Sto Lat! Wishing Happy Birthday in Polish


Sto Lat!Birthdays can be a great barometer of cultural difference.  Surrounded by tradition and often accompanied by standard etiquette, they can be a potential minefield for a foreigner.

In Poland most people celebrate birthdays however they may not be celebrated with as much enthusiasm as is reserved for “name days”.  Name days are not unique to Poland, but aren’t known in most other countries either, and a post on them will follow shortly.

Greeting card

You can do it, just channel your inner Hallmark writer

Perhaps one of the biggest cultural differences is the idea of “wishes”.  In Poland it is common to give quite formal wishes to people and this can be seen on many occasions including Easter and weddings. Basically you reel off a string of things -for example, health, happiness etc – that are actually largely within the person’s own control if anyone’s, but certainly not yours.  Whether you know the person particularly well, or genuinely wish any of these things for them, appears to be irrelevant. It is one of those cultural traditions that makes me feel like a fish out of water. Even repeating word for word what I am told to say by a Polish person,  and knowing that it is the appropriate and expected thing to do, I still feel like I’m a walking, talking Hallmark card, or whatever the closest Polish equivalent of Hallmark is.

So – what exactly do you say to your Polish Birthday Girl or Boy?

Well, if you are pretty new at Polish and still finding words with far too few vowels a challenge, stick with “Sto Lat” This literally means 100 years, and is the name of a reasonably famous Polish song that you are bound to hear if you spend any length of time in Poland.

The words of the song are below.  If you’re actually going to a party then learn them.  Nothing screams “foreigner” or “my, what a sour unfestive guest” than a silent mouth during Sto Lat.

Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje zyje nam.
Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje zyje nam.
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech zyje, zyje nam.
Niech zyje nam!

And the English version, so you have a vague idea of what you’re saying….

Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.
Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.
Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.
One hundred years!

With words in hand you can get an idea of the tune by viewing this video:

(coming soon, youtube currently down)

Or, if you’re musically inclined, the sheet music is below, courtesy of Gene Mikrut.

Sto Lat Sheet Music(Incidentally – I wonder what Polish people sing at the celebrations of people older than 100?)

If all this is making you nervous, don’t panic too much.  Sto Lat is often accompanied by vodka, which somehow makes the pronunciation easier.

However, if you are at the level where you can master more than the two word “sto lat” and  attempt “szysztk” without sounding like you’re choking and in need of urgent medical attention, then you can try:

Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji urodzin – all the best on your birthday

Przeysyłam najserdeczniejsze życzenia z okazji urodzin – send the warmest wishes on your birthday.

And an example of the wishes that make me feel like such a foreigner….

Życzę zdrowia, szczęścia, radości, uśmiechu….. – I wish you health, luck,  happiness, smile…..

If you arrive bearing gifts then hand them over accompanied by:

Zorbiłam to dla Ciebie – I made this for you (if you are female).

Zrobiłem to dla Ciebie – I made this for you (if you are male).

To jest prezent z mojego kraju – This is a gift from my country.

Hopefully, you won’t need to say:

Przepraszam za spóźnione życzenia urodzinowe – sorry the birthday wishes are late.

And if you’re in Poland on your birthday? Well, you definitely need to celebrate Polish-style.

Chciałabym zaprosić Cię na moje urodziny – I would like to invite you to my birthday party (if you are female).

Chciałbym zaprosić Cię na moje urodziny – I would like to invite you to my birthday party. (if you are male.)

Party jest ….– The party is at….

Będą osoby na przyjęciu/imprezie… które mówią po polsku i angielsku – There will be people at the party who speak Polish and English.

If you succeed in getting the message through about the party and nothing is lost in translation, then it’s time to say…

Dziękuję za przyjście –  thank you for coming,

Dziękuję bardzo za życzenia urodziny –thank you for the birthday wishes.


2 Responses to “Sto Lat! Wishing Happy Birthday in Polish”

  1. 1 Bill Smitrovich


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