Why birthdays suck in Dutch :(

Why birthdays suck in Dutch :(

Every year it happens, until you die… Once a year you will be older and then all the other people will say: Happy Birthday! The question is of course: is a birthday always happy? Not in Dutch, because there is a dark little secret…

Let’s assume that you feel positive about life… Then it is a good thing that you were born, right? If this is how you feel and think, then happy birthday is the appropriate thing to hear and to see on that day once a year that you turn older.

The funny thing about the English word birthday is that it doesn’t suggest anything about age or being old. Your birthday is simply the day that you were born and this happy date seems to be timeless. You might think that therefore geboortedag – which is the logical combination of geboorte (birth) and dag (day) – would be the perfect way to do it, but this is not the case.



Somehow it is nicer to celebrate your birthday when you are a child. I don’t know why… Too many candles on the cake perhaps?





Geboortedag is simply day of birth and not birthday. It is a date that you can find in your passport and in many other official docuements. It is nothing to celebrate, it is just an administrative fact.

In Dutch however there is  a word that does not exist in English and it is jarig... It comes from jaar which means year and if you translate it in bad English, it would be yearish. If you say: ik ben jarig it means I am yearish, which would translate into: it is my birthday today! Een jarig kind would be a child that has his / her birthday right now… Can you see that this word jarig does not exist in English? You can only say that you have a birthday or that it is your birthday, but not that you are birthdayish 🙂

Jarig is something that happens every year and also for Dutch people it is a good reason to be joyful and it is always a good excuse to eat many sweets and to drink a lot! Most people see it as something positive….

You may have heard of the word verjaardag. You can say: het is mijn verjaardag. Verjaardag would be the word that is closest to the birthday, but…. there is something negative about it….

Verjaren means that many many years go by and that you are literally getting old. If often gives the sense of expiration and it suggests that things are getting out of date. Not that positive right? This might be a good reason why verjaardag is less positive than birthday in English!

For some people however, verjaren can be a good thing… Verjaren means that too many years have gone by and that therefore you cannot punish a crime anymore. I am sure that people like Weinstein or Bill Cosby love this concept! Here is the weird thing. Even if people can give the absolute evidence of proof that you did something horrible in the past, with een verjaring there is nothing that a judge can do… It would be too far away in the past. This is a stupid thing, don’t you think?

By the way, I personally believe that of all the languages Spanish has the most positive concept of verjaardag / birthday. They call it cumpleaños and it comes from cumple  (accomplish) and años (years). With every cumpleaños, you accomplish your years and that sounds quite positive, don’t you think? It feels as if you are completing an important task 🙂

Last but not least, there is one positive thing about verjaardag. Although it gives the suggestion that you are really getting older, the good thing is that at least you are still alive! As long as other people celebrate your verjaardag, you are good! But… once people talk about celebrating your geboortedag, you are in trouble. Chances are high that you are dead!

What is the word for jarig or verjaardag in your language? Is there any thought behind it? Please let us know and share your thoughts!


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on 29 Aug 2019

So you turned 50 years old...Gefeliciteerd Abraham!!! This is a very unique celebration of people who are turning 50 years old. But I still cannot get the essence/connection of Abraham and Sarah when a Dutch celebrates his/her 50th birthday....



on 30 Aug 2019

Hi Leah, Abraham and Sara are names from the Bible... They were quite old... And yes... you are right... why 50?

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