It was my birthday very recently, and to celebrate this excellent event, some friends were kind enough to offer me a great party in the form of their wedding! The day had it all – love, friends, cake, wine, singing, dancing and posh frocks. Perfect.
This got me thinking about cultural traditions and about birthday traditions in particular. I wondered what birthday traditions exist in Denmark, and how they might compare with the traditions I grew up with here. Then, Carrie at @speakdanish threw down the birthday song gauntlet on Instagram and, well, here we are.
As I understand it, the Danes, like the Welsh, are big fans of singing, and birthday celebrations provide the perfect excuse to have a good old sing-song. The English ‘Happy Birthday’ song is apparently the most recognised song in the English language, and it has been translated into at least 18 languages – two of which are Danish and Welsh. So, no great surprise there.
However, I remember a great little scene in the first series of The Killing/Forbrydelsen, in which the family stood around a table decorated with candles and Dannebrog and sang a birthday song that involved everyone playing air trumpet together. I wasn’t sure at the time whether this was a standard birthday song or just one family’s choice of a fun singalong for their child.
I now know that this is Ole har fødselsdag, a well-known birthday song that can be made to include any air instrument of one’s choice – guitar, drums, harp, flutes, violins, the possibilities are endless. Netto even used this song in a cute advert celebrating their 30th birthday! I enjoy this song as it reminds me of a song my children loved as little ones, known as I am the Music Man in English. The fact that the same verse is usually repeated three times over when singing is another definite bonus for the language-learners amongst us…
The other famous birthday song in Denmark is I dag er det Oles fødselsdag (as an aside, who is this lucky Ole who gets these songs named in his honour?). This is the one that some of you may recognise as the one ending with …og dejlig chokolade med kager til! I like this one as it manages not only to incorporate the idea of a celebratory ‘three cheers’ within the song itself but the text also references pretty much everything one associates with birthdays – gifts, cake, family, party, guests and chocolate. However, it’s true to say that at 4 verses long, I would imagine that this song would offer a bit of a learning challenge to your average Danish child – so don’t be too hard on yourself if you find yourself humming along instead of singing to this one!
Penblwydd hapus! Tillykke med fødselsdagen! Happy birthday!
I did read somewhere that the Danes are the most birthday-obsessed nation in the world. Coming from a country where ‘Happy Birthday’ is the only song option when the cake and candles appear, it seems to me that just the simple fact of having three possible birthday songs to choose from is one sign that this may indeed be true!
What about you? Have you been a guest at a Danish birthday celebration? If so, how did you get on with the birthday song? Are there any other Danish birthday traditions that you enjoy? Can you pronounce the birthday greeting – tillykke med fødselsdagen? As always, do feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.