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How to Celebrate Birthdays in Sweden: Say "Grattis på födelsedagen!"

Celebrations offer a glimpse into a culture's heart, showcasing values, relationships, and self-expression. When it comes to birthdays in Sweden, learning how to say "Happy Birthday" goes beyond pronunciation; it delves into the intricacies of...

Happy Birthday in Swedish

Celebrations offer a glimpse into a culture's heart, showcasing values, relationships, and self-expression. When it comes to birthdays in Sweden, learning how to say "Happy Birthday" goes beyond pronunciation; it delves into the intricacies of Swedish birthday traditions.

Helpful Swedish Phrases for Birthdays

One wish, many forms

To wish someone a happy birthday in Swedish, you have several options. The choice depends on the level of relationship, desired formality, and the well-wisher's mood.

A simple "Grattis på födelsedagen!" (pronounced: "grat-iss pow feh-del-sed-aw-gen") is always appropriate. It means "Congratulations on your birthday" and can be shortened to the more informal "Grattis!" meaning "Congratulations!".

Another popular phrase is "Ha den äran på födelsedagen!" (pronounced: "ha den eh-ran pow feh-del-sed-aw-gen") or simply "Ha den äran!" (pronounced: "ha den eh-ran"). It translates to "Have the honor on your birthday!" and is slightly more formal, but it's also associated with a scene from Disney's Cinderella, which is part of Sweden's Christmas tradition.

For written messages or cards, you can use the more formal phrases "Hjärtliga gratulationer!" (heartfelt congratulations) or "Hjärtliga lyckönskningar!" (heartfelt wishes for happiness). These are lovely sentiments to include in a birthday card but may raise eyebrows if said in person.

A more generic option, more commonly used in writing than speech and suitable for acquaintances, is "Födelsedagshälsningar!" (Birthday greetings!).

"Att fylla år" - to fill a year

In Swedish, a birthday is seen as an active verb, something you do rather than something that happens to you. The phrase "fylla år" (pronounced: "full-aw") is the most common way to talk about birthdays and can be used in different ways:

  • Today is Cecilia's birthday. Cecilia fyller år idag.
  • When is your birthday? När fyller du år?
  • My birthday is in July. Jag fyller år i juli.
  • Whose birthday is it? Vem är det som fyller år?
  • He turns 12 tomorrow. Han fyller 12 år imorgon.

Födelsedagsbarnet - the birthday boy or girl

In Swedish, the term for "birthday boy" or "birthday girl" is "födelsedagsbarnet" (pronounced: "feh-del-seyd-aws-barn-et"). It's a gender-neutral expression used for anyone of any age, whether they're 5, 25, or 85.

Swedish Birthday Traditions

Many Swedish birthday traditions are similar to those in other Western countries. Cake, presents, special meals, and parties are common ways to celebrate. However, there are unique customs that might surprise those unfamiliar with Swedish culture.

Swedish Birthday Traditions

The Swedish birthday song: Ja må han/hon leva!

The Swedish birthday song stands apart from other birthday wishes. It doesn't focus on "Happy Birthday" but rather wishes for a long life.

Ja, må han/hon leva (Yes, may he/she live)
Ja, må han/hon leva uti hundrade år (Yes, may he/she live to be 100 years old)
Javisst ska han/hon leva (Yes, surely he/she will live)
Javisst ska han/hon leva uti hundrade år (Yes, surely he/she will live to be 100 years old)

Be aware that there are additional verses with playful wordplay that might seem morbid when misunderstood. However, they are a classic example of Swedish humor. These verses are generally avoided at children's birthday parties.

Ett fyrfaldigt leve...

Following the birthday song, the gathered group is encouraged to cheer for the guest of honor. For example, if it's Samuel's birthday, someone will say, "Ett fyrfaldigt leve för Samuel! Han leve!" which means "Cheers four times for Samuel! Long live Samuel!" The response from the crowd is a resounding "Hurra! Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!" (Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!)

Newspaper announcements

Sending birthday greetings via newspaper announcements is a popular method in Sweden. These announcements appear in the "Familj" (family) section of local newspapers alongside wedding or birth announcements and obituaries. They often include a picture and a short message. Similarly, individuals who prefer not to be celebrated on their birthdays can place an ad stating, "All eventuell uppvaktning på min födelsedag undanbedes" (Please refrain from any acknowledgment of my birthday).

Newspaper announcements

Flying the flag

Swedes consider their blue and yellow flag a symbol of celebration. Raising the flag to celebrate a family event, such as a birthday, is a common and encouraged practice. The flag motif can be found on greeting cards, napkins, and party decorations.

Swedish flag celebration

Swedish Birthday Milestones

Not all birthdays carry equal significance in Sweden. While turning 27 might not be remarkable, reaching 50 is a major milestone. Celebrations for these milestones go beyond the ordinary, often involving larger parties, more extravagant gifts, or memorable vacations.

Extra privileges: 15, 18, 20

At 15 years old, Swedish teenagers become eligible to obtain a license to drive a moped. This newfound freedom is highly anticipated, and families may celebrate by covering the costs associated with getting the license. In some cases, the moped itself might be the gift or require the recipient to save money for their own purchase.

At 18 years old, individuals are considered adults in Sweden, gaining privileges and responsibilities. They can vote, purchase alcohol and tobacco (in restaurants or bars only), and obtain a driver's license.

When one turns 20, it becomes legal to purchase alcohol at the state-run liquor stores, Systembolaget. This milestone often aligns with a "gap year" for many Swedes after high school but before starting university.

Starting a new decade - "Att fylla jämt"

The expression "att fylla jämt" refers to turning an "even" age, which includes numbers ending in zero, like 30, 40, etc. Starting a new decade is cause for extra celebration. In Sweden, where employees are guaranteed at least 5 weeks of paid vacation annually, employers often grant extra vacation days with age. This allows individuals to fully enjoy their special milestones.

Swedish Birthday Milestones

From extravagant parties followed by sunny beach getaways in Southeast Asia to placing newspaper ads to avoid attention, the Swedish birthday landscape offers a wide range of celebrations. When in doubt, remember to say:

Grattis på födelsedagen! (Happy Birthday!)

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