So, does your family have a special birthday tradition?
The birthday celebrant is not supposed to know we got a birthday cake. It's supposed to be a surprise. Of course, the celebrant knows there's cake, and plays along. We turn out the lights and bring in the cake, with candles already lit, and sing the ever-popular "Happy Birthday." The celebrant blows out the candles, and we turn on the lights.
Then we take the candles off the cake and pass them around, one candle to each person in the room. We re-light the candles, and turn out the lights. We sing another birthday song:
Happy birthday, happy birthday
Just for you.
Happy birthday and may all your dreams come true,
As we blow out the candles,
One light stands aglow.
It's the sunshine of your smile where'ere you go.
While we are singing, each person blows out his or her candle, leaving only the celebrant holding a lit candle. the celebrant waits until the song is over to blow out his or her candle.
When we were kids, my sisters and I always assumed that the song was written by my dad and his sisters, that it was unique to our family.
What a surprise to learn that the tune was actually Franz Lehar's "Merry Widow Waltz".
But still, we thought the words were unique to our family.
Until Jen and Becca were in elementary school, and I took them to a birthday party.
And heard this:
The lyrics are slightly different, but yeah, that's Tom Chapin singing "our" song. I've heard two additional versions, one by Barney the Dinosaur, and one by and Sharon, Lois and Bram.
So I did a little more digging, and found out that Chapin had a copyright on the song. Or rather, his arrangement of the song. Dating from 1989, long after I learned the song.
And I found sheet music.
It says the lyrics are in the public domain.
And then I found this.
An old time radio show, Big John and Sparkie, that aired in the 1950's. Our song, with our lyrics.
I couldn't find a preserved broadcast of the show. the best I could do was this:
My sisters are still convinced that our relatives wrote the lyrics, and that the song -- like most folk songs -- circulated for several years before someone decided to record it.
I guess we will never know for sure.
But we will continue to enjoy our "unique" tradition,
life in and around NYC is insane
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