The Birthday Song

It seemed like there were always a few churches as we traveled that took the time to sing Happy Birthday to those who recently had one — and then added a special second verse with a little soulwinning buried in it.

122 thoughts on “The Birthday Song”

    1. Speaking of which, and only tangentally related, a group from our church was able to speak to the state department yesterday about the horrible violence in South Sudan and to present ideas for quelling the violence and building a future. Our church is majority South Sudanese, so they have family etc. back in Sudan. It went very well, but we continue to pray that the situation will stabilize.

      1. I do, too.
        I once taught a citizenship class for refugees from South Sudan. It was great getting to know that community.

        1. it would indeed be wonderful if that situation would stabilize, but since it was the state department that masterminded (so to speak) the recent destabilization, you may be petitioning the wrong crowd. Apparently secession is good when the US wants the oil and the chip in the geopolitical game against China in Africa (sudan) but it’s bad when people voluntarily withdraw consent from their current overlords in favor of a competitor (Crimea, Donetsk, Lungansk)in this modern “Great Game”.

        2. Ah Joshua, so you’ve been paying attention too…good for you, brother.

        3. Sort of. The US was instrumental in setting up the state of S Sudan because about 98% of Sudan’s oil reserves are in the south. However, the civil war in S Sudan has all but cut off oil supply, so the government is very interested in a peaceful solution for S Sudan.

  1. My stomach just turned. 😛 We went to a church that did this; I thought it was tacky.

    1. My old fundie church would do it on the first Sunday of each month. If you skipped the first Sunday to avoid it they would postpone it to the next week or the next service you attended.

      Yes, that was the actual policy handed down from MoG Mount.

      We also sang anniversaries too. Also it was the job of the sound tech to search Facebook, etc for a first time visitors birthday to see if we should sing to them as well.

      Apparently its supposed to make them feel welcome.

      1. Like the IB church I visited once that made all the visitors wear big fake roses with name badges on them. I tossed mine as soon as I escaped! They might as well have put a large yellow X on my back.

    2. We did it differently… It was just the usual one verse that everyone knows, but no names were allowed. Instead of “Happy Birthday, dear Person,” we sang “Happy Birthday, God bless you.”


      1. When I taught in Asia, I heard that line sung as “Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday”. They rarely if ever sang the person’s name. Don’t know why that doesn’t catch on more – it makes so much sense and always has the right number of syllables!

        1. The syllable count sounds off to me: the Happy Birthday has 4 while Dear Amy (or whoever) usually sounds best with 3. Dear Mark this gets stretched into Mar-ark to get 3 syllables. Four syllables isn’t bad; it just seems that the optimum number is three, thus “God bless you” put into the song fits rhythmically.

        2. I agree with PW: “Happy birthday, happy birthday” for the third line always has one syllable too many.

  2. Ugh, we sang this, and then you had to put pennies for number of years you turned into a fake birthday cake, and the pennies supported the missionaries. Manipulative drivel.

    1. We used to sing a song for birthday offerings: Hear the pennies dropping, listen as they fall. Everyone for Jesus, he shall have them all. Until someone commented that if you sing about “pennies” that’s all you were going to get in the offering.

      1. It would have been shrewder to sing about $20 bills, or some other larger denomination.
        Don’t you just know those missionaries were thrilled to get eight cents or whatever for somebody’s eighth birthday?

        1. Little children singing,
          falling pennies ringing,
          But Andy and Ulysses
          will rustle like the leaves.

          Remember ere you’re flinging
          The money that you’re bringing
          That rustle beats the ringing
          For bringing in the sheaves.

          Here ya go, BG.

      2. WoW!! Jamie and senior cvit. Sounds like you two went to the same sunday school I went to. It was a fundy pentecostal church. We would also sing Sister or bro so and so, and have the best year you ever had!

        I still remember dripping my pennies in the box.

    2. I remember a fake b/d cake at our little country church! And the sound of the change as it hit the bottom. Somehow it intrigued my childish mind. Or maybe I just wanted the $$$. 🙂

  3. What were the words, hard to understand….I thought at the end it was asking how many people were won to the Lord….that can’t be it….is it?

    1. “Happy Birthday to you,
      Only one will not do,
      Born again means salvation,
      How many have you?”

      IOW-Have you only had a physical birthday, or have you had both a physical and spiritual birthday? It has nothing to do with how many souls you’ve “won”.

      1. Our church did this (in the Sunday School opening program) with the plastic birthday cake and pennies, but the song went:
        “HBTY, HBTY, Take the gift of salvation and you will have two.”

        I was painfully shy as a child so when the leader would ask for birthdays, I would lie by not going up front with my birthday pennies.

    2. Happy birthday yo you. Only one will not do *something something* salvation. How many have you? (Birthdays)

      1. Ahhreegggg – now I will have this damned song running through my head. We used to sing in opening songs for Sunday School when I was little. However the little old ladies loved us. We would put a penny in a bank for some missionary kids that we gave to them when they were home on deputation. The ladies would always put a dollar in. We were convinced they were 100!

      2. sims! I have not not seen you on here in a while. Did I just happen to miss your comments?

    3. Happy birthday to you. Only one will not do. “Born again” means salvation. How many have you?

        1. Is that the ultimate question? Just ’cause some guy that designs fjords said so doesn’t make it so.

        2. Uncle Wilver, you may just be a bigger Douglas Adams geek than I am. But somehow I kind of expected that of you.

          (I’m pretty sure that’s a compliment. )

  4. I didn’t get all of the second verse. But that last line is a nice bit of guilt, isn’t it? We’re glad you made it another year but are you using your time wisely? Are you winning souls to Jesus?
    No such thing as a wish for a happy birthday without strings attached.

    1. It wasn’t a guilt trip. Happy Birthday to you. Only one will not do. “Born again” means salvation. How many have you? It has nothing to do with if they went out soul winning or not.

      1. I think the song is more guilty of torturing my native tongue, than it is of guilt-tripping others. Although I think sociologist/group anthropologist would point out how the language is designed to reinforce boundary markers that signify out-group delineation.

        1. Yes, precisely.
          Everybody has a birthday, but everybody isn’t part of their special club of “saved” people.

      2. Ohhh, I get it now. I thought it meant soul-winning too. You’re supposed to have two (count ’em…TWO!) birthdays. Your day of birth and your day of being born again.

        1. Of course, if they really believe this, then why don’t they sing the happy birthday song on people’s “spiritual birthdays” as well as their real birthdays? Proof, in my opinion, that fundies tacitly acknowledge that salvation is a process and not a moment in time.

        2. Or maybe the Fundies just lose interest in you once you’ve been “soul-won.”

  5. “Born again means salvation, how many have you?” Super tacky….. always thought it was…

  6. No cross, just an open Bible (presumably KJV) on a table. Almost everyone is sitting near the back.

    And, apparently, no white piano.


  7. Happy birthday to you,
    We’ve seen what you do.
    If you don’t do as MoG says,
    You’ll go to hell, too.

  8. After watching it again, did anyone else notice how quickly the camera man panned away from those youths “dancing” in the back row? I’m sure they’re in for it now!

    1. Well, not exactly every time you play or sing it. You can sing it at birthday parties and stuff. But this has to do with why a lot of restaurants have their own version that they sing to people when they bring out their free piece of cake.

  9. What is the point of the second verse if the words make no sense? The rhyme and meter are about as forced as a Hamblin “sermon” outline.

    1. Yeah at my old fundy church they sang ‘take the gift of salvation and you will have two.’

      It makes more sense and fits, but it’s still manipulative.

  10. I had totally forgotten about that verse. I don’t think I ever saw it in an adult service, but it was a staple in children’s church.

  11. All of the guilt-tripping and manipulation and additional rules to ensure mortification of the flesh makes me wonder who would win between the fundies and the False Witnesses in a Holy Spirit-denying contest.

  12. I’ve heard that second verse many times in my past. Now I’m wincing at the terrible syntax.

    I’d forgotten all about the birthday bank. I don’t remember where I heard of this (and I don’t remember it being in the shape of a birthday cake), but I do have a memory of people giving money on their birthday.

    1. We had a birthday bank at the Lutheran church of my childhood. I remember the pastor taking it upon himself to remove and roll all those pennies when it was finally full. But I’m glad to say I’ve never heard that song!

  13. Re: “How many have you?”

    I always wanted to say: “How many have I what?”

  14. Happy Birthday to you;
    We see what you do.
    If all members were like you,
    The church would fade, too.

  15. I literally see no problem with this tradition taking place in any church.
    Try to have angst for real problems.

  16. I’ve visited churches that do this. It really didn’t bother me as much as those churches that had an assembly of kids & adults in the morning, and than sang kiddie songs, expecting the adults to join in the silly hand motions. It was fun as a kid, but I put away childish kind of things when I grew up (doesn’t the Scripture say that?)

    I’ve been far more guilted with (as the song I posted) with “If every church member were like you, what kind of a church would we have?” Answer: Impossible. God made us all different, so we all bring something different to church. There are going to be some that mostly take. There will be generous givers. There will be people who enjoy knocking on strangers’ doors. There will be some who don’t enjoy it. There will be some that can teach; there will be some who would pass out if they had to get up in front of others.

    In other words: what a stupid question!

  17. Tacky absolutely, but some of you need to chill. People do it because they care about each other. Kinda of like when my mom buys me a tacky sweater. Have a good laugh at it and move on. Not every fundy action has sinister motives to it.

  18. My fundy-lite church did the second verse this way:

    Happy birthday to you,
    Only one will not do,
    Take the gift of salvation,
    And you will have two.

    Now I look at it as a way to make even the most harmless and non-religious/spiritual things into occasions for rules, regulation, and religion.

    1. At least that version makes sense syntactically, unlike
      “Happy Birthday to you,
      Only one will not do,
      Born again means salvation,
      How many have you?”

      1. Obiviously, I meant to comment with more than just “I.” I’ve have heard this version with the last line being, “and then you’ll have two.” Always thought the “born again means salvation” option sounded awful.

    2. My church’s version was

      Happy Birthday to you
      To Jesus be true
      Born again means salvation
      How many have you?

      And we didn’t bother with a first verse – that was it. Never understood it, never thought much about it, either.

  19. I just re-read what I originally wrote on this post and came to the conclusion that I was drunk this morning.

  20. Happy birthday to you,
    Evolution’s untrue!
    I don’t come from monkeys;
    Granddad was a gnu.

  21. When I was little, our small Mennonite church recognized kids birthday and we (each birthday child) got to put money in a glass bank, while everyone sang a birthday song that went: “A happy birthday to you, a happy birthday to you. Every day of the year may you feel Jesus near. A happy birthday to you, a happy birthday to you, and the best year you’ve ever had!” I don’t know why I thought it was exciting to put money in the bank and I don’t know where the money went. My grandmother always gave us a quarter for the birthday bank.

  22. First time I’ve seen a pulpit made of bricks. The preacher looks like Santa Claus going down the chimney.

    1. Looks fake to me. And ugly. Probably wallboard. Everbody knows its a Porta-Pulpit. Are they trying to give the impression that it’s a permanent structure, or is it just someone’s late 70s idea of what looked good?

      1. It was probably a bar from somebody’s rec room that a church member bought at a garge sale and converted to a pulpit.

        1. How about a garBage sale?
          I would love to hold one, wrap things up in paper and sell them as Mystery Packages for $1.25 the each, or two for three dollars, bet they’d go like hotcokes.

        2. $1.25 each, or two for $3.00?
          The average person in your neighborhood obviously has wicked math skills.

  23. I read an argument recently about signs of a harmful church leader. One of the issues was spiritualising everything. While this seems (to some) to be a minor thing, it was also a part of a bigger problem. In our fundy churches, everything had spiritual significance. It was one of the tools that kept us overworked , so involved in the church that we were isolated from the outside world. That we couldn’t even have our birthdays off is telling.

    1. If I wanted to, I could make a fairly persuasive argument that the fact that you like white bread while I like brown bread (or vice versa) evidences some kind of spiritual failing on your part. Mind games are easy as long as you have someone in a susceptible state.

  24. When I was a child, some of my friends and I would sing,
    Happy birthday to you
    You live in a zoo
    You look like a monkey
    And you smell like one, too

    We never got caught. The elderly folks were so encouraged to hear the kids participating, though.

  25. Once again, I’m out of the loop.

    I’ve never seen or heard of the plastic birthday cake and people throwing in pennies on their birthdays. Maybe it’s my BJU highbrow fundy experience from my mid-twenties on where such nonsense was frowned upon. I don’t know.

    I’m beginning to have more empathy for others here.

    That’s all I have to say about that.


  26. Every time, and I do mean EACH AND EVERY SINGLE, GOD-FORSAKEN TIME I hear, or am forced to play, this “song”, or any derivative thereof, I submit a silent cry to God, “Why? Why?? WHY????? was I born after this “song” came into its miserable existence!

  27. I’d like to find a picture of this penny bank cake. My wife said she recalled having one at her church when she was a kid. Perhaps it’s a collector’s item now?

  28. We used to do the birthday song with a “God Bless You” inserted in the song instead of your name.

    At first I thought it was nice. Here are these people, wishing you well on your birthday. How nice. Later, I began to cringe when it was my turn. They also made a big deal of anniversaries. You had to stand in both. Happy anniversary to you..

    I just didn’t like being the center of attention, and it made me uncomfortable. I know it did others as well.

  29. One place where I worked the staff would always go to the desk of the birthday person and sing “Happy Birthday” to him or her. I don’t know that anyone liked it except the one instigating it. And we always sounded awful.

  30. Ahhh… we just did “happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, God bless you. Happy birthday to you.

    That way you didn’t have to know the person’s name!

    1. Mentally, I still think “God bless you” (instead of the person’s name) is part of the birthday song. Guess that says something about my background.

  31. Every time I went to Chi Chi’s (Mexican Restaurant) on my birthday, the employees would come out singing Happy Birthday to me, adding a little Mexican spice to it, and give me fried ice cream for free. It was just horrible and embarrassing.

  32. I may or may not be the kind of person who refuses to go to certain restaurants on my birthday, asks ahead of time if the other suggested restaurants also sing the birthday song, and threaten death glares if we go to a place where we don’t know whether they do the birthday song or not and someone tries to find out by ever so “casually” mentioning it’s my birthday while the waiter/waitress/wait which ever you prefer is around.

    Also, I just noticed there’s a little smiley face at the bottom left corner of this page. Dunno if that’s always been there and I only just now noticed it, but aww!

  33. I grew up with the Birthday Song. Somehow I didn’t see how disrespectful it was at the time.

    I have to say that now it is uncomfortable. It promotes the idea that “Salvation” is a one-time event instead of a process that God is working in us. While “Salvation” is described in some places in a way that could be viewed as a one-time event, most of those passages can be looked at as a process. And there are other passages where salvation is definitely looked at as a process.

    When my Katie raised her hand in Sunday School to ask for someone to talk to her about getting saved, I did not look at the event, or the prayer (which she definitely would not have understood the ramifications of) as being a one-time life-changing event. Rather, I claimed the Scripture that “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

    I think that was the clearest I had seen salvation up to that time. My walk in God is a work in process. Every admonition about our walk in Christ is tied to the basics of the Gospel.

    And frankly, I am tired of seeing people explain away Scripture that doesn’t (on its face) support the “approved” meaning.

    When I sing Happy Birthday, I will not sing the fundy verse. Maybe I can make up another one?

    Happy Birthday to You!
    May God always bless you!
    You’re a part of us always!
    Happy Birthday to You!

  34. Yep….the little backwards country church where I grew up did this every Sunday. You came up to put your pennies (one for each year) into the fake birthday cake as they sang both verses. You were awarded a “Christian” pencil. This was followed by recognizing any who had anniversaries with a singing of the “Blessed Be The Tie that Binds”.

    I’m not sure this is simply a fundy tradition or a country/small church evangelical church throwback, but it actually brought waves of nostalgia back to me. My kids however, when we go home to visit it and they still do it, think that it is odd.

    But that’s OK….

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