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“Happy Birthday” in Greek – All About Greek Wishes and Celebrations

How a people or a country chooses to honor milestones and accomplishments reveals a lot about its culture. People celebrate events that are important to them in unique and interesting ways that allow you to learn more about them. So, learning how to say happy birthday in Greek is more than just learning a few words to greet someone on their special day. It entails learning about the customs associated with a Greek birthday.

Let’s take a closer look at some Greek birthday traditions and the various ways to wish happy birthday in Greek.

Bonus: we will learn about name days, so you don’t get confused when someone wishes you «Χρόνια Πολλά» and it’s not your birthday!

Phrases #1 – The Basics

When it comes to someone’s birthday, there are a few standard phrases.

Χρόνια πολλά /ˈxɾoɲa poˈla/

The most common birthday wish is Χρόvια πολλά (pronounced “chrónia polá”). It literally means “many years,” as in wishing someone a long life. It’s a phrase that can be used in any setting, formal or informal.

It can also be emphasized by adding another adjective to describe the noun “years”. For example, you could say:

  • Χρόνια πολλά και καλά = have many good years
  • Χρόνια πολλά κι ευτυχισμένα = have many blissful years

Both phrases can also be used in formal and informal settings. As you add more adjectives, the wish becomes “warmer”, so you might not use it for someone you don’t know very well; however, it is not inappropriate.

For a fun way to find out how the phrase is pronounced, you can out this song from the great Greek rock singer Vasilis Papakonstantinou.

Χαρούμενα γενέθλια /xaˈɾumena ʝeˈneθlia/

Χαρούμενα γενέθλια (pronounced “charúmena genéthlia”) literally means “happy birthday”. Even though this wish exists, it is rarely used. In some cases, it may be considered awkwardly formal, bordering on impersonal. You’ll most likely see it written on cards rather than said in everyday speech.

Ό,τι επιθυμείς /ˈoti epiθiˈmis/

Ό,τι επιθυμείς (pronounced “óti epithimís”) is a common wish, usually said right after χρόνια πολλά. It literally means “whatever you wish”. You can use its plural form, ό,τι επιθυμείτε, when you address multiple people at once or in a formal setting.

You can also add another phrase next to it to emphasize, like:

  • Ό,τι επιθυμείς να το αποκτήσεις (/na to apoˈktisis/)= may whatever you want, you acquire
  • Ό,τι επιθυμείς να γίνει δικό σου (/na ˈʝini ðiˈko su/)= may whatever you want become yours

The common answer to all these wishes is:

  • Ευχαριστώ (πολύ) /efxaɾiˈsto poˈli/ = thank you (very much)

Phrases #2 – Age-Related Wishes

Birthdays revolve around our age, so it stands to reason that there would be age-related wishes. In Greek culture, being older is usually associated with wisdom, so it is common to wish someone a hundred, or even a thousand years! Let’s look at some of these wishes.

Να τα εκατοστίσεις /na ta ekatoˈstisis/

The most popular wish is να τα εκατoστίσεις (also written as εκατοστήσεις due to an older, incorrect etymology), which means “may you live a hundred years.” It can be applied in both formal and informal settings.

Να τα χιλιάσεις /na ta çiˈʎasis/

If you want to take it a step further, or if you are wishing an elf happy birthday in Greek, then you can use the phrase να τα χιλιάσεις (tricky pronunciation, imagine “h” as in “hue”) which means “may you live a thousand years”. It is mostly reserved for family and friends, though still not inappropriate in a more formal context.

Πολύχρονος – Πολύχρονη /poˈlixronos, po’lixroni/

Of course, you can opt for the single word that means the same. Πολύχρονος for men or πολύχρονη for women, or πολύχρονο (neutral) for a non-binary option. This simple adjective means “long-lived”, and it wishes you a long life.

Note: even though you can use χρόνια πολλά with να τα εκατοστίσεις and να τα χιλιάσεις, it is not exactly correct to say χρόνια πολλά, πολύχρονος. You can still say it though, is considered a “joke” among friends, because you are saying the same thing twice with two different versions of the same words.

Phrases #3 – More Wishes

You said happy birthday in Greek and wished for someone to reach Gandalf’s age. Why stop there when you can be *even more extra*?

Usually, when the wishes are directed towards a person close to you, and especially when the wishes are in written form, such as a card or a DM/IM, you can add a few more phrases to express your affection for the birthday person.

  • Πάντα υγιής = always (be) healthy
  • Πάντα ευτυχισμένος-η-ο = always (be) happy
  • Κάθε όνειρό σου να γίνει πραγματικότητα = may your every dream come true
  • Κάθε ευχή σου να πραγματοποιηθεί = may your every wish come true
  • Να ζήσεις, γερός-ή, δυνατός, με υγεία = may you live (long), (be) robust, (be) strong, with health – yeah, only a bit extra.

Special Birthdays

18th Birthday

Unlike other cultures, Greek traditions do not have “unique” or special age milestones. While people celebrate every birthday, the only truly significant birthday for a Greek is the 18th. This milestone holds great importance, as in many other cultures around the world, since it signifies the transition to adulthood.

That means many things for Greeks: you can vote in all elections, obtain a driver’s license, and (legally) consume alcoholic beverages. It is an age at which the phrase “happy birthday” in Greek may have more meaning, and it is usually accompanied by a large gift.

30th and 50th Birthday

On a lighter note, there are also two other significant birthdays: the 30th (called «τα πρώτα -άντα») and the 50th (called «τα πρώτα -ήντα»). But what does this mean?

Let’s go over our Greek multiples of ten. We have δέκα (10), είκοσι (20), τριάντα (30), σαράντα (40), πενήντα (50), εξήντα (60), and so on. The numbers 30-τριάντα and 50-πενήντα are the first with the suffix -άντα and -ήντα, respectively.

These ages represent significant life transitions. Turning 30 marks the end of young adulthood and the beginning of “true” adulthood. At 50, one (hopefully) enters a more tranquil middle-age. Playfully, these milestones also represent a mid-life crisis. The phrase “Ah, you have reached the first -άντα” or “-ήντα” is often used to tease someone about getting older.

Greek Birthday Traditions and Celebrations

Saying Happy Birthday in Greek may be the most traditional aspect of the celebrations listed below. That might be an exaggeration, but it’s not entirely incorrect. There aren’t many traditional birthday celebrations in Greece, and we’ll explain why in the section about name days below.

Still, there are numerous ways in which birthdays are usually celebrated in Greece, and you are most likely familiar with them all. Cakes, candles, parties, songs – we have all seen them before. Let’s check them out.

Cake with Candles

Every birthday, as in many other countries, is celebrated by blowing out one or more candles on a cake. Most of the time, these are not purchased by the person celebrating the birthday. That makes sense for a surprise party, but even if you host your own party, a friend may bring the cake. Of course, you could also buy it yourself.

It is also customary for someone who is with you on your birthday (SO, family, friends, or even coworkers) to bring out something with candles. That can range from a muffin to a rotisserie chicken – the sky is the limit. All that matters is that you get to blow out at least one candle on your birthday.

Κέρασμα (treating somebody)

Since the birthday MUST be celebrated, there is no way you can escape without a form of celebration. In Greece, it is customary to plan a party or a night out with friends and family. In these cases, you are expected to pay for everything, or almost everything. For example, you could host a party at your home and pay for everything, or you could just pay for the decorations and food and ask guests to BYOB.

Alternatively, you can plan a night out at a bar and either pay for everything or just say that you will pay for the first drink or bottle and the rest is up to the guests. In Greece, it’s customary to treat guests to something when hosting a party. Even in a surprise party, when everything is already paid for by your friends, it is customary for the birthday person to offer cover some of the expenses. This is called κέρασμα.

There may also be birthdays without a big party or gathering, etc. Even in these cases, it is typical to treat anyone you hang out with for a few days after your birthday. This may seem strange, but as we will see later, it is highly likely that they will have brought you a gift regardless. Thus, it is only polite to offer and pay for their coffee or drink.

Gifting Etiquette

We take gifting seriously here. Birthdays, anniversaries, name days, Christmas, easter, promotions, prizes and awards, inaugurations, anything and everything calls for a gift.

Birthday gifts are typically more meaningful. People close to you are expected to bring you something personal that they know you’ll enjoy. Of course, a coworker or aunt may give you a gift card, but those close to you will opt for the extra quirky item you haven’t stopped talking about in months, whether it costs 5 or 150 euros.

While the gift doesn’t need to be pricey, anyone close to you is expected to give you a gift. Even if you meet with a friend a month after your birthday, they will most probably have gotten you something and been waiting to give it to you.

Song of “Happy Birthday” in Greek

The Greek version of the song “Happy Birthday” differs from the English one. You can listen to it here, being sung to a baby, or here, being sung to multiple attendants of a Greek concert.

The lyrics are:

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The pronouns and suffixes vary according to the gender of the birthday person.

An anecdote about this song: over the years, there has been disagreement about whether the song says “της γνώσης το φως” in the third line, or “της νιότης το φως” (the light of youth). In the first video, the singer says “της γνώσης,” but in the second, he says “της νιότης”.

While “της γνώσης” is the correct one – and one of the hills I am willing to die on – both can be used. Sometimes even at the same time, resulting in an amalgam that sounds like /niosis/, a made-up word with no meaning that always leads to laughter.

Name Days in Greece

Finally, you may notice some people wishing χρόνια πoλλά to others, even if it is not their birthday. In that case, these people may be celebrating their name day.

Name days in Greek culture are based on Orthodox Christian traditions and are celebrated by both religious and non-religious individuals. The explanation is, well, quite gruesome.

All Greek names must be associated with a patron saint – even Ancient Greek names are assigned a specific date in the Orthodox calendar. Let’s say your name does correspond to a patron saint. In that case, you’re celebrating your name on the exact day that this saint died. Quite macabre, right?

I know it doesn’t make sense, but the sociological explanation makes more sense than the religious one, so let me explain. Up until a few decades ago, Greece’s policies and bureaucracy were in disarray. Most people born before the 1940s, particularly those who lived in villages, had no idea what day they were born, and registries, if they existed, only mentioned the date the child was registered, which could be days or months after their birth. As a result, it was easier to celebrate the name day than the birthday.

Nowadays, most young people do not celebrate name days, or you simply exchange a χρόνια πολλά, usually with families. But if you want, you can celebrate both – double the wishes, double the gifts.

“Happy Birthday” in Greek – Conclusion

From just saying happy birthday in Greek to treating all of your friends to a meal, there are numerous ways to celebrate birthdays in Greece. Start spreading wishes and don’t forget to bring your gifts!

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