What To Do When People Sing You “Happy Birthday”

When we’re the birthday person, having people sing Happy Birthday to us is usually an awkward affair. No matter what language the song is sung to us in, we struggle to compose ourselves during the tune: do we stare at the cake with candles, then at the singing well-wishers, and then stare at the cake again?

It’s my birthday next week and I’m quite certain I won’t have to deal with Happy Birthday being sung to me. I’m not big on celebrating birthdays and have never thrown myself a birthday party; this year is no exception. Each time my friends suggest they throw me a birthday bash, I insist I won’t turn up to it. However, in the past I’ve had to put up with a few surprise birthday parties and of course, that song.

The faster we finish singing Happy Birthday, the faster we can eat the cake | Weekly Photo Challenge: Early Bird.

The faster we finish singing Happy Birthday, the faster we can eat the cake | Weekly Photo Challenge: Early Bird.

When Happy Birthday is sung to us, we can be respectful, polite and show our appreciation to the singers and so-called singers. After all, they’ve obviously took some trouble to show up and bring a cake with candles to us, be it store bought or homemade. The least we can do is sit and stare at the candles until the song is over.

A few years ago on my birthday, I was sitting in my room writing an essay for uni and my mum screamed at me to come to the kitchen. I did and turns out she bought a $30 cake without my knowledge and had put it on the table. She then hassled me to light the candles on the cake so she and my brother could sing the song and go to sleep. Which I did, because it was quite a thoughtful, hard-earned, monetary gesture.

We can be sporting and join in the fun when Happy Birthday is sung to us. Maybe smile and grin, hamming it up for the smartphone cameras. Or sing along, neither of which I’ve seen anyone I know do probably because none of us wants to come across as a narcissist.

Likewise we can have a good sense of humour and show our funny side as some have suggested: blow out the candles mid-song or conduct those singing Happy Birthday to us à la an orchestra. After all, Happy Birthday is a feel good song in generally sung in C major, which is probably why when we sing it we often think about a good time and not the debate going around who the copyright of the birthday song belongs to.

On the other hand, we can be honest and show our true feelings when people sing us Happy Birthday. If we’re delighted, we might laugh the whole way through. If we’re embarrassed, we can cover our face with our hands. Once when I was a kid, my parents threw me a birthday party in Australia and invited my friends from school. During the birthday song, I remember staring at the cake with my mouth hanging open…and my classmates trailing off singing the last line.

Countless birthday traditions across the world don’t revolve around singing this birthday song. As I wrote last year about celebrating birthdays, in Chinese culture it’s auspicious to eat noodles on birthdays, symbolising long life. For some of us, birthdays are more than just about cake and song, more than just about people celebrating the occasions with us. Birthdays remind us of our culture, where we’re from and where our values lie as we partake in such traditions.

It seems the older we get, the more low-key our birthday celebrations. A simple, nice meal to mark the occasion. Maybe a day trip to somewhere. No need a song and smoky, fiery candle fanfare. The other day I looked in the mirror and spied lines under my eyes. The older we get, the more we realise the colour of our hair fades to white permanently, the slower our legs move when climbing a hill, the more forgetful we may be – physical and mental limitations. And no birthday song will change any of that. The older we get, the more we realise life is indeed a gift.

Sometimes eating cake is more exciting than singing Happy Birthday.

Sometimes eating cake is more exciting than singing Happy Birthday.

Our birthday is the anniversary of the time we first opened our eyes in this world. The anniversary of the time we took our first breath. The anniversary of the time we first used our voice. As the adults whom we are now, those first times seem so long ago compared to how far we’ve come and what we’ve got today, things we have that we should be thankful for. Like thankful for a roof over my head. Someone putting dinner on the table when I get home from work. Hurtling to 6-figure views on this multicultural blog and hearing how readers go away learning something reading it…or how each of us has it in us to make a difference to others around us.

At the end of the day, when people sing us Happy Birthday, often they are being encouraging. They sing it off-key for us even when they know they can’t sing. They make the effort to repeat an uplifting phrase over and over again. For a moment, they are trying to make us feel like we have a part to play in this world.

The least we can do, really, is say, “Thanks”.

What do you do when people sing Happy Birthday to you?

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160 thoughts on “What To Do When People Sing You “Happy Birthday”

    • Makes sense. I suppose if it’s a bunch of Happy Birthday singers you don’t know too well like your colleagues, you’d smile or nod along politely. If not, you might rub them the wrong way.

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  1. Hi Mabel, birthday is great. You so often take apart every day life and show the meaning of things that we do almost without thinking, bring them out and examine them and the importance of the decisions we make in these moments.

    BTW, the lines uniformed are the directions is ingrained in us to follow because we have been told what is right or wrong and how to behave. Wanting to take out all the Lines is my expression of putting away all the social programming from my parents, my peers, and everywhere else so I can be with an act from the truth of my spirit. I hope this makes the poem more sensible.
    My very best regards,
    Alexander

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    • Thank you very much, Alex. I love the way you deconstructed my writing. Oddly enough, the most mundane things usually fascinate me, and you are sharp to observe that. Birthdays are certainly no exception.

      Yes, now that you mention it, I see your poem in another light. We’re bound by so many expectations in this word and by others…and sometimes by our own. Always appreciate it when you stop by, thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My friends tease me about requiring a birthday “season” not just day. And they are right! I enjoy having an excuse to play and even being the center of attention makes me smile.
    I have no desire for gifts….that makes me uncomfortable….but I love an excuse to have a party!

    Happy Birthday to you Mabel!

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    • Birthday season – I’ve always that was usually the month of May, mainly because I’ve quite a few friends who have birthdays this month.

      Party away on your birthday, Tree, if that’s the way you roll! You’ve got so much energy and I’m sure your birthday guests will have a hard time keeping up with you. Thank you for the well wishes!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy Birthday again! Haha I always feel awkward when I get sang happy birthday to. I suppose I don’t love being the center of attention…

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    • Thanks, Sofia! I think I’ve been spoilt with so many birthday wishes! The Happy Birthday song (in unison) usually comes around unexpected. Maybe some of us don’t like the whole element of surprise that usually comes with the song.

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  4. when people sing happy birthday to me, i’d be gracious and thankful. life is a precious gift, i celebrate it everyday by being grateful. belated happy birthday, Mabel! 🙂

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  5. Awwwwnnn when was your birthday?? Mine was last week, May7th 😀
    I hope you had a wonderful day! Happy belated birthday!!
    When someone sings a song to me I get really shy hahaha… I just dont know what to do!
    This year I spent my birthday in Egypt and I went to have dinner at Had Rock with W and people started singing happy birthday to me and bought a little cake for me hahaha.. I was a bit embarrassed, but it was cool 😀

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    • My birthday was on 1 May! My birthday kicked off all the birthday celebrations this month. Happy belated birthday to you, Allane!!! I hope you had a good day. We both share the same star sign…omggg. I love you even more now 😀 ❤

      W was very cheeky to pull a birthday surprise like that for you. You are very lucky to have him… ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • hahahaha how awesome!!! Our birthdays are very close 😀 how cool that we have the same sign 😀 maybe that’s why we are so much alike in many things!!

        Thank you for the birthday wishes! Yes, W made my day very special 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I belatedly realize we’re both Taurus, if ever that has some meaning. LOL. So, belatedl happy birthday to you and me! 🙂 In the Philippines, it’s normal for people to sing a happy birthday song to you. So I guess it’s not actually surprising when someone actually does.

    What me caught most in your post though are these lines “The older we get, the more we realise the colour of our hair fades to white permanently, the slower our legs move when climbing a hill, the more forgetful we may be – physical and mental limitations. And no birthday song will change any of that. The older we get, the more we realise life is indeed a gift.”. True. So true. As I slowly turn 30, my list of “must do” keeps getting longer simply because of an awareness that I am not getting any younger. One day, I want to be able to say, I was able to do every imaginable crazy stuff when I was younger. 🙂

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    • Awwww! We are both Taurus and have the same star sign! What a coincidence and that is amazing! Happy belated birthday to you too and hope it was an amazing birthday you had 😀

      “One day, I want to be able to say, I was able to do every imaginable crazy stuff when I was younger” So do I. That’s why these days I’m thinking, work hard, play harder.

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  7. My birthday is comming up – May 23rd. I found your post, Mabel, because I am looking at various restaurants to celebrate my birthday. I am glad your wrote and posted this article. Thank you. Greetings from Portlnad, OR! 🙂

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    • Thanks for stopping by and reading. Next year when my birthday rolls around, I plan on writing about cake. Happy Birthday, Brendan. Have an extra special good day on May 23rd. May it be a fun one with the ones you love and hope your wishes come true 🙂

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  8. I missed this post last month and only found it now. I can’t believe how many peopke dislike the birthday song. I thought it was just me. And two of my three kids are the same. As a family we try to make the day special but then they grow up and suddenly it is uncool to garner attention of a group. Yet this is the custom in many countries. Interesting post as always Mabel. I was born on the day after you so maybe there is something in that. We should start an un-birthday tradition. I don’t wish to get older, so no more birthdays, but do like to use the day as an excuse to travel.

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    • “…uncool to garner attention of a group” Great way to put it. Maybe as we grow older, we become more humble, and don’t want others to go out of their way to put us in the spotlight. Or it might have something to do with that as we grow older, we like privacy and being low-key as well – appreciating the simple things in life and we don’t need something material like a fancy cake to tell us we’re loved.

      Happy Birthday, Amanda, though a belated one. Better late than never. Always good to know someone who’s birthday around the same time as mine 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: 7 Unforgettable Ways To Celebrate Your Birthday — Mabel Kwong – Site Title

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