Everyone has a birthday. Most societies, across the world and across the ages, have evolved to celebrate each individual’s birthday. We even have holidays based on the birthday of important figure heads. But even if you don’t grow up to have your own national holiday, you most likely have had some celebration commemorating your day of birth. Even more likely in this day and age you had a birthday song sung to you. Whether you love it or hate it, or hate it but secretly love it, it probably has happened to you.
The “Happy Birthday to You” song originated from two American sisters back in 1893. The sisters wrote and composed the melody. Patty Hill was a kindergarten principal and Mildred J. Hill was a pianist and composer. Together the sisters created a song called, “Good Morning to All” for young children, but soon adapted the lyrics for birthday parties. Today, the song is easily one of the most recognized songs in the English language.
With the melody unchanged, the lyrics base has been translated to at least 18 languages. If you look further, many countries have their own flavor or version that is popular within their area. So a birthday song version from Argentina is different from one in Spain. In Argentina the songs goes “Que los cumplas feliz…” while in Spain it is more common to sing “Cumpleaños feliz.” What’s more, in Venezuela, for instance, people sing “Cumpleaños feliz,” but they will probably also sing “Ay que noche tan preciosa”—Venezuela’s own birthday song. In India, on the other hand, at least 7 different birthday songs are sung in the most popular dialects of the country. And then you have the Netherlands, where it is common to hear the song in both Dutch and English.
So next time you hear the birthday song, even though the words may not be the same, we are singing the same tune.