Today is my birthday, but this year I’m taking (or at least trying to take) a new perspective on the ever-advancing years. Rather than fretting in English about the time elapsed since my date of birth, I’m switching to the wonderful Italian notion of “compleanno.” Its root verb compiere dates back to the thirteenth-century poets who were the first to write in the Tuscan vernacular rather than in classical Latin. While compiere can translate as “complete,” it also can mean “fulfill.” And so I am joyously celebrating the fulfillment of my years.
Perhaps because the language itself is so old, Italian displays a kinder, gentler attitude toward aging. An Italian will never bluntly demand, “How old are you?” This question translates into “Quanti anni hai?” “How many years do you have?” Ever so subtly the phrasing implies that the higher the number, the bigger the bouquet. Perhaps that’s why Italians typically think of themselves as the age they will be on their next birthday.
A young Italian, eager for grown-up status, will say, “Sto per compiere quindici anni” (I’m about to turn 15—literally to complete fifteen years). Older Italians refer to themselves as being in “the class of,” say, 1948 or 1955. I thought they were referring to a graduation year until a friend explained that “class” refers to year of birth, not schooling.
To mark the completion of another year, birthday celebrants in Italy share their happiness by giving treats to others rather than receiving consolation prizes for time served. In return, family and friends toast them with auguri or best wishes. “A cent’anni!” (A hundred years!) wrote a friend in my first e-mail of the day. “Cento di questi giorni!” (A hundred of these days!) wrote another. I extend the same good wishes to all of you.
Sayings and Expressions
“Oggi compio gli anni” – Today’s my birthday. (Literally, today I fulfill my years.)
Essere avanti con gli anni – to be getting on in years
"Tanti auguri a te" — the equivalent of the English "Happy Birthday to You" song, sung to the same melody