Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How Do Chinese People Celebrate Birthdays?

As the saying goes: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”, when you are invited to a Chinese friend’s birthday party, how to select an appropriate gift? Is there any taboos? How do Chinese people celebrate birthdays?

In China, when a child is one month old, it is a usual tradition for the family to hold some kind of celebration for him or her, such as inviting close friends and relatives to dinner. These friends and relatives may give the child some small gifts to bring good luck such as a longevity lock (chang2ming4suo3, see the picture on the right), longevity necklace and bracelets etc. The child’s family will prepare some red-coloured eggs and distribute them to the guests.

For birthdays after this, the traditional foods are longevity noodles (chang2shou4mian4) and peach-coloured birthday cake. 12-year-old birthday and 18-year-old birthday are important too and usually celebrations will be held. Toys, books, pens and anything that helps or entertains the birthday girl or boy can be a good gift.

For birthdays of elderly people once they reach typically every 5 or 10 years, the celebration may be more ceremonious. Gifts given by family and friends may include craftwork, or perhaps a painting. On the gift are usually images of cypress trees, red crowned cranes, characters symbolizing longevity(shou4, see the picture on the left), and the god of longevity etc, or there may be calligraphy offering good wishes. Health tonics or wine may also be given. However, a clock (zhong1) can never be a gift, for another homophonic word “song4zhong1” means “to arrange for the burial of a deceased parent of elder relative”.

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