Den’ Rozhdeniya = Birthdays

Happy Birthday from Moscow!

November 24, 1998, The Moscow Times

Etiquette, Eloquence, of Birthday Festivites

By Nick Allen

Few events in Russia are imbibed with as much energy and good cheer as the
round-the-table celebration of a den’ rozhdeniya (birthday). And should you
he invited to a birthday party, it’s a good idea to be a little prepared
in advance.

Flowers are always given to the imeninnitsa, or birthday girl. Not that Russian
men are too macho to appreciate such a gesture from female guests, but a
buket (bouquet) for the imeninnik should be less fancy. In either case, don’t
forget that there should be an odd number of flowers, since an even number
is usually only seen at a funeral.

Birthday cards are not obligatory, but if you do give one, it is not enough
to just write S dnyom rozhdeniya (Happy Birthday). Russians tend to go for
lengthy sentiments like “Zhelayu tebe schast’ya, zdorov’ya I lyubvi” (“Wishing
you happiness, health and love”), or, to girls, “Zhelayu tebe vsegda ostavat’sya
takoi zhe miloi i krasivoi,” (“May you always be so sweet and beautiful”).

Russians still do not generally wrap presents in podarochnaya bumaga (wrapping
paper), probably because for many years it was largely unavailable. Nowadays
gift wrapping has become more fashionable, but sometimes the point is still
missed. I recently bought a tankard for a beerloving friend on his birthday,
and when I asked the assistant to Zavernite, pozhaluista (Wrap it up please)
using patterned paper rather than the transparent wrapping first offered,
my Russian friend pointed out in puzzlement: “But he won’t be able to see
what’s inside if you use that stuff.”

Guests are generally invited to arrive at the party as early as 5 pm, not
because they are expected to go home early, but because birthdays are generally
very, very long affairs. When everyone is finally gathered za stolom (around
the table) and busy filling their plates, the first toast will be made. As
a rule, toasts follow the formula Davaite vypem za. (Lets drink to … ),
If an action or process is indicated, a subjunctive construction must be
used, simply formed by using the word chtoby and the past tense of the verb:
Davaite vyp’em za to, chtoby Lena u nas ostavalas’takoi zhe zamechatel’noi
(“Lets drink to our Lena always being so wonderful”).

The first toast may well be za vinovnika torzhestva (to the “culprit” of
the celebration). And as they say, mezhdu pervoi i vtoroi pereryvchik nebolkhoi,
(between the first and second, the break is not a long one), it will soon
be time once again for someone to praiznesti tost (make a toast). The second
or third is often za roditelei (to our parents), and from thereon after,
free rein is given to the imagination, producing such offerings as: Davaite
vypem, chloby u nashikh date byli bogatye roditeli, (May our children hive
rich parents), or simply, and always a winner, “Za lyubov”‘ (to love).