5 interesting facts about Russian birthdays

27 January, 2020

Different nations — different customs! In every country people have different traditions on how to celebrate birthdays. In Austria it is usually a small family gathering for dinner, whereas in Croatia people often like to throw huge parties, especially if it is a birthday marking a decade (In Croatia/Bosnia, even when people are not throwing a huge party, the number of guests is always very big, just because of the fact that Croatian/Bosnian families are in general quite huge). If you ever get invited to a Russian birthday party or celebrate your birthday in Russia, this article might be of interest to you. Generally speaking, their way of celebrating birthdays is not very different from birthdays in Austria or Croatia/Bosnia (I am mentioning only these, because I can compare it best to those three countries). However, there are specific traditions in Russia that might be new to someone meeting the culture for the first time. Here are 5 interesting facts about Russian birthdays.

1. When do Russians celebrate their birthday?

On their birthday. No, I am kidding. Of course they usually try and celebrate it on their exact birthday, however, if it falls on any day during the week, then it is normally celebrated the following weekend — Just because most people are free to attend on weekends. Russians generally don’t celebrate birthdays before their date, as this is considered bad luck. There is a belief that the person who celebrated their birthday in advance, risks not to live up to the actual birth date — People think that on the eve of the birthday, the birthday person is most vulnerable to diseases, weakened and most likely to end up in an accident. Therefore, it is better not to anger your angels by celebrating in advance. Also, if a Russian survives a life threatening event, such as a dangerous car accident, for example, he celebrates that date as his Second Birthday. Another important and unusual fact about Russian birthdays is they do not celebrate their 40th birthday. It is considered a bad omen, because, according to a Christian belief, on the 40th day after the funeral, the soul finally leaves the earth (there is a whole ceremony on this day); that is why this number is  associated with death and therefore better not celebrated. However, a lot of people disregard this old customs in modern Russia.

2. Happy birthday song

Also in Russia the world-famous Happy birthday song is being sung to the birthday person nowadays. However, they do have a very famous and specific Russian birthday song. It comes from an animated cartoon that was being displayed during the Soviet Union — Tscheburaschka (Чебурашка). There is one episode, in which they are celebrating a birthday and they are singing a song — which turned into a classical birthday song in Russia.

It goes like this:

Lyrics:

Пусть бегут неуклюже (Pust’ begut neuklyuzhe)

Пешеходы по лужам, (Peshekhody pa luzham)

А вода – по асфальту pекой. (A vada – pa asfal’tu rekoi)

И неясно пpохожим (I neyasno prokhozhim)

В этот день непогожий, (V etot den’ nepogozhii)

Почему я веселый такой. (Pochemu ya veselyi takoi)

Я игpаю на гаpмошке (Ya igrayu na garmoshke)

У пpохожих на виду… (U prokhozhih na vidu)

К сожаленью, день pожденья – (K sazhalen’yu, den’ razhden’ya)

Только pаз в году. (Tol’ka raz v gadu)

Пpилетит вдpуг волшебник (Priletit vdrug volshebnik)

В голубом веpтолете (V golubom vertolete)

И бесплатно покажет кино. (I besplatno pokazhet kino.)

С днём рожденья поздравит (S dnem rozhden’ya pozdravit)

И, навеpно, оставит (I, naverno, astavit)

Мне в подарок пятьсот эскимо. (Mne v podarok pyat’sot „eskimo”)

Я игpаю на гаpмошке (Ya igrayu na garmoshke)

У пpохожих на виду… (U prokhozhih na vidu)

К сожаленью, день pожденья – (K sazhalen’yu, den’ razhden’ya)

Только pаз в году. (Tol’ka raz v gadu)

English translation (from the Internet):

Let them jump , all so clumpsy

skipping over some puddles

All the water it streams down the street.

Never mind all the people never learned how

to love this rainy day and be happy like me

And now I’m playing my accordion

In front of strangers on the street.

It’s so sad someone’s birthday

Can only be once a year

Suddenly flies a wizard

In a blue whirlybird,

Over me showing movies for free

He’ll say Congratulations!

Dissapear in a second

Leaving 500 popsicles behind

And now I’m playing my accordion

In front of strangers on the street.

It’s so sad someone’s birthday

Can only be once a year

3. Pull those ears and smack that cake into their face

This might sound unreal, but it is true! These two traditions were completely new to me. One might be more widespread among older generations and the other one among younger generations. In Russia the tradition remains to pull the birthday person’s ears by the number of the completed years. Earlier, people used to pull ears and said  “Grow up – Don’t be noodles”(Расти большой – не будь лапшой).  Meaning that the child needs to grow tall and be strong. My flatmates told me about a second tradition — not even my teachers have heard of this one. The birthday person usually gets a whole cake thrown unexpectedly into their face.. Yes, you are hearing right, into the face (better not do it to a girl who did her make up and her hair for her birthday).

Ohrenziehen in Russland; photo taken from: https://weirdrussia.com/2015/05/17/how-do-russians-celebrate-birthdays/

Ohrenziehen in Russland; photo taken from: https://weirdrussia.com/2015/05/17/how-do-russians-celebrate-birthdays/

4. Make toasts — Russians love them

It is very common in Russia to make toasts during birthdays. People are often gathered in a circle and then one person (often the one that know the birthday person the most or the longest) starts telling a story about the birthday person, or talk about how they met, or about their achievements or why they value their friendship, etc. So for every round of alcohol, it’s common to make a toast. Keep in mind, people in Russia do not make eye contact when they are clinging glasses — so if you are ever in Russian company, do not forget, they are not being impolite, it is just not common to make eye contact while clinging glasses.

Cheers!; photo taken from: https://www.businessinsider.com/richest-russian-oligarchs-putin-list-2018-1

Cheers!; photo taken from: https://www.businessinsider.com/richest-russian-oligarchs-putin-list-2018-1

5. Presents

Actually, you can buy any present you want for the birthday person, as long as it something they will be happy about. Russians often give money, gift cards, or even courses (for example if the person would like to learn how to cook, or how to draw). What you should never give a Russian person on their birthday are: a watch, a knife and NEVER EVER give Russian an even number of flowers or yellow flowers in general! (An even number of flowers is only for the cemetery and it is believed that yellow symbolizes separation). Also it is considered bad luck to give presents beforehand.

These are the five most interesting facts about Russian birthdays that I wanted to share with you. It is always useful to know about various customs from different cultures so you do not end up in an awkward situation, as for example, wishing someone a happy birthday in advance or giving someone and even number of flowers. Keep this in mind and enjoy the Russian culture!

Avatar

Posted by Daniela Nuic

Daniela Nuic, Croatian/Bosnian from Austria, studied transcultural communication and is currently interning at Liden & Denz in St Petersburg.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *