Chinese Birthdays: All You Need to Know

Everybody loves birthdays, so have you ever wondered how the Chinese celebrate a birthday or how to wish anyone a happy birthday in Chinese? We cover this topic in today’s post.

Chinese people are usually not very big on celebrating birthdays. They tend only to throw birthday parties for the little ones and the elderly.

They are starting to adopt some Western customs, but customary Chinese birthdays adhere to a particular tradition and have some taboos.

Counting Ages

The Chinese count the years differently because they consider a newborn baby already one year old. So when a child turns 2 (aka 1 in the West), they throw a birthday party for the infant.

On the child’s second birthday they surround them with symbolic items. It is an attempt to predict the child’s future, so if the child picks up the money, they will be wealthy when they are older, or if it reaches for a boat, they might be destined to travel.

You can politely inquire about someone’s approximate age by simply asking for their zodiac sign. Then you know which year the person was born. You can read about the Chinese New Year and Zodiac Sign in this post.

Often Chinese people don’t celebrate their first birthday until they turn 60. 60 and 80 are extraordinary ages and are often celebrated in a prominent manner with the whole family and with a big banquet.

Chinese Birthday Taboos

Chinese birthdays must always be celebrated either before the actual birthday or on the birthday. A belated celebration is a big taboo.

Depending on their gender, they might not celebrate their birthdays in specific years or skip the number. Women don’t honor their 30th birthday, for example. The year 30 is considered a year of danger and uncertainty. Therefore, to avoid having bad luck, they just remain 29 for an extra year. 

When a woman turns 33, she has to buy a piece of meat, hides in the kitchen, and chops the meat 33 times before throwing it away. 

When she turns 66, she needs the help of a female friend or her daughter, who has to chop the meat 66 times for her to ward off evil.

For Chinese men, it is just the year when they turn 40. To dodge bad luck, men remain 39 until they celebrate their 41st birthday.

Food For Chinese Birthdays

The standard Western birthday cake can be found during Chinese birthdays nowadays too. 

Traditionally, the birthday child or person slurps longevity noodles with their family. When cooking longevity noodles, they have to be careful not to break them. Usually, one single noodle will fill up a whole cup. These noodles are also known as long life noddles or 伊面 yī miàn.

Other foods you might find at a banquet are dumplings for good fortune and hard-boiled eggs dyed red. Chinese red eggs (红蛋, 红鸡蛋 Hóngdàn, hóng jīdàn) symbolize joy and renewed life.

There are also longevity peaches that are called 寿桃 shòu táo. They are a type of lotus seed bun, sometimes filled with either red bean paste or lotus paste.

You typically serve them the elderly for reaching old age. They are a representation of the Peaches of Immortality. According to legends, these peaches ripen only every thousand years and grant immortality when eaten.

Chinese Birthday Noodles
Longevity Peaches for Chinese Birthdays
Longevity Peaches
Red Eggs for a Joyful Life

Presents

Be careful when giving someone a birthday gift in China. They tend to be low-key and only necessary for children and the elderly.

The most traditional gift is a red envelope called “红包 hóng bāo,” which usually contains money and is given discreetly. Chinese people consider it impolite to draw any attention to the act of giving and receiving a gift.

It is common practice with children to take them to a store to pick out the toy they want. Gift giving is not like it is in Western society where they wrap the presents and present them to the birthday boy/girl. 

This is to avoid embarrassment for buying the wrong gift and show some transparency of the price of the present. For the Chinese, the cost of the gift establishes the respect one has for the receiver of the present.

Wishing Someone a Happy Birthday in Chinese

生日快乐
shēngrì kuàilè
Happy Birthday

The above is the traditional “Happy Birthday.”

祝你生日快乐
zhù nǐ shēngrì kuàilè
I wish you a happy birthday

This phrase doesn’t get used as often, but 祝 zhù means “wish” and 你 nǐ is “you.” 

祝您生日快乐,长命百岁!
zhù nín shēngrì kuàilè, chángmìngbǎisuì!
Happy birthday! May you live to be a hundred years old!

You would say this to the older people to wish them a long life.

祝你生日快乐,青春永驻!
zhù nǐ shēngrì kuàilè, qīngchūnyǒngzhù!
Happy Birthday! May you stay young forever!

This one, you would say to a young woman. For men, you would more often use the following phrase.

祝你生日快乐,事业有成!
zhù nǐ shēngrì kuàilè, shìyèyǒuchéng!
Happy birthday! Wishing you professional success!

For friends, you would most likely say the following phrase:

祝你生日快乐,天天开心,幸福美满!
zhù nǐ shēngrì kuàilè, tiāntiān kāixīn, xìngfúměimǎn!
Happy birthday! I hope you will be happy every day! May you achieve perfect happiness!

If you wish a child a happy birthday, you might use this phrase:

祝你生日快乐,学业有成!
zhù nǐ shēngrì kuàilè, xuéyèyǒuchéng!
Happy birthday! May you achieve success in your studies!

So now, if you already have mastered the phrase 祝你生日快乐 zhù nǐ shēngrì kuàilè, then you already know how to sing the Happy Birthday song in Chinese. 

All you need to do is sing this phrase four times like you would with the English song.

So now you know all the traditions and what to look out for when someone celebrates a traditional Chinese Birthday.

Learn how to pronounce and also learn Chinese characters for free with our 14-day free trial giving you full access to our entire curriculum.

You will be able to read, write and pronounce Chinese characters and get an overall “plan of attack” for your ENTIRE Chinese journey all the way to fluency and literacy.

Gain Instant Access To Our Entire Curriculum