They come around once a year, and if you plan on making a handful of German friends then sooner or later you are going to need to wish someone a “Happy Birthday” in German!
Whether working abroad with German co-workers or chatting online with a Sprachpartner (language partner) you might need a few phrases in the wings to use when the big day comes around.
The good news is, there are only a handful of ways to say “happy birthday” in German, so you shouldn’t find this article too vocab-heavy.
As it’s a more relaxed read we thought we’d also talk you through some German Birthday traditions, some of which you may know and a few we are convinced you won’t!
Saying “Happy Birthday” in German – An Overview
|Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag
|Heartfelt congratulations on your birthday
|Alles Gute zum Geburtstag
|All the best on your birthday
|Alles Liebe zum Geburtstag
|Much love on your birthday
|Feier schön und lass dich reich beschenken
|Have a great celebration and may you receive plenty of gifts.
|Herzlichen Glückwunsch Nachträglich
|Heartfelt belated birthday congratulations
How to Say “Happy Birthday” in German
Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag
This is one of the most common ways of saying happy birthday in German.
The pronunciation is easier than it looks with its jampacked consonants, so relax!
Broken down the words mean the following;
- Herzlichen = Heartfelt
- Glückwunsch = Congratulations / wishes
- zum Geburtstag = on / to the birthday
So all together “Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag” means “Heartfelt congratulations on your birthday” and it lets the person know your wishes are genuine.
It can be informally shortened it to “Herzlichen Glückwunsch” (heartfelt congratulations) if you are really struggling to get your mouth around it!
Alles Gute zum Geburtstag
This next one is just as commonly used, easier to remember, and much less of a tongue twister!
Alles Gute zum Geburtstag translates as “all the best on your birthday”.
This is my go-to birthday wish as I find it much easier to remember and to say!
Again, like the above, you could shorten it with friends to “alles Gute” to say “all the best” if it is all too much but this would work best for a card, or text message.
Alles Liebe zum Geburtstag
If you want to wish somene particularly special a “happy Birthday” then you might want to use “Alles Liebe zum Geburtstag”.
Liebe is the German word for love, so be warned, you should use this with very close friends, love interests, or family members only as it equates to ‘“lots of love to you on your birthday” and would be considered improper for colleagues or acquaintances.
Feier schön und lass dich reich beschenken
So this one is a bit of a stretch for a beginner but great if you are trying to push yourself!
It means “Have a great celebration and may you receive plenty of gifts” and is a nice way to let someone know you hope they enjoy their birthday.
Herzlichen Glückwunsch Nachträglich
Herzlichen Glückwunsch Nachträglich
If you have missed a friend’s birthday and want to wish them a heartfelt belated one then you need to add the word “nachträglich”. This means ‘afterwards’ or ‘belatedly’.
It can be placed at the start or end of the first three phrases we taught to, take a look at the following examples;
- Alles Gute (zum Geburtstag) nachträglich
- Nachträglich alles Gute zum Geburtstag
- (Herzlichen) Glückwunsch nachträglich
- Nachträglich herzlichen Glückwunsch
Asking ‘When is Your Birthday?’ in German
If you want to know when someone’s birthday is, or talk about your own then you should know that in German they use the verb “haben” (to have) instead of “sein” (to be).
That is to say, the correct way to ask the question “when is your birthday?” is to say “ann hast du Geburtstag?” in German.
It is literally translated as “when do you have birthday? Which demonstrates why it is so important to “not” translate word for word when you try to learn a different language!
The same use of “haben” in place of “sein” applies to telling someone when your birthday is.
“Heute habe ich Geburtstag” means “Today I have birthday” or rather; “today is my birthday”.
Celebrating Birthdays in Germany
So, now you are all set to wish someone a “Happy Birthday” in German, even if its a few days too late… But did you know that wishing someone a “happy birthday” in advance is a huge no-no?
While most English people wouldn’t hesitate to give their best wishes in advance knowing they aren’t going to make the big day, Germans would never do such a thing.
It is a little superstitious but they believe it could bring bad luck!
Making a mistake like that could cause embarrassment so to ensure you know the proper Birthday etiquette here are some German birthday traditions you should be familiar with before you celebrate.
While they won’t utter “Happy Birthday before the hour strikes, they will kickstart the celebration early!
Reinfeier is a unique German word that translates as ‘to celebrate into’.
It is common for birthday celebrations to begin the evening before, with guests staying up to welcome the birthday in like we do the new year.
At the stroke of midnight, they will say “Happy Birthday” before taking their leave.
Sometimes they will stay and party well into the early hours, though this is more common among adolescents and those student-aged.
The Birthday celebrant in Germany treats everyone else!
Rather than your co-workers bringing in a cake it is more customary for the birthday celebrator to bring the treats!
This is often followed in schools too with children bringing sweets for their friends on ‘their’ special day.
When you think about it it is nice and unifying to share your birthday with others rather than segregate yourself on a pedestal and be treated differently.
Paying the Bill
This sharing, inclusion, and generosity extends to birthday meals.
Within English custom, you may be taken out to a nice restaurant as a birthday treat by your friends, however in Germany and throughout other European countries, The birthday boy would be expected to fit the bill!
It isn’t viewed as any big deal, most people are looking forward to the chance to spoil their friends and family and spend good quality time together, regardless of the bill!
Singing “Happy Birthday” in German
So, if you have had an impromptu invite, you might be wondering how to sing “Happy Birthday” in German.
Do they even sing a happy birthday song in Germany?
Yes, they do!
Luckily, they typically sing the English version! But you may also hear a German version that uses the following phrase set to the same tune:
“Zum Geburtstag viel Glück,
Zum Geburtstag viel Glück,
Zum Geburtstag alles Gute,
Zum Geburtstag viel Glück.”
“Zum Geburtstag viel Glück” loosely translates as “lots of luck to you on your Birthday”.
Birthday cakes are one thing but sometimes the birthday candles will be found elsewhere…
Between the ages of 1 and 12, you might find them placed on a traditional Geburtstagskränze a type of wooden birthday wreath.
The decorative wreath usually has ten to twelve holes, each one representing a year of the childs life. A large candle called the Lebenskerze (life candle) is lit in the middle and each year a new candle is added to ring around it.
Age Is But A Number…
Before bringing this birthday-themed German guide to a close we leave you with a cautionary warning about some of the wilder celebrational quirks in German culture.
While not always carried out, turning 16,18, and 25 can come with some consequences.
Considered harmless pranks you might find a sixteen-year-old with flour poured over them, or an eighteen-year-old getting egged!
Turning 25 can be just as daunting if you haven’t found someone to settle down with.
A birthday bachelor might find a garland of socks outside of his house to tell the neighbors he is an “alte Socke” meaning “old sock.” a very derogatory way to say “bachelor”.
If they “reinfeier” a 25th birthday, they may even leave socks like a trail of breadcrumbs around the village to mark out a pre-birthday pub crawl for the poor embarrassed birthday boy!
A 25-year-old bachelorette can expect a garland of cigarette cartons in reference to the expression “old box”, said “eine alte Schachtel” in German, which they use much like we might say “old maid”.
What are friends for?!
Happy Birthday in German – Final Thoughts
We hope you found this article a fun read and have gained some insight into the similarities and differences when it comes to celebrating a traditional German birthday.
There aren’t too many phrases to learn to pass on your best wishes on someone’s big day, whether you send the greeting on the day or belatedly.
So, with relative ease, you should now know all you need to say ‘happy birthday’ in German, from the heart and will be able to share the day without any faux pas.