Singing ‘Happy Birthday’ is awful for everyone involved. Here’s how to celebrate instead.
It wrenches your spine, fills your gut with cement, makes your palms sweat and your blood boil. It’s worse than the grinding of teeth, nails against a chalkboard, Kendall Roy’s Succession rap.
It’s, you guessed it, “Happy Birthday to You.”
Credited to sisters Patty and Mildred Hill (but mired in legal disputes forever), this annual hymnal of birth has plagued partiers since the late 19th century. It has been translated into at least 18 languages, accompanying festivities across the globe. Famous performers include Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles, Mick Jagger, and NASA’s Curiosity rover.
And yet, it suuuucks.
Close your eyes for a moment, and you’ll hear it — the grating agony of that first “HAAAAAAAAAA.” No one has ever liked “Happy Birthday to You,” no will ever like “Happy Birthday to You,” and if someone claims to enjoy “Happy Birthday to You,” they’re lying. It’s musically mediocre, regularly loud, and perpetually unpleasant.
So, as a gift from me to you, here are five things you can do instead of terrorizing the person you’re celebrating with the “Happy Birthday” torture.
1. Give a toast, take a shot, consume *something* in unison.
We give toasts at weddings. We give toasts at bar and bat mitzvahs. If the person who died was fun, we even give toasts at funerals. So, explain to me why the same doesn’t suffice for birthdays?
Yes, many people give a toast in addition to singing, but it should be an either/or situation (particularly if you’re celebrating at a restaurant or bar and already bothering the patrons around you.) “Happy Birthday to You” gives party-goers exactly one chance to customize the peak point of shared merriment — you know, the big “Happy birthday dear [insert name]” bit. In my experience, this is where shit is most likely to go off the rails.
If it’s a family celebration, all the kids are saying “Mom,” the dad is saying “Honey,” and everyone else is saying “Janet.” If it’s a joint celebration, half the crowd is singing “Kireet” while the other half is singing “Lizzie,” then they switch. If it’s at the office, pretty much everyone just mumbles.
Toasts, on the other hand, provide an opportunity to truly celebrate the honoree. You can heap praise upon their newly-aged presence, then top it off with a shot of their favorite liquor. If the birthday person doesn’t drink, go for a bite of their favorite snack. Just don’t sing.
2. Go in for a group hug, high-five, or some other embrace.
You know what strangers don’t (usually) join in on uninvited? Physical contact.
“Happy Birthday to You” encourages anyone within earshot to start screaming, be it at a baseball game, a concert, or your local Applebee’s. Now, an intimate moment between friends typically stays intimate. Gather ’round the present pile/hot tub/Benihana grill and share an embrace of pure love.
Birthday person not big on the touchy feelies? Then, go for a high-five, try to bump fists, pull out a YouTube video and perfect The Parent Trap handshake, whatever you think will make them feel special. Celebrating the birthday person’s existence isn’t about you, it’s about them — and no one in their right mind wants to be shrieked at. Even if it comes with cake.
Fear the birthday person will miss being congratulated by your waiter? Great news, you’re wrong!
3. Get a group gift, sign a big card, make the memories last.
The one thing “Happy Birthday to You” has going for it is that it’s fleeting.
Clocking in anywhere between 15 and 20 seconds, this serenade from the bowels of Hell is an itsy-bitsy portion of birthdays that would be easy to forget (if it weren’t so traumatic). The next time you’re honoring someone’s latest rotation around the sun, consider doing something they can appreciate year-round.
Get a card, go in on a big gift, make a customized video. In my family, we often steal a tradition from Thanksgiving and say or write one thing that we like about the birthday person to honor their special day. Anything that they can remember and cherish. So y’know, NOT singing.
4. Sing literally anything else.
OK, fine. You want to sing? We’ll sing. Just pick something, anything else.
Does the birthday girl love Dolly Parton? Great, a rendition of “9 to 5″ it is. Has the birthday boy gone to every Coldplay concert in the Rochester area for the last 10 years? Looks like we’re singing “Viva La Vida.” Oh, it’s the birthday of Mashable’s Angie Han? Guess we’re doing CATS.
I’m no musical expert, but I think many would agree that “Happy Birthday to You” leaves a lot to be desired. No matter how it’s performed, the simple tune brings joy to no one. The lyrics are uninventive, the highest note is too high [“biiiiiiiieeerrrrth”], and the rhythm of the last line begs to be sped through. It’s OK to want to bellow with your friends and family; that’s what makes karaoke fun.
Just do yourself a favor and pick something you’d actually want to sing. Like BTS!
5. Just leave the birthday person the hell alone.
Every year I wish for one thing on my birthday: For someone, anyone, to respect my boundaries.
If your birthday is coming up, remember that you can ask people to not sing to you. It doesn’t always work — I spent my 24th running away from my “friends” at Disneyland — but you can ask. It’s your party, and you can
cry nix the annoyance if you want to. Happy birthday to you, full-stop.
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