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March 17, 2021

Almost everyone celebrates a birthday once a year, but do we all celebrate in the same way?

Today we will look at common German Birthday Greetings and also, how birthdays are traditionally celebrated in Germany.

German Birthday Greetings

If you’re learning to speak German, it’s a very good idea to learn how to wish someone a happy birthday. Below are some of the most common expressions used for birthday greetings:

EnglishGerman
Happy Birthday!Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag!
Have a good birthday!Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
All the best on your birthday!All das Beste zum Geburtstag!
Congratulations on your 20th /30th birthday!Ich gratuliere Ihnen zu Ihrem 20/30!
All the best for your birthday!Alles liebe zum Geburtstag!
Have a great celebration and may you receive plenty of gifts.Feier schön und lass dich reich beschenken.
Happy belated birthday!Herzlichen Glückwunsch nachträglich!

German Birthday Traditions

Like many countries around the world, the Germans typically celebrate birthdays with a birthday cake, gifts and parties with family and friends. However, there are also some very specific birthday traditions that Germans like to follow.

Don’t wish someone a Happy Birthday before the actual day

This includes all forms of well-wishes, birthday cards, and gifts etc. To wish someone a happy birthday before the actual day is considered bad luck, and is therefore rude to do so.

If you send cards and gifts, it’s important to mark on the package that it should only be opened on the recipient's birthday. Failure to do so could lead to a lot of disappointment.

You must buy your own cake

It’s expected that the birthday boy or girl buys a cake to share at work with colleagues, or with their friends. This custom is called einen ausgeben.

Don’t try to get out of it or sneak past your big day undetected--- it won’t work and the atmosphere may become awkward if you don’t present your cake to share.

You must organize and pay for your own party

It’s also expected that if the birthday person wants to celebrate with a party, they must organize and pay for it themselves. If you are invited to a German birthday party, you are considered the guest, so don’t try to treat the birthday boy or girl by insisting on paying--so seriously don’t need to!

Paying for your birthday may seem like a negative, but at least you’ll get to have full control of your birthday celebration.

Be sure to celebrate your birthday on the actual day whenever possible. The celebration can be moved to the following weekend (never the weekend before!) and only if it’s absolutely unavoidable.

Heading towards 30 and still single? Best to advertise your housekeeping skills

If you’re turning 30 years old and are still single, you can expect some extra festivities to occur!

If you’re female, you’ll be expected to clean some doorknobs - with a toothbrush! Male? You’ll need to sweep a messy staircase. If your friends are particularly mean, these chores are done in public, with the birthday boy or girl comically dressed in a costume.

The purpose of these activities is to let any potential suitors or love interests know that you have some top-notch housekeeping skills and are available. However, it is possible to reduce your chores in exchange for a few kisses.

Special birthdays (Sweet 16! Happy 18th! Happy 25th!)

Turning 16 or 18 years old? You’d better run for your life!

If it’s your 16th birthday, friends will attempt to pour flour over your head. For your 18th birthday, you can look forward to eggs being cracked over your head instead.

If you’re unmarried at the age of 25, your family and friends will make sure that the whole neighbourhood knows, much like when you’re turning 30.

A birthday boy will have the outside of his property decorated with a garland of socks. In the lead up to his birthday celebration, he’ll have to follow the length of the garland and down an alcoholic beverage every few meters. The socks represent the German expression alte Socke, meaning “old sock.” This is a somewhat derogatory term meaning confirmed bachelor.

If you’re a 25 year old woman, you can expect something similar. Instead of the sock garland, women will have a garland of cigarette cartons. The cartons represent the German expression eine alte Schachtel, meaning “old box” and is in reference to being an old maid.

Birthdays for children 

Birthdays are an enjoyable time for kids between the ages of 1 and 12. No chores, no homework - kids are free to relax on their big day.

Birthday candles aren’t always put on birthday cakes in Germany. Instead, sometimes Geburtstagskränze (wooden birthday wreaths) are used. These wreaths have ten to twelve holes, one for each year of a child’s early life.

Some German families choose to light the candles on the Geburtstagskränze instead of on the birthday cake. Often a larger Lebenskerze (life candle) is placed in the center of the wreath, the wreath is usually placed on the family’s dining room table.

However, simply blowing out candles on a birthday cake is also observed in Germany as well.

So, the next time you’re in Germany or speaking with any German speakers, know that you’re now well equipped to navigate German birthday traditions and give birthday greetings.

What about you? Have you experienced any of the German birthday traditions? What kind of birthday traditions do you have in your country or culture? Let us know in the comments!

About the author 

Melanie Pollock

Melanie is Australian. She loves to travel and is a language enthusiast. She has a long-standing love affair with different languages and cultures.

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