A Very Russian Birthday
Anyone who has had any interaction with me in the last few weeks will know that it is my birthday today – and that I still get about way too over-excited about it. To further fuel my enthusiasm (and, of course, further deepen my understanding of Russian culture) here are some of the traditions and information surrounding celebrating your birthday in Russia:
Planning your party
A birthday is never celebrated before the actual date, because this is considered to be bad luck. If a birthday falls during the week it is never celebrated the weekend before, but the weekend after, if not on the actual day. Presents should also always be kept for the actual day and not before. This is due to the superstition that if someone celebrates their birthday before the actual date, they will not live to see their birthday. It is thought that on the eve of your birthday you are most vulnerable to diseases and accidents.
It is also customary for the person celebrating their birthday, in Russian the именинник or именинница, to pay special attention to their dreams on the eve of their special day, as they are considered to be prophetic and will provide clues for the year ahead.
Games play a prominent role in birthday parties, especially for children (but for adults too!) One traditional game involves guests singing about preparing a karavay, a type of sweetbread frequently served at celebratory events. The bread is round and has a thick texture. Once children have finished singing the song, they surround the person celebrating their birthday and dance.
Another playful form of communicating birthday wishes involves pulling the person’s ears as many times as the age they are turning.
According to superstition, girls and young women should not sit at the corner of the table, otherwise they will not get married for the next seven years. If you find yourself sitting between two people with the same first names, you can make a wish and it will (obviously) come true.
Easily the most important part of any celebration, in Russia birthday meals usually include fish, pickled or smoked. The menu also includes usual Russian delicacies such as pirozhkis, potato and beetroot salads. Something important to note is that there are usually many dishes, and it is customary for the celebrant to provide the food when at home, or to pay for dinner if they are celebrating in a restaurant.
While birthday cakes are common, many Russians prefer double-crusted pies filled with fruit, with the name of the birthday boy/girl and/or a birthday greeting carved on the crust. The first slice is given to the person whose birthday it is.
Greetings & birthday vocab
С днём рождения! Happy birthday!
С днём варенья! A playful way of wishing someone a happy birthday, because it rhymes with the original greeting. Used especially with children.
Стукнуть comes from the verb стучать ‘to knock’, this is used as slang to mean reaching a certain age. мне стукнуло 23 года
Отмечать день рождения to celebrate your birthday
Дарить подарок to give a present
Задувать свечи to blow out candles
Загадывать желание to make a wish
Приглашать на день рождения to invite to a birthday (party)
Желаю вам / тебе радости, здоровья, счастья в личной жизни… a birthday is the perfect opportunity to wish someone joy, health and happiness in their personal life for the coming year.
Russians do not have the same ‘happy birthday’ song as we do. Instead, it is common to sing a song from a famous Russian cartoon «Крокодил Гена и Чебурашка» (‘Gena the crocodile and Cherubashka’). The song is sung by Gena the crocodile on his birthday, find it here.
This post was written by Claire, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz.