Celebrating Chinese Birthdays

Traditions and taboos dictate party etiquette

Chinese boy kissing mother at birthday party
Blend Images/Jade/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

While Westerners tend to make a big deal of birthdays, celebrating each year of a person's life with parties, cake, and gifts, the Chinese traditionally reserve birthday bashes for infants and the elderly. While they acknowledge most passing years, they don't consider most birthdays worthy of festivities. Globalization has made Western-style birthday parties more common in China, but customary Chinese birthday celebrations adhere to special traditions and carry certain taboos.

How Old Are You?

In the West, a child turns 1 on the first anniversary of his or her birth. In Chinese culture, newborn babies already claim the age of 1. So a Chinese child's first birthday party takes place when he or she turns 2. Parents may surround a child with symbolic items in an attempt to predict the future. A baby who reaches for money could come into great wealth as an adult, while a child who grabs a toy airplane may be destined to travel.

You can politely inquire about an older person’s age by asking for their Chinese zodiac sign. The 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac correspond to certain years, so knowing a person’s sign makes it possible to figure out their age. The auspicious numbers of 60 and 80 mean those years warrant full-scale celebration with a gathering of family and friends around a loaded banquet table. Many Chinese wait until age 60 for their first birthday party.

Chinese Birthday Taboos

Chinese birthdays must be celebrated before or on the actual birth date. Belatedly celebrating a Chinese birthday is a no-no.

Depending on a person's gender, certain birthdays pass without acknowledgment or require special handling. Women, for example, do not celebrate turning 30 or 33 or 66.

The age of 30 is considered a year of uncertainty and danger, so to avoid bad luck, Chinese women simply remain 29 for an extra year. On what would be their 33rd birthday, Chinese women actively counteract bad luck by buying a piece of meat, hiding behind the kitchen door, and chopping the meat 33 times to cast all evil spirits into it before throwing the meat away. At the age of 66, a Chinese woman depends on her daughter or closest female relative to chop a piece of meat for her 66 times to ward off trouble.

Chinese men similarly skip their 40th birthday, dodging the bad luck of this uncertain year by remaining 39 until their 41st birthday.

Chinese Birthday Celebrations

More and more Western-style birthday cakes are making their way into Chinese birthday celebrations, but the birthday girl or boy traditionally slurps longevity noodles, which symbolize long life. An unbroken longevity noodle should fill an entire bowl and be eaten in one continuous strand. Family members and close friends who cannot attend the party often eat long noodles in honor of the birthday to bring longevity to the person celebrating. A birthday banquet may also include hard-boiled eggs dyed red to symbolize happiness and dumplings for good fortune.

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Mack, Lauren. "Celebrating Chinese Birthdays." ThoughtCo, Jul. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/celebrating-chinese-birthdays-687448. Mack, Lauren. (2017, July 9). Celebrating Chinese Birthdays. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/celebrating-chinese-birthdays-687448 Mack, Lauren. "Celebrating Chinese Birthdays." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/celebrating-chinese-birthdays-687448 (accessed November 22, 2017).