As it was my birthday this week, I ended up discussing differences between celebrating a birthday in different countries – and of course, it’s very different here in Hong Kong.
The actual birthday is not really important. At least it is not celebrated as it is in Europe or in the US – parents might give their child some money and friends/colleagues will invite one for drinks, but traditionally, that’s it. A Chinese person would not expect to receive any gifts or big celebrations.
In fact, most Chinese these days celebrate the birthday as they are on the Western calendar; but some, especially the older generation, still mark their birthdays based on the Chinese calendar. Thus, the actual day changes from year to year. Some, even older traditions, celebrate everyone’s birthday during Chinese New Year celebrations, which makes the 15-day celebration something important for everyone.
Here are a couple more interesting birthday traditions from China:
- The Chinese birthday pastry is the sou bao, lotus-paste-filled buns made of wheat flour which are shaped and colored to resemble peaches. There is no big cake or pastry to share, but each guest is served its own
- No birthday is complete without “long life noodles,” which are very long noodles that are steamed – one has to be careful not to to accidentally cut the noodles while serving, as short noodles are said to be bad luck at a birthday party. These noodles can also be served with egg, which is seen as a “rich” food. The noodles, eggs and dumplings are eaten by all in attendance in support of the well wishes for the person they are celebrating
- Red color means happiness in Chinese culture. So one can expect to see red cards, red gift wrapping, red gifts as well as red food and drinks (often with red beans)
Saang Yat Fai Lok – as these children are saying: