Gelukkige Verjaardag vs Happy Birthday

This past weekend we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday party. It was a lovely affair with lots of cava, good conversation, and delicious hapjes and cake. It was quite gezellig. I was actually really quite proud of myself because I enjoyed most of the evening conversing with Mr. Isinvar’s grandmother completely in Dutch.

My mother-in-law got a visit from Mickey and Minnie on her birthday!

We had a lot of laughs even though my Dutch is far from perfect and her particular accent was a little difficult for me to understand. However, the evening did prove that my Dutch lessons have been paying off and I can now spend entire evening comfortably conversing with native speakers, which is really exciting for me!

Anyway, in light of the party, I wanted to take a little time to talk about the differences between Belgian birthday traditions and American Birthday traditions.

The Song

There are actually two typical birthday songs and they 1) the traditional Dutch birthday song  “Lang Zal Ze Leven” 2) the traditional English tune “Happy Birthday” song but with a twist.

The words to the chorus of Lang Zal Ze Leven are as follows, and usually only the chorus is sung to the birthday boy or girl. (I think there are actual versus, but I haven’t heard them.)

Lang zal ze leven
Lang zal ze leven
Lang zal ze leven in de gloria
In de gloria, In de gloria
Hieperdepiep Hoera (3x)

The Belgians also sing the English “Happy Birthday” song but changed the lyrics, which I find amusing since they kept the original first line to the song.

Happy Birthday to you
In de wei staat een koe
En de koe zegt “I love you”
Happy Birthday to you

English Translation:

Happy Birthday to you
In the meadow stands a cow
And the cow says “I love you”
Happy Birthday To You

The Cake

Birthday cakes are a bit different here in Belgium. In fact, they are quite frequently not actually cakes, but birthday tarts instead.  They are usually some sort of fruit tarts (apple, banana, mixed fruit) with marzipan garnish that has the  birthday wishes written on it. There are no frosting flowers to fight over and if there is a candle, it’s usually only one candle no matter the age of the person.

The Party Title

In the US, we have an uninspired title for the person who is having a birthday; they are the “Birthday Boy/Girl.” In Belgium, they are called the “Feestvaarkje.”  Literally translated “Feestvaarkje” means “Party Pig” and it’s used to refer to the person of honor at party. The first time I heard this term was during my niece’s first birthday party and I was unsure I correctly understood the phrase. Quite often with Dutch idioms they mean something other than what I expect them to mean, but my husband assured me that this time I was correct in my assumption. I am also just noticing a small farm animal theme with Belgian birthday traditions.

How cute would he be with a birthday hat?

So there you have it! Just a few of the new traditions I have come to expect in my new Belgian life.

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*Piglet picture is from


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