Finnish people are known to be silent and sullen types, and for the most part, that’s entirely true. Finns are not flamboyant or exuberant–especially not in the company of strangers. However, on birthdays you get the chance to see the other side of the Finnish people: the fun side.
Finnish people love to celebrate birthdays! Birthday parties tend to get wild, channeling the inner spirit of the Finnish people. If you get the chance to go to a Finnish person’s birthday party, you should absolutely go. It’s a lot of fun to see how talkative Finnish people become after they have had a couple of drinks.
But before you go, you need to know the Finnish birthday greetings, how to say happy birthday in Finnish, and naturally, you have to learn the Finnish birthday song!
How to say “Happy Birthday” in Finnish
It’s not difficult to say happy birthday in the Finnish language. You can simply say “Onnea“, which means “Congratulations.” This is probably the simplest way to congratulate someone on their birthday for a foreigner. You can also say “paljon onnea“, which means “very many congratulations” to express your sincerest birthday wishes.
However, if you’re feeling brave and want to try to say the longer (and more intricate) phrase, then you should go for it. Finnish people don’t expect foreigners to be able to speak a word of Finnish, so the fact that your Finnish pronunciation isn’t perfect does not bother anyone. If you want to congratulate someone in the correct, formal Finnish way, you should say “Hyvää syntymäpäivää“, which means “Happy birthday”.
Now, before we continue to the rest of the Finnish birthday greetings, there are a couple of things that foreigners should know regarding how Finnish people celebrate their birthdays.
There are generally two ways a Finnish birthday goes. Either people choose to have a calm and peaceful birthday together with family and a few close friends, or they choose to have a rave at a bar or a nightclub, partying all night long. There is seldom an “in-between.”
People often give gifts, and if you’ve been invited, it’s expected of you to bring something. When you give your gift to the birthday boy or birthday girl, don’t hug them, unless you have known them for a while. Hugging a stranger or someone you’re not really friends with is a faux pas in Finland, and you would most assuredly get some strange looks. When in Finland, remember these two golden rules: keep it simple, and don’t touch anyone you don’t really know.
Useful Finnish birthday greetings and words
1. “Syntymäpäivä” – “birthday” in Finnish
When someone is talking about “syntymäpäivä“, they’re probably talking about their or someone else’s birthday.
2. “Synttärit” – slang for “birthday” in Finnish
Finns have a tendency to shorten words and invent clever and funny slang words. Often people use the slang word “synttärit” instead of “syntymäpäivä”. So, if someone asks you to come to celebrate their “synttärit”, don’t hesitate!
3. “Syntymäpäivät” – “birthday party” in Finnish
This one can be tricky to hear and to distinguish between “syntymäpäivä” since many might miss the “t” at the end in “syntymäpäivät“. That means that they’re talking about a birthday party and not just a birthday.
4. “Synttärijuhla” – slang for “birthday party” in Finnish
This is a common slang word. “Synttäri” is slang for “birthday”, and “juhla” is the Finnish word for “party” or “celebration”. So, if someone asks you to come to their “synttärijuhla“, what do you say? Keep it simple by answering “kyllä, kiitos.”
5. “Syntymäpäivälahja” – “birthday present” in Finnish
This is perhaps the most important word. Finnish people really love celebrating their birthdays, and just like everyone else, they like to receive gifts on their birthday. “Syntymäpäivälahja” is Finnish for “birthday present”. Sometimes, though, Finns just use the word “lahja”, which means “present”, when they’re talking about a birthday gift.
6. “Syntymäpäiväkortti” – “birthday card” in Finnish
“Syntymäpäiväkortti” means “birthday card”. Birthday cards can be found in almost any store, in a variety of colors and shapes. However, birthday cards are not necessary; many people choose not to give birthday cards.
What to give a Finnish person for their birthday
Finnish people are warm, kind, and genuine. They don’t care for extraordinary or expensive birthday gifts. They will most likely appreciate every gift not perhaps for what it is, but for the thought behind it. And, lucky for you, Finns are inherently uncomplicated. Below are three gift ideas that every Finn will appreciate (and that can be found in every store).
1. The famous Fazer chocolate bar
Fazer chocolate is something you should also buy for yourself! It’s a delicacy, deeply ingrained in the Finnish culture. The first Fazer confectionery was founded by the Finnish businessman Karl Fazer in Helsinki in 1981. He wanted to revolutionize the chocolate and café industry, and he did. Even to this day, almost a hundred years after the famous “Fazer Blue” chocolate bar was first created in 1922, the very same chocolate recipe is used.
The famous Fazer Blue is rich and creamy and a must when you’re visiting Finland–and it makes for a perfect birthday gift!
2. Coffee, coffee, coffee
Finnish people drink the most coffee per person in the entire world. They love coffee and drink it whenever they have a chance: in the mornings, at work, when having guests over, and yes–at birthdays, too. The most common coffee is by far “Juhla Mokka” by Paulig. It’s red, rich, and a classic in the Finnish culture. You cannot go wrong with Juhla Mokka!
3. Finlandia Vodka
This is the perfect gift idea for a party freak (or any Finnish person, really). The brand Finlandia was established in 1888 and is sold in over 135 countries. Finlandia Vodka comes in many flavors, such as cranberry, lingonberry, or coconut. It contains 40% alcohol, which to most Finns is just the right amount. However, if you give this as a gift to someone on their birthday, you will be expected to drink some of it, too.
The awesome Finnish birthday song!
Finns are generally shy, but on birthdays they really do let loose. The Finnish version of the “happy birthday song” is “paljon onnea vaan“, and it follows the same tone and rhythm as the English version. It’s rather simple, just take a look:
Paljon onnea vaan
Paljon onnea vaan
Paljon onnea *name*,
Paljon onnea vaan!
Special birthday milestones in Finnish culture
Even though Finnish people generally celebrate birthdays regardless of the number, some birthdays get more attention than others. The following numbers signify significant ages in Finnish culture.
15: When people turn 15 they can legally get a driver’s license that allows them to drive a moped, scooter, or tractor.
18: Turning 18 means that you’re now an adult. You’re able to get a driver’s license, go to bars and clubs, have legal responsibilities, and buy alcohol.
21: When you turn 21, you can now buy any kind of alcohol, regardless of the percentage of alcohol. Finland has strict alcohol laws, and even at the age of 18, you’re not allowed to buy alcohol with a concentration of over 22%.
The big 0! Any number ending with 0, such as 30, 40, 50… These numbers are considered to be special, and these birthdays are celebrated with extra everything.
Birthday customs in Finland
Generally, birthday celebrations in Finland start as soon as you wake up. In many cases, Finnish people will wake you up to surprise you, usually by singing the birthday song really loudly. At the breakfast table (while you’re sipping on your first coffee of the day), that’s usually when you get your presents.
At work, people will congratulate you, or perhaps even take you out for lunch. It’s also commonplace that the birthday boy or birthday girl brings a birthday cake or something edible for everyone at the office. The most popular delicacy to eat on birthdays is by far traditional cake. In Finland, the cake is usually covered in a lot of whipped cream and of whatever berries that are currently in season.
Young Finnish people often celebrate their birthdays by partying together with friends. They either go out to nightclubs, bars or have a large house party for all their friends. It’s customary to offer the guests snacks–usually chips, popcorn, cake, sweets–and alcohol.
However, older Finnish people, who don’t find partying appealing any more, usually invite family and close friends over for cake and coffee. This is usually a much more relaxing get-together, where people sit and talk.
Now that you know how to say “happy birthday” in Finnish, expand your vocabulary even further by learning the many ways to say “hello” and “thank you” in Finnish! Also, dive into this article about the 27 things that Finland is known for!