Chinese Birthday Customs for the Elderly

Senior man making birthday wish with eyes closed,
 IMAGEMORE Co, Ltd. / Getty Images

Traditionally, Chinese people do not pay a lot of attention to birthdays until they are 60 years old. The 60th birthday is regarded as a very important point of life and there is often a big celebration. After that, a birthday celebration is held every ten years; on the 70th, 80th, etc, until the person's death. Generally, the older the person is, the greater the celebration occasion is.

Counting the Years

The traditional Chinese way to count age is different from the Western way. In China, people take the first day of the Chinese New Year in the lunar calendar as the starting point of a new age. No matter in which month a child is born, he is one year old, and one more year is added to his age as soon as he enters the New Year. So what may puzzle a Westerner is that a child is two years old when he is actually two days or two hours old. This is possible when the child is born on the last day or hour of the past year.

Celebrating an Elderly Family Member

It is often the grown-up sons and daughters who celebrate their elderly parents' birthdays. This shows their respect and expresses their thanks for what their parents have done for them. According to the traditional customs, the parents are offered foods with happy symbolic implications. On the birthday morning, the father or mother will eat a bowl of long "long-life noodles." In China, long noodles symbolize a long life. Eggs are also among the best choices of food taken on the special occasion.

To make the occasion grand, other relatives and friends are invited to the celebration. In Chinese culture, 60 years makes a cycle of a life and 61 is regarded as the beginning of a new life cycle. When one is 60 years old, he is expected to have a big family filled with children and grandchildren. It is an age to be proud of and celebrated.

Traditional Birthday Foods

Regardless of the celebration's scale, peaches and noodles--both signs of long life--are required. Interestingly, the peaches are not real, they are actually steamed wheaten food with a sweet filling. They are called peaches because they are made in the shape of peaches.

When the noodles are cooked, they should not be cut short, as shortened noodles can have a bad implication. Everyone at the celebration eats the two foods to extend their best wishes to the long-life star.

The typical birthday presents are usually two or four of eggs, long noodles, artificial peaches, tonics, wine and money in red paper.