Many happy returns is a shortening of a longer phrase that has been in use since the 1700s. We will examine the meaning of the term many happy returns, the original phrase it is derived from, and some examples of its use in sentences.
Many happy returns means that the speaker wishes that the listener will have many happy years to live. The phrase is shortened from the sentiment many happy returns of the day, which has been a greeting used since the 1700s. One may consider this phrase to have a literal meaning, that someone wishing a person many happy returns of the day is literally expressing the hope that the person will be around to experience that day coming around again and again each year while living a long life. Once used as a reply to many greetings such as Merry Christmas or Happy New Year, many happy returns is now primarily used when expressing the wish that someone experience a Happy Birthday.
Obviously he has no good wishes for the government but for something disastrous and by implication it means, many happy returns for the Rajapaksa gang (of which he has been a doughty defender) to the seat of power. (The Sunday Leader)
Luke Shaw will be hoping it’s a week of ‘many happy returns’ as the young defender bids to make his comeback from injury just days after his 21st birthday. (The Daily Mail)
Happy 100th birthday, Boeing, and many happy returns (The Seattle Times)
“We’re sure you will all want to join us in wishing many happy returns of the day to Alexandria Zahra Jones on her 16th birthday,” the caption reads. (People Magazine)