“Why can’t I say Happy Anniversary when it is someone’s birthday?”, many an ESL student has asked me.
That’s a great question and one that merits a post about to explain the answer – especially since I just attended a very special birthday celebration for someone close who was celebrating 90 years (name withheld to protect the identity of the person in question. Don’t ask!)
Here’s the deal. The definitions of the words will help us out.
Question 1: What’s the difference between the words birthday and anniversary?
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, an anniversary is defined as: the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event.
In English-language culture, this applies to notable event such as the following: the founding of a company, a wedding, a graduation, a natural disaster… however, it does not apply to a birthday! (Unless you want to say: Happy Anniversary of your birth!)
A birthday, by definition, again according to the online Cambridge Dictionary is: the day that is exactly a year or number of years after a person was born.
So, if you want to wish someone well on the day they are born, the term that is used is birthday, not anniversary.
Question 2: Are there any other ways to say Happy Birthday?
Ah-ha! Another great question. You could say any of these:
- Best wishes for the day!
- Enjoy your day!
- Have fun on your special day!
- Many happy returns (British)!
- May your day be filled with love, laughter and joy!
Of course, there are as many ways to wish someone a happy birthday as there are people. I won’t even try to list them here (just google Ways to say Happy Birthday for more).
Question 3: Are birthdays really that important?
I added this as the third question because the person who we celebrated this past week would have preferred us not to celebrate their special day, especially not talk about the number of years being celebrated.
My answer to this question is a resounding yes! Yes, yes, yes! Please celebrate your birthday and the birthday of those around you! A life is important, precious and unique. There is only one day in the entire year dedicated to celebrating the presence of that person on this planet and in your life.
Each person arrives in our existence for a reason. Yes, I believe that those skeptics and cynics may smirk and scoff. What reason you may ask? There is no one-size fits all answer.
The answers to that precise question lies in what makes you so incredibly unique. Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential.
- What are your strengths?
- What are your special abilities?
- What are your talents?
- What makes you laugh?
- What moves you to tears?
- What kind of music makes you want to get up and dance?
Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence, in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential. The number of years is inconsequential to your specialness.
I’ll leave the final point to Dr. Seuss, who always knows how to say things so eloquently!
It basically comes down to the fact that celebrating your birthday is a day to honour you, not your achievements or non-achievements, that you are, not what you are or aren’t.
Thanks for dropping in to read. What do you think: Why are birthdays important to you? Or are they? I’d love to hear what the youer-than-you has to say!
Cheers, and keep on learning!