Hurra! Someone’s birthday is coming up and you want to know how to say happy birthday in Swedish. It’s always nice to congratulate someone in their native language, but there’s more to it than that. You’ll be asking yourself questions like; how do Swedes sing the ‘happy birthday’ song? Is it true that there’s no such thing as a lie-in on a Swedish birthday?
Well, you’re about to find out the answers. Traditions and songs can tell a person a lot about another culture, so let’s figure out how to celebrate a birthday, Swedish-style!
How to say happy birthday in Swedish
First, the basics. Saying happy birthday in Swedish can be as easy as just saying “grattis”.
It’s pronounced almost exactly how it’s spelled. If we break it down, “Grat”, is pronounced the same as the beginning of the word “gratitude” and then “is” is pronounced as if it were spelled double ‘s’ – “iss”. So, “grat-iss”.
If you want to use the full expression, as grattis simply means “congratulations”, then you should say “grattis på födelsedagen”. Pronounced: Gratt-iss paw fur-dells-eh-dar-gen”. The “g” in ‘dagen” is hard, so it’s the same g as in “great”.
Belated birthday greetings in Swedish
Sometimes, you need to congratulate someone after their birthday has passed. This isn’t considered unlucky in Sweden as it is in other European countries. If you run into a friend or acquaintance and you want to say happy belated birthday to them, say “grattis i efterskott” (gratt-iss ee efter-skott).
On the flip-side, if you know you aren’t going to see someone on or before their birthday, you can say “grattis i förskott” (grat-iss ee fur-scot).
Which birthdays are especially important in Sweden
Some birthdays are especially important in Sweden. As a general rule, if it ends in a 0, then it’s considered pretty important. After 50, years ending in 5 are also considered worthy of large celebrations. Mostly though, significant Swedish birthdays mark milestones in a person’s life.
Here are the main ones, and why they’re celebrated:
- 15: A person can legally drive a moped, and they become accountable to Swedish law.
- 18: Someone is now an adult! Vote, drive a car, get married. At 18 you can purchase alcohol in bars, clubs, restaurants, but not at the government-owned liquor store (Systembolaget).
- 20: Hooray, you can now buy alcohol at the liquor store!
- 50: It’s a big deal, you’ve seen a lot in 50 years!
Birthday traditions in Sweden
Starting the day
If you long for your birthday because of the long lie-in you gift yourself every year, I have some bad news. Swedes start birthday celebrations early. Like, really early. Like as soon as they wake up.
Before your alarm has had a chance to go off, expect Swedes to sneak into your bedroom and wake you up by singing you the birthday song. And then scream “hurra!” in your face four times. This ritual is called an “uppvaktning” in Swedish, and it’s especially common for parents to do this for their young kids.
As for adults, you might get an uppvaktning by whoever you live with, or just experience a normal day. When evening comes, however, there is usually a gathering or party. And that’s when you can expect there to be a speech. The person who is celebrating their birthday, and presumably hosting, will usually indicate they want to say thank you to their guests for coming. Raise your glass to the birthday person, and look them in the eye after you’ve taken a sip.
Most Swedish businesses and offices expect adults who want to celebrate their birthdays at work to bring their own cake to share with colleagues.
Swedes have a birthday cake with candles the same as Americans. Whoever is celebrating their birthday makes a wish before blowing out their candles, then they cut the cake, and serve it to others.
Superstition has it that if the cake falls over on the plate, then the cake receiver will remain unmarried for life. Typical Swedes, not wanting things to be too cheery, lagom even applies to birthdays.
How to sing the birthday song in Swedish
Singing “happy birthday” in Swedish can actually be done three different ways. For simplicity’s sake, and because it’s the one most people sing today, the one you need to know is Ja må han/hon/hen leva. Funny fact, the title translates to “yes may he/she/they live.” Not at all morbid, I think you’ll agree.
Happy birthday song in Swedish lyrics:
Ja, må han (hon) leva
Ja, må han (hon) leva,
Ja, må han (hon) leva uti hundrade år!
Ja visst ska han (hon) leva,
Ja visst ska han (hon) leva,
Ja visst ska han (hon) leva uti hundrade år!
Hurra, hurra, hurra, hurra!
Here’s a video that contains English translations of the lyrics. It’s repetitive and funny, and remember to give the four “hurra”‘s every bit of energy you have!
Talking about age in Swedish
As in many cultures, some Swedes consider it rude to ask the age of women who look as though they have passed their 40th birthday. However, Swedes navigate this problem by asking what year someone was born.
Let me explain. Swedes are all equipped with a personnummer (personal identity numbers), and the first digits include the year, month and date they were born. In the English speaking world, we refer to generations, for example baby boomer, millennial, gen-z etc. In Sweden, people just ask what year someone was born and work it out for themselves.
Asking someone their age in Swedish can go a little like this:
“Vet du hur gammal Lisa är?” (Do you know how old Lisa is?)
“Ja, jag tror hon är nitiofemma” (Yes, I believe she’s a ninety-fiver).
Thus, Lisa was born in 1995 and it’s up to you to do the math and work out Lisa’s age.
Swedish “Name days”
Okay, what if I told you that birthdays are actually a relatively new concept in Sweden? Before the 1900s, most Swedes celebrated their “name day” instead of their birthday. Why? Because most people didn’t know when they were born. It’s hard for us to believe today, but only wealthy people had access to such information as the day they were born.
To solve this problem, Swedish calendars assigned a name or names to each day of the year. Usually, there are two names given to a particular date, one masculine and one feminine. So, everyone with the same name would celebrate their “namnsdag” (“name day”) on one day in particular, instead of their actual birthdays. Some of the Swedish name days are logical, for instance, “Eva” is the name assigned to Christmas Eve. Otherwise, it seems pretty random.
These days, it’s mostly just a fun thing to keep track of. If you’re lucky, someone who keeps track of name days will get you a piece of cake or congratulate you – “grattis på namnsdagen“. Swedish calendars still have name days printed on them. Even better, some Swedish cafes and bars will offer you a free cinnamon bun if it’s your name day!
Royal Swedish birthdays
What Americans call National Holidays, Swedes call “flaggdagar” (“flag days”). This basically means it’s a day off or you get a nice pay bonus for working. All major Swedish royal birthdays are national holidays in Sweden. You’ll see a lot more flags up than usual around the time of the King’s birthday, but there are no ‘real’ celebrations, per se. The exception, of course, is what goes on behind the palace walls.
Traditional Swedish birthday superstitions
Lastly, let’s get some background to Swedish birthdays. Traditionally, the day of the week you were born on had consequences for how you’d turn out in later life.
This is ignored in Sweden today, and obviously, the following should be taken with a pinch of salt. Some older people will still comment on what day a child is born in terms of luck, but mostly this is just something amusing from the Middle Ages Sweden.
Use the chart below to find out if your destiny was predicted correctly!
- Monday: Naturally gifted at poetry. Mild, friendly and kind-hearted.
- Tuesday: Strong and powerful. Often engages in conflict.
- Wednesday: Smart and quick to learn. Too kind for their own good.
- Thursday: Works hard and their career is their number one. Can be stubborn.
- Friday: Kind and generous, full of love and faithful. Lucky in love.
- Saturday: Works hard. Unlucky in love, but luck favors them in terms of money and games.
- Sunday: Receives all they want in life. Can see into the future and has a wild imagination.
That’s all for learning how to say happy birthday in Swedish, and we hope it comes in handy!
Interested in Swedish birthday cake, or as the Swedes say, födelsedagstårta? Read our guide to 21 scrumptious Swedish desserts to try at Fika time for some inspiration.