Life is full of surprises. You might find yourself in a situation where you will have to attend a German birthday party, or at least, wish someone a happy birthday in German. This article (written by a native German) will help prepare you with some facts about German birthday customs.
First things first, saying happy birthday in German is easy. Maybe not as easy as in the English language, but still, you’ll get the hang of it very quickly.
How to say happy birthday in German
There are two main, standard ways to wish someone a happy birthday.
1. Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag!
[hairtz-lishen glook-voonsh tsoom geh-boohrtz-tahg]
Heartfelt congratulations for your birthday!
2. Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
[ah-less goo-teh tsoom geh-boohrtz-tahg]
All the best for your birthday!
It is worth noting here that both versions can be shortened to just say “Herzlichen Glückwunsch!” or “Alles Gute!”, which is essentially equivalent to saying “Congratulations” or “All the best!”.
If you aim to be part of any birthday festivities, we would recommend refraining from using those short versions. Some people could take you using the short version as a lazy attempt at wishing them a happy birthday because maybe you feel obligated to? It tends to come across a bit impersonal.
In any case, Germans love seeing effort, so if you want to get a bite of the birthday cake, make sure you’re opting for the full version of either option.
Longer German birthday wishes
There are people who have no problem picking up a pen and coming up with an incredibly touching birthday message. Then there are those people whose creativity goes as far as “Happy Birthday!”.
If you fall on the latter end of the spectrum, we are here to help you out. Below you’ll find a collection of carefully selected sincere and funny birthday messages. All you have to do is to pick your favorite and copy and paste.
Sincere birthday wishes in German
Here is a nice selection of sincere birthday wishes. Whether you are writing a birthday wish for an acquaintance or close friend or family member, we’ve got you covered with the perfect birthday wish.
Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag und alles Gute, wünscht dir [name].
Heartfelt congratulations for your birthday and all the best wishes to you [name].
This is a very general birthday greeting and makes for a great message to anyone you’re not super close to, yet you feel an obligation to wish them a happy birthday.
Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag! Für das neue Lebensjahr wünsche ich dir nur das Beste. Mögen alle deine Wünsche in Erfüllung gehen!
Heartfelt congratulations for your birthday! I’m wishing you only the best for the new year of your life. May all your wishes come true!
This is a bit more personal and can be sent to friends and family.
Zum Geburtstag wünsche ich dir 12 Monate Gesundheit, 52 Wochen Glück, 365 Tage voller Liebe, 8,760 Stunden ohne Stress, 525,600 Minuten Frieden und 31,536,000 Sekunden Freude.
For your birthday I’m wishing you 12 months of good health, 52 weeks of good luck, 365 days full of love, 8,760 hours without stress, 525,600 minutes of peace and 31,536,000 seconds of joy.
A playful way to wish someone a Happy Birthday or to make someone painfully aware of how fast time is passing by.
Ich wünsche dir einen wunderschönen Geburtstag. Lass dich feiern und genieße deinen Ehrentag.
I’m wishing you a wonderful birthday. Let yourself be celebrated and enjoy your special day.
Another great staple message without too much commitment.
Alles Liebe zum Geburtstag! Ich wünsche dir Liebe und Geborgenheit, Vertrauen und Anerkennung, Mut und Zuversicht, Fröhlichkeit und Leichtigkeit, Gesundheit und Stärke, Ruhe und Gelassenheit.
All the best for your birthday! I’m wishing you love and comfort, trust and recognition, courage and confidence, happiness and lightness, health and strength, peace and serenity.
We would recommend only writing this in someone’s birthday card if you’re close to the person in question. I have seen this message plenty of times, in multiple variations, exchanged between parents, grandparents and other family members.
Alles Liebe und Gute zum Geburtstag! Feier schön und lass dich reich beschenken.
All the best for your birthday! Have a great celebration and may you receive plenty of gifts.
The last part of this birthday message (“lass dich reich beschenken”) is very popular and will definitely fit nicely into any birthday card. It literally translates to “let yourself receive a richness of gifts”. Who wouldn’t like that?
Einen dicken Kuss, eine feste Umarmung und die herzlichsten Glückwünsche zu deinem Geburtstag!
A big kiss, a tight hug, and the most heartfelt congratulations for your birthday!
A very warm birthday message, which should be used for people who would be happy to receive a big kiss and a tight hug from you. Keep that in mind.
Zum Geburtstag wünsche ich dir, dass du das Glück niemals suchen must. Ich wünsche dir, dass es dich findet, wo immer du auch bist.
For your birthday I wish for you, that you never have to look for luck. I hope it finds you, wherever you are.
Genuine and loving. You can’t go wrong with that one.
Mögen die glücklichsten Tage deines vergangenes Lebenjahres die schlechtesten des neuen sein.
May the happiest days of the past year of your life be the worst ones of the new one.
Deep and a bit philosophical, for the ones who want to march to a different drummer.
Funny birthday wishes in German
Against the common misconception, German people love a good joke! What better way to wish someone a happy birthday than by making fun of them? What a great opportunity to not only show that you are considerate because you remembered their birthday, you’re also showing how hilarious you are. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!
Disclaimer: We will leave it to you to use these birthday messages at your own risk. Obviously, your friends love your humor, but will your boss? We can’t vouch for that.
Zum Geburtstag eine kleine Weisheit: Lächle, solange du noch Zähne hast!
For your birthday a little piece of wisdom: Smile, while you still have teeth!
A great playful message to send, unless the person you’re sending it to is already missing a few teeth. Or actually, an especially great message for when the person is already missing a few teeth.
Alles Gute zum Geburtstag du Jungspund! Warst du eigentlich sehr traurig, als die Dinosaurier ausgestorben sind?
All the best for your birthday youngster! Were you very sad when the dinosaurs became extinct?
Your dad will love this.
Das Geheimnis ewiger Jugend ist: Gesunde Ernhärung, viel Bewegung, früh schlafen gehen und zu lügen, sobald man nach dem Alter gefragt wird. Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
The secret of everlasting youth is: A healthy diet, lots of exercise, going to bed early and lying when someone asks for your age.
Perfect for anyone who represents the complete opposite.
Geburtstage sind gut für die Gesundheit – je mehr man davon hat, desto länger lebt man.
Birthdays are good for your health – the more you get, the longer you live.
Some hard facts for your birthday.
An deinem besonderen Tag wünsche ich dir Frieden, Liebe, Spass, Romantik, Weisheit, Freundschaft… und all das Zeug, was nichts kostet!
On your special day I wish you peace, love, fun, romance, wisdom, friendship… and all that stuff that doesn’t cost anything.
A very genuine message about all the nice things you wish for the respective person, as long as it doesn’t cost you any money. Perfect when you want to say, I appreciate you a lot, just not THAT much.
Charme, Stil und ein hohes Alter – zumindest eines davon hast du heute erreicht!
Charm, style and a high age – at least you achieved one of them today!
We love some banter.
Genieße deinen besonderen Tag. Mögen alle deine Wünsche wahr werden… und deine Frau (dein Mann) es nicht herausfinden!
Enjoy your special day. May all your wishes come true… and may your wife (your husband) not find out!
Let’s hope the wife (or the husband) is able to take a joke, otherwise you might stir up some tension with this one.
German birthday traditions
Celebrating your birthday in Germany is not drastically different than in the USA, however there are some differences in the details, which should be paid attention to. You know we love to follow the rules and birthdays are no exception.
German birthday songs
When it comes to birthday songs, German customs are not too creative. For the most part, you will hear the classic English version of “Happy Birthday to you” at German birthday parties. Other German birthday songs are almost exclusively used for children’s birthdays.
These are the most popular ones:
- Zum Geburtstag viel Glück (Happy Birthday to you)
- Hoch sollst du leben
- Wie schön, dass du geboren bist
Zum Geburtstag viel Glück (Happy Birthday to you)
THE birthday song. The lyrics should be part of common knowledge, but just in case you lived under a rock your entire life, here are they:
Zum Geburtstag viel Glück!
Zum Geburtstag viel Glück!
Zum Geburtstag lieber [name],
zum Geburtstag viel Glück!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday dear [name],
Happy Birthday to you!
As mentioned earlier, in most cases, the birthday crowd will sing the song in English. In this case, they will often just switch the English “dear [name]” for the German equivalent of “liebe(r) [name]”.
Hoch sollst du leben
This is definitely a song for children and it is often used at children’s birthday parties. Sometimes the child, whose birthday is being celebrated, will be sat down on a chair. The chair, with the child on top (!!!) will then be lifted up into the air 3 times, to the lyrics of the song. Hold on tight.
Hoch sollst du leben,
Hoch sollst du leben,
Drei mal hoch, hoch hoch!
Long may you live,
Long may you live,
Three times, cheers, cheers, cheers!
Wie schön, dass du geboren bist
This one is another traditional song, which is mostly used at birthday parties for children. While the original version is a bit longer, usually only the chorus will be sung:
Wie schön, dass du geboren bist,
wir hätten dich sonst sehr vermisst.
Wie schön, dass wir beisammen sind,
wir gratulieren dir, Geburtstagskind.
How great that you were born,
otherwise we would have missed you very much.
How great that we are together,
we congratulate you, birthday kid!
Bring your own cake
Unless you’re still living at home (in which case your mum will 100% bake a birthday cake for you) it is a good idea to bake your own cake and bring it into your workplace or school for your friends and colleagues to enjoy. It is YOUR birthday, so it is your job to make the people around you happy, isn’t it great?
Homemade cakes leave a particularly good impression with your colleagues. If you’re not particularly fond of baking or not very skilled in that area, you should at least prepare (or buy, we won’t tell) some snacks or treats to bring instead. Not bringing anything on the day of your birthday will be seen as poor etiquette.
It is worth noting, that even if your birthday happens to fall on a Saturday or Sunday, or even if you took the day off for your birthday – you will still have to bring something into your office the following day. There is just no avoiding it.
You organize your own party (and pay for everyone)
When inviting your friends to celebrate your birthday with lunch or a birthday dinner (or maybe brunch?), it is also recommended to play host and invite everyone. You read that right.
While in other countries often your friends will arrange a birthday get-together or even organize a surprise birthday party for you, in Germany this is rather uncommon. Instead, the person who’s celebrating their birthday is generally not only expected to organize their own birthday party, they will also pay the bill for every person invited.
This, by the way, also applies to birthday parties held at your own house. In this case, you (the birthday girl or boy), as the host, will be expected to provide your guests (your friends) with an abundance of food and beverages. You will be expected to make sure that your guests are having a good time and don’t leave your house on an empty stomach.
In any case, if you are being invited to any birthday celebration, you can expect to be well taken care of and you won’t have to pay for anything.
Early birthday celebrations are a big no-go
In other countries it’s seemingly not a big deal to wish someone a happy birthday early, but its frowned upon in Germany. Celebrating your birthday early is simply not an option in Germany. Celebrating early is called vorfeiern (vor = pre, feiern = celebrate) and we whole-heartedly believe it will bring bad luck. For taking pride in being extremely rational, we are surprisingly superstitious! Hence, also being congratulated early, is not only NOT appreciated, it is also seen as having poor manners.
I have yet to come across a plausible explanation as to why this belief is so widespread in Germany. There are more than 53,000 Google results for ‘vorfeiern brings bad luck’ and still, I am none the wiser. We will just have to believe every German parent who tells you that’s just the way it is.
It is also not recommended to open your birthday presents before the day of your actual birthday. If you absolutely cannot wait and do so, keep it to yourself, because it will not be well received.
Plot twist – celebrating INTO your birthday is allowed
However – reinfeiern is very popular in Germany. Reinfeiern (rein = into, feiern = celebrate) essentially means to celebrate into your birthday. Meaning you start celebrating the night before your official birthday and finish in the early morning hours of the day of your birthday.
Now, this might seem somewhat contradictory to everything we just said, about early birthday celebrations. Nonetheless, reinfeiern is completely acceptable and is a common way to celebrate one’s birthday. Typically, there will be a toast at midnight and then everyone will be allowed to wish the person a happy birthday. Not a minute earlier though! This is being taken very seriously.
It goes without saying, that if you are invited to a birthday party of this kind, it is essential you stay until after midnight. Leaving before the clock strikes midnight is seen as rude. Don’t do it.
Everyone is a birthday child
The term Geburtstagskind translates to birthday child and we love it because it is universally applicable. On their birthday, everyone is called a birthday child.
It does not matter whether it’s your 8th or your 75th birthday, whether you’re male or female or anything in between – ON your birthday, you will be called the birthday child.
This might sound a bit odd and you may wonder why that is. No one knows! But it’s very loving, so just go with it.
Turning 25 or 30 and not married yet? Get ready to be publicly humiliated
These practices are a bit weird, so please bear with us.
Receiving a wreath of socks or boxes
If you’re a male turning 25 and you’re not married yet, your friends and family might give you a Sockenkranz (a wreath made out of socks) on your birthday. They will then proceed to call you an “alte Socke” (an old sock).
Respectively, if you’re a female turning 25 and you’re not married yet, you might be given a Schachtelkranz (a wreath made out of boxes). You will be called an “alte Schachtel” (an old box). It gets even weirder!
Sweeping stairs or cleaning handles
A different practice exists for the poor souls who are turning 30 and have not gotten married yet. Unmarried men, on their 30th birthday, might be made to sweep the stairs of the local town hall. The whole thing is called Treppenfegen and translates to sweeping stairs, who would have thought.
The equivalent for unmarried women is to clean handles on their 30th birthday. The tradition of Klinkenputzen (cleaning handles) entails cleaning handles in a public place, until a male virgin agrees to kiss her and rescues the woman from her misery. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
These traditions are more popular in the northern regions of Germany. However, they are rarely carried out in real life. We believe it’s more the threat of carrying them out, which makes them popular. Either way, to play it safe, make sure you’re at least engaged on your 25th or 30th birthday.
Other birthday wishes you might like