One of your co-workers comes up to you and says “生日快乐 (Sheng ri kuai le)!”
Before you take this mysterious phrase as an insult upon your honor, don’t worry; this is Chinese for Happy Birthday!
While the day you came into this world is an important day all around the world, there are some unique things that come with this occasion in China.
For one thing, when you are first born, you are already considered one year old.
You then become a year older when the Chinese New Year occurs, so a several-month-old baby born just before the New Year would actually be considered two years old when the holiday occurs!
While nowadays young people in China celebrate their birthdays every year like in the West, traditionally not much importance was attached to your birthday in China.
After celebrating three birthdays – 30 days, 1 year, and 6 years, no birthday was given any special attention until you were 60.
The reason for this is due to Chinese astrology. 12 signs and 5 natural elements makes 60, so a life cycle is considered to be 60 years long. When you reach this age, you’ve completed a life cycle and are about to begin one anew.
“Alright, let’s break out the cake!” you say. Not so fast. While cake is definitely served at birthday occasions in China, another dish unique to the country would be Chang Shou Mian aka long life noodles.
This is a bowl of very long noodles which symbolize long life. The more you eat, the longer your life will be, so eat up!
When a Chinese girl or boy turns one year old, a variety of objects and toys (coins, a doll, a kitchen utensil, a book, a small Buddha etc.) are placed on the floor around the child.
According to ancient beliefs, the object that the child chooses symbolizes the profession he or she will pursue in life. If the child picks up the coins, they will be wealthy, the doll signifies many children and so on.
Most importantly, when you’re attending the birthday of a Chinese friend or colleague, never give a clock, watch or anything to do with time.
These represent death, and Chinese legends states that many people have died the day after being given this type of gift on their birthday.
So keep the watches at home and start slurping those noodles, and celebrate your birthday Chinese style!