Should you celebrate before or after your actual birthday?

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Do you know that cultural difference plays a role on if you should celebrate before or after your birthday?

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When I was studying in Germany back then, I went to a birthday celebration of a German friend. The party started in the evening before her birthday and lasted until the middle of the night.

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I went to the party, I think it was ten or eleven at night. I saw my friend, who was going to have her birthday at midnight. So I said: “Hi dear, happy birthday!”

I saw that her face went down when I said this. She told me that I was not supposed to wish her happy birthday, until her birthday actually happened. Because it would bring bad luck.

Ops! I was so sorry, I did not know. It was fine, she didn’t take it seriously. She knew that I am not from Germany.

Do NOT say happy birthday to someone before they actually have the birthday!!!

The German actually believe that if someone wishes them happy birthday before the birthday actually happens, it is going to bring them bad luck, meaning that the person is not going to make it until their birthday!

This is also the reason why the German people always hold their birthday party after their birthday, instead of before their birthday. Very often, if a person is having birthday on a weekday, they will invite people for birthday party on the following weekend (or any time afterwards).

It is the opposite in Hong Kong

This was something really new to me. In Hong Kong, we are thinking in an opposite way. If someone is having a birthday, we would rather say happy birthday before the actual birthday, rather than afterwards.

Of course normally we would say it on the actual birthday. What I mean here is that, if for some reason, we are not going to make it to send our wishes on someone’s actual birthday, it is better to say it before rather than after.

The reason is that, if we say happy birthday after the birthday, it is seen as we have forgotten someone’s birthday. It looks like that we have forgotten, but we remember it a day or two later, and we say happy birthday afterwards.

In Hong Kong, if someone is going to organize a birthday party, the party will normally take place before the actual birthday, rather than afterwards. Basically, our logic is that, better early than late.

As far as I know, in US they think quite similarly to Hong Kong on this topic too. I met a US friend in Germany, and she was very shocked as well on this German culture.

Besides, in Germany, if you are the birthday person, you are actually the one who should invite people and host the birthday party yourself! This was completely new to me and I wrote about it in  my another article: What to expect when having your birthday in Germany?

After many years living in Germany now, I am already used to this culture and I am not going to make the same mistake again!

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About the author

Originally from Hong Kong, Sindy spent 13 years in Germany before moving to the US. Her blog is your ultimate resource for navigating Germany, offering pro tips on bureaucracy, job hunting, education, culture, family life, and more.

With a "been there, done that" attitude, Sindy, a certified public accountant, draws on her extensive finance and accounting background to provide professional insights with a friendly touch.

Having navigated German life with her German husband and raising two kids there, Sindy brings a personal touch to her advice. Let this blog help fellow expats like you navigate the ins and outs of life in Germany!

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