In the few years that I’ve lived here, I still have yet to master the art of wishing someone a happy birthday in Ukrainian. They put a lot of effort into it and each wish is at least a paragraph long of flowery language. I’m still not sure if they prepare it beforehand or if it just comes to them naturally after so many years of well-wishing. Wishing the person health and happiness is mandatory, and most people also add something about all your dreams coming true. Here’s an example to illustrate my point.
“On this bright and happy day of your birth I want to wish you a happy today and a cheerful tomorrow, beautiful dreams and may they all come true! May every day be filled with good moods, warm feelings, and meaningful work. Happiness and joy to your house, health and blessings to your family, motivation and creativity. May the sun shine in your window and happiness in your heart!”
Try coming up with something that good by yourself. The last time it was Zhanna’s birthday I memorized a quick verse but still stumbled through it. She appreciated the effort in any case.
Ukrainians love wishing each other well and on birthdays and holidays you’re sure to get an earful. Of course you’re expected to say something too, but even when I’ve prepared in advance I’m never able to mutter more than a few short sentences. This is probably because by the time I get the chance to make a toast we’ve already downed four or five shots of cognac and/or vodka.
Besides wishing each other happy birthday over the phone, Ukrainians also like to send one another gif bouquets and cute animations. Some examples are shown below.
Goldfish make wishes come true. The idea comes from a fairy tale by Russian poet, playwright, and novelist Alexander Pushkin, in which a fisherman catches a goldfish that promises to fulfill his wishes in exchange for its freedom.
A classic Slavic image of good times. Nothing like a bottle of cognac to celebrate one’s birthday with.
Of course you can always send someone birthday wishes in the form of a creepy rabbit or some such other furry creature. That always puts me in a celebratory mood. Is it just me or does the bunny have a malicious look in its eye at the end of the video?
Going to celebrate Zhanna’s grandma’s birthday today was a little different than the birthday celebrations I’ve gotten used to here. She had a stroke a couple months ago which paralyzed her right side. The last time we saw her her left hand was working well but she spoke in halting speech. Preparing to visit her today, I completely forgot to prepare the appropriate birthday wishes. When we arrived she was laying in her bed propped up on a pillow, just like the last time we saw her. I bent down, gave her a kiss, and wished her a happy birthday. The thought of making the traditional grand wish didn’t cross my mind. Zhanna did the same, and so did her father when he arrived a few minutes later. Everyone said a simple “happy birthday” and that seemed to be enough. She was happy to see us and broke into tears whenever someone telephoned her to wish her a happy birthday. I don’t know what they said and if they gave her a full paragraph of wishes or just a few short words, but I know she appreciated it.