Happy Birthday to You!
Although birthday celebrations are widespread in Egypt, the custom comes from the West. Not all people in the Middle East celebrate birthdays - in fact, some don't even know what day they were born.
Like people in Europe and the U.S., Egyptians often celebrate with a birthday cake and a hafla (party), especially for children. The guests sing one of the traditional Arabic birthday songs (see below). Friends may come over to help celebrate, presents might be given, and entertainment may be hired. Gifts may be given to children, less likely for adult birthdays. There is not a custom of sending birthday cards.
Egyptians celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed by handing out sugar dolls. A moulid is a festival that celebrates a saint's birthday. Traditionally, carnivals would be set up in the villages for these with entertainers such as musicians and dancers.
According to an article in Daily News Egypt dated September 5, 2008, some Muslim clerics assert that birthday celebrations are un-Islamic. This article quotes Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Baz as saying, "Birthday parties are an innovation ... and people are in no need of innovations." The article also quotes Saudi Arabia resident Arwa Ahmed as saying, "I don't like it when someone tells me happy birthday. It's like a reminder that I'm getting closer to death."
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.
Songs that have traditionally been used in Egypt include:
- "Sana Helwa Ya Gameel". Sung to the same melody as the traditional Western "Happy Birthday to You" song. This one appeared in a 1964 movie starring the legendary Lebanese singer / actress, Sabah. Click on the song title for a translation and brief sound clip.
- "Yana Halan Balan". Considered to be more "Egyptian".
Some Arabic-language pop songs that contain a birthday theme include:
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