ve never been to a German birthday where this wasn’t sung. It’s done as a round, and we just keep singing until someone decides to stop. You let everyone the others know that the line they are singing will be the last line by singing it slower until everyone matches your speed. You finish by holding out the last note.”
My informant was born in Germany, but moved to Canada when she was two months old. I believe this change in location is a large reason the song has remained part of their birthday tradition. Her father and mother, separated from their native Germany, wanted to hold onto and pass on German traditions and language to their kids. By teaching them German birthday songs, my informant’s parents taught them German traditions even before they were old enough to understand them. Because it is a short song and, as a round, designed to be repeated until the participants decide they no longer want to sing it, it is very easy to teach. This makes it ideal to pass on to children. In general, it helps to form a bond among German immigrants. My informant grew up in a neighborhood of German immigrants and, even if they did not know each other very well, having the ability to wish someone with a similar cultural background a happy birthday by referencing that shared culture (in this case, through song) helped to bond them together. It is also interesting that, in the case of a non-German speaker being present, the family will still sing the German songs, but add in the American birthday song. While the non-German guest may feel alienated by not knowing the German songs, the family makes a special effort to make them feel included again with the American happy birthday song.