How are Birthdays Celebrated in China? A Complete Guide.

A birthday is an important day for most people, but is it an important milestone in for example China? I was thinking about this the other day and was surprised by some of the things I found out as well as what one of my younger Chinese friends told me they do for their birthday!

In China, birthdays are celebrated differently than in the west. Chinese people do not celebrate their birthday on the day they were born, the age count starts at 1 and not zero, they can choose to have two birthdays and the birthday person takes you out for lunch, not the other way around!

What?? Chinese people can choose to have two birthdays and they take their friends out to lunch, not the other way around? Yep! We will go over these differences as well as many more in this article so let’s get started with everything we found out about birthdays in China!

Differences and Similarities Between Chinese and Western Birthdays

Due to noticeable cultural differences between the Chinese and the Western culture, there are various ways in which Chinese birthdays differ from those in the west. Also, there are a few ways they are similar. For further explanations of all the points in the table read on after this section!

IMPORTANCEThe most obvious one is that birthdays in China aren’t much of a big deal unless you are turning a specific age.In the west, any birthday can pretty much be special if you want it to be and you can have celebrations at any age, although there are some most people defer to for big occasions.
SIGNIFICANT BIRTHDAYSA celebration of the 1st birthday a month after a baby is born is usually held, as well as a celebration for their 2nd birthday and 10th. From there traditionally the 60th birthday of a Chinese person might have been the first they ever celebrated as this is the year their Chinese Zodiac sign realigns to be the same as the one at their birth. Birthdays are then celebrated by decade thereafter.Most Western people place significance on certain birthdays, such as 1st, 13th, 16th and 21st, and then each decade birthday like a 30th or 40th thereafter for example. But any and every birthday can be celebrated. Some people even celebrate half birthdays!
CAKEWhile cakes can also be present at Chinese birthdays, a birthday cake with candles is more of an adaptation of western culture, especially by young Chinese people. In the west, you can’t call it a birthday party without a cake and candles. People go out of their way to ensure there is a cake to cut and for candles to be blown out.
FOODA very long noodle especially made to represent the birthday person’s longevity is more commonly served and eaten on birthdays. Eggs dyed red are also commonly served as well as dumplings in the shape of a peach as peaches are also a symbol of a long life.Party food which is usually processed and full of sugar is generally eaten at children’s birthday parties. Sometimes food is designed and created around a birthday party theme. Adult birthday parties can follow a similar cuisine, but many will offer a meal that includes the birthday person’s favorite food, followed by dessert.
AGE ON BIRTHDAYChinese tradition considers a baby to be 1 year old because of the gestational period. They include the period the baby was growing inside their mother as part of their life.In the west, a baby is zero at the time they are born and each year on the anniversary of their birth they turn a year older.
DATE OF BIRTHDAYChinese people can celebrate their birthday on the day they were born, or may choose to align the day with the Chinese lunar calendar which means if they choose to, they can have two birthdays, but many choose one or the other.Most westerners birthday is the day they were born. For some older people, the date might differ because the registration of births differed considerably from the past to today, and to save hassle they just go with what the paperwork states.
WHEN TO CELEBRATETraditional Chinese people believe celebrating after your birthday delays everything in the coming year (especially when using the Lunar Calendar) so celebrating on the day of your birthday is best although some also celebrate before if needed.In the west, if your birthday falls on a week day, you might have a small family celebration that night, but your party might occur on the weekend or the best date around your birthday when you are able to get a venue or do an activity you were looking forward to. It is the birthday persons choice, but generally the day would be within a week or two of the actual birth date.
HOW OLD ARE YOU?It is rude to ask a Chinese person how old they are, but polite to ask what their Chinese zodiac sign is. If you know the Chinese zodiac, you can then try (it is not foolproof) to work out how old the person is by working out which year the animal would have corresponded with and counting forwards. Many Adult westerners find it impolite to be asked how old they are especially by strangers. It is generally ok to ask them around their birthday time especially if they are having a party and you are invited to celebrate with them. Parents on the other hand are always telling everyone all about their children and their ages – it is ok to discuss the ages of children.
GIFTSLike in the west, Chinese birthday parties also feature gifts for the birthday girl or boy. It is only that certain gifts regularly given in the west such as watches or jewelry are frowned upon in China.If you are invited to a party, it is obligatory to bring a card and a gift for the birthday person. The gift should be something you think the birthday person would like and if you are unsure – money or a gift card is also ok to give.
SONGAs with birthday cake and candles, many Chinese people sing the ‘Happy Birthday Song’ to the birthday person but using a Mandarin translation of the English.The ‘Happy Birthday Song’ is traditionally sung after lighting candles on the birthday cake. The candles are then blown out after the song has finished by the birthday person who makes a personal secret wish when blowing them out.

Do people in China Celebrate their Birthday?

Yes, people in China celebrate birthdays. It is becoming more common to see birthdays celebrated in similar ways, each year like in the western world, especially among the young and progressive. Parents organize small parties or picnics for their child’s school friends and immediate family gathers to have a special meal. But Traditionally not every birthday is revered with some Chinese people never celebrating a birthday until they turn 60 – the year their zodiac animal (one of 12) realigns after 5 cycles – 5 x 12. At this age you are thought to have lived for a whole life cycle and that is worth celebrating! This is why many people question if Chinese people have birthday’s become some live most of their life never celebrating theirs!

Do Chinese people have two birthdays?

Chinese people can celebrate their birthday on the day they were born according to the gregorian calendar or may choose to align their birthday with the Chinese lunar calendar which is based on the phases of the moon and the Sun’s longitude. The Chinese lunar calendar has more changes over the years compared to the Gregorian calendar so the date of birth will change the following year if the calendars are compared. Most Chinese people choose one or the other but when you have people following two systems it can mean the day can be celebrated twice.

Do Chinese people celebrate any special or specific Birthdays?

Generally, the most important birthdays for Chinese people are the First (when the child is born), the second (which in the west would be a child’s first birthday), tenth, sixtieth, and then each decade after. Those are special birthdays most Chinese people wouldn’t want to miss celebrating.

The Chinese do not generally place great importance on each birthday although this is changing as more people take on customs from other cultures.

Chinese people celebrate a First Birthday Party 1 Month (a full moon cycle) after babies are born!

Did you know that Chinese people have a different way to westerners of calculating their age? When a baby is one month old the family celebrates their child’s first birthday with man yue party (满月). In China, they include the time a baby spends in their mother’s womb as part of their first year of life! That means that a one-year-old in China isn’t the same age as a one-year-old elsewhere in the world.

The party is also known as a red egg party for the eggs which are dyed red by boiling them with beets, red envelopes, or dye as red represents prosperity and good fortune. Babies heads are sometimes shaved and they are dressed in new clothes preferably in red with gold accessories. The baby is introduced for the first time to family, there name is shared and the mother who has spent the time recouperating from the birth reconnects with the community outside the home for the first time.

First birthday red egg parties can be so special that sometimes not just relatives but a whole village comes together to celebrate the birth and first birthday of a baby. They do this because man yue is believed to be the start of a child’s life and therefore the events impend on the childs future happiness and fortune. Guests leave with the customary gift of boiled red eggs, and might also receive a slice of roast pork and a pickled slice of sweet ginger from the birthday babies family to take home.

Gifts are also given to the baby by family and friends like jewelry, toys, clothes, good luck charms or money in ‘lucky’ red envelopes known as hongbao. Since the number 8 is auspiciously lucky, money in amounts that have the number 8 in them are generally given. Tiger themed toys, books or accessories are commonly given to babies because Chinese legend says that tigers protect children.

The 100 Day Birthday Celebration

In some Chinese traditions, it is the 100th day of a child’s life that is celebrated called baisui rather than man yue. The 100th-day is chosen because it is fortuitous as a blessing that represents the hope of longevity for the child or a life lived to 100 years.

A Second – First Birthday Party for Chinese Children!

Zhua Zhou is a Chinese traditional ceremony carried out by many parents on the anniversary of their child’s first full year of life. Technically because the child turned 1 during man yue, they are considered to be two years old in age, but the words Zhua Zhou are a kind of mix of the words pick or grasp and first anniversary rather than relating to the age the child is turning.

The reason the celebration involves the word pick is that the baby’s parents surround their child on this day with an assortment of symbolic items for the baby to choose from. Whichever item the child picks up is thought to predict their future potential career. For example, parents could surround the baby with a flute, an abacus, or a pen. If the child gravitates towards the flute, this means there are chances they could be a music composer in the future. If they reach out for a pen, it symbolically means they could grow to be a writer.

A Tenth Birthday Party in China

A child’s tenth birthday can also be a reason to party in some parts of China! A tradition is for the grandparents on the mothers side to give many gifts to the birthday girl or boy.

A Twelfth Birthday Party in China

In the book Understanding Chinese Culture in relation to Tao by Khoo Boo Eng it is written that in some parts of China such as inner Mongolia the twelth birthday marks the time that a child is no longer a child. This important day is symbolised with a ceremony called ‘opening the lock’. Each year from birth a red scarf known as a cloth lock is tied around the child’s neck on their birthday, but on the twelfth birthday they are removed!

A Sixteenth Birthday Party in China

In the same book Khoo Boo Eng writes that a sixtenth birthday is celebrated through a ceremony of visitng a temple with elders and offering meat and longevity noodles to the Gods as a symbol that the birthday boy or girl is now an adult.

Why a sixtieth birthday is so important for a Chinese person!

A sixtieth birthday for a Chinese person is a very significant birthday as it indicates the person according to the Chinese zodiac has been alive for a whole life cycle. Sons and daughters will travel from far and wide to be at their parent’s side on this day and celebrations revolve around a meal.

Traditionally flour or rice ‘Longevity Peaches’ are made and given out to relatives and friends and the Chinese character for longevity is decorated in gold and placed on the wall in the gathering space. It is customary also to bow to the birthday person and for people to bow to the empty seat of the birthday person who may eat in a seperate room with several of their elders to harness the luck and longevity of all the symbolic food they are eating. Firecrackers are sometimes set off on the morning of a sixtieth or subsequent decade birthday with well wishers gathering early in the day to pass on their birthday blessings.

The Chinese typically celebrate their birthdays each decade after their sixtieth, with the years in between not being as important. As a result, the older the person, the bigger the celebration since it is an achievement and a privilege to be alive that long.

New Year Birthday for everyone!

Xu Sui is the name of a traditional Chinese system, where a person’s age is one year at birth, and increases by one year at the end of each Chinese New Year also known as the beginning of the Chinese lunar year, rather than on one’s birthday. If using this system a child can be thought of as being 2 before the first aniversary of their actual birth because at birth they are one and then turn two during the Chinese new year.

Birthday’s Chinese people generally do not celebrate!

Chinese women will pass on celebrating and sometimes even acknowledging their 30th, 33rd, and 66th birthdays to avoid bad luck. 30 especially isn’t a good numbered year according to Chinese superstitions as it signifies a year of uncertainty and loss or damage. Therefore, female Chinese people will skip this birthday remaining 29 for an extra year for good luck! After that year, they will then celebrate their 31st birthday. The same applies to the 33rd and 66th birthdays.

Men, on the other hand, don’t celebrate their 40th birthdays to avoid bad luck. They are therefore 40 for two years till they can turn 41.

What Food is Eaten at a typical Chinese Birthday Party?

A typical Chinese birthday person’s breakfast will consist of hardboiled eggs. They can then eat noodles or dumplings later on at home or a restaurant. A Chinese birthday party is usually a large feast with guests made up of mostly family members and close friends. The main food served is long noodles known as chang shou mian or longevity noodles.

Chang shou mian or longevity noodles are made to be exceptionally long and are carefully cooked to ensure they do not break. When eating them they are not meant to be cut to make them easier to eat – rather the longer they are the better because they are thought to herald in a long life for the birthday person.

Dumplings are another food typically eaten on a person’s birthday. When made they are shaped to look like a peach as the peach is another symbol of longevity in China. Other foods such as cakes or desserts are also shaped and colored to look like peaches for the same reason.

Eggs are also a common Chinese birthday party food.  Hardboiled eggs dyed red have a symbolic purpose in Chinese birthday meals. They are believed to enhance fertility which is among the wishes of most of the friends and family for the birthday person to have a family of their own. And red is a symbol of happiness, prosperity and fortune widely used in China.

Shou Bao or longevity peach buns, are sweet buns made from flour and sugar and filled with red bean or lotus seed paste. The buns are shaped and colored to look like a peach. You can find a recipe for these in English on the Guai Shu Shu blog by clicking here.

Shou Bao or Longevity Peach Buns

A dish that is served on the seventh day of the Chinese New Year, which is known as being a day to celebrate the birthday of human beings, is the seven vegetables auspicious dish. This dish was sometimes a porridge or a soup but always prepared with 7 vegetables. Kenneth Goh on his blog Guai Shu Shu followed a recipe his wife’s God Mother who at over 80 years old remembers eating when she was young. You can check it out here.

Do Chinese people have birthday cake at their parties?

Yes, Chinese people, especially more recently have birthday cake at parties, but it is not as important in a Chinese birthday celebration as it would be in the west. Longevity noodles at a Chinese birthday celebration are more important than having a birthday cake and candles to blow out.

Do Chinese People Give Gifts At Birthday Parties?

Yes, Chinese people give gifts to the birthday girl or boy. However, there are a few customs and traditions that apply to gift giving in China for example:

  • Some Chinese people will require you to insist they accept the gift a little when giving the gift. The person celebrating the birthday will at first reject your gift, but you have to insist for them to accept it.
  • Don’t reach for the red pen when writing well wishes in a card. Red ink is for the deities and, as such, shouldn’t be used for people.
  • How you wrap a present is equally as important as what is inside the wrapping so take care in your presentation of the gift.
  • Avoid black or white wrapping paper – red is always best for a Chinese birthday.
  • Don’t be offended if the birthday person doesn’t open the present in front of you, that is considered impolite.
  • Gift items in twos or pairs – but never give gifts in groups of four!
  • More personal items such as belts or a necklace should only be given by someone close to the birthday person.
  • Present gifts with two hands which is a sign of respect.
  • There is a definite list of items that are no-nos in giving to a Chinese person on their birthday.

Gifts you should not Give for a Chinese Birthday

List of Offensive Gifts for Chinese BirthdaysWhy
A Watch or ClockWatches and clocks are reminders that our time on Earth is limited. reminding them that death is inevitable – probably not what you want your birthday gift to say to them. However if you were to buy them say a Rollex, they could look past the tradition due to the quality and expense of the gift.
ScissorScissors symbolize cutting and in this case the cutting of ties with that person.
knifeAnything sharp that symbolizes cutting can mean that you are cutting ties with the person you gift it to.
A green hatThe phrase that is used to describe a green hat is the same one that describes a partner cheating on you therefore you should avoid buying a green hat which should be pretty easy!
PearsIf you buy a fruit basket, just make sure it has no pears as the word for pear is similar in Mandarin to the word parting.
Some FlowersFlowers that are generally reserved for funerals should not be given at birthdays such as yellow or white chrysanthemums.
TowelsTowels are distributed at funerals and again you don’t want to be reminding the birthday person about death again!
HandkerchiefThe word handkerchief in Chinese sounds similar to a way of saying goodbye and is therefore not a great gift.
ShoesThe word shoe in Mandarin sounds similar to the word evil. Men are advised especially not to buy their girlfriend’s shoes as a gift because it might make them break up with them.
Number 4The number four is similar to the word death in Chinese and therefore it is wise to stay away from anything that is related to the number when gift-giving.
CandlesCandles are used in ceremonies relating to the dead and therefore should not be given as gifts.
Antiques with unknown historyItems that are old and have an unknown history can be thought to house evil spirits, so if you don’t know where something has come from, best not give it as a gift.
MirrorMirrors are a bad omen as they are thought to attract evil spirits or ghosts and are easily breakable.
UmbrellasAnother word that sounds similar to another in Chinese with a bad connotation. The word for umbrella sounds the same as the word for breaking up, giving the message that you want to end your relationship.

Safe Gifts to Give a Chinese Person on their Birthday

  • A fruit basket
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee or tea
  • Candy
  • Make-up, perfume and skincare products
  • Cute gifts like stationery for females
  • Basketball, Soccer or sports items
  • Hongbao – Lucky money in a red envelope, in amounts with the number 8 at the end!
  • Gold or Jade jewellery
  • Wine
  • Clothes
Hongbao – Lucky Money given in amount with the number 8 at the end!

Is the Birthday Song or ‘Happy Birthday To You’ sung on Chinese Birthdays?

Yes a birthday song that doesn’t differ much from the usual birthday song most people in the west is sung at Chinese birthday parties today. Only it is sung in Mandarin with slighlty different lyrics.

(zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè)
Happy Birthday to You
(zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè)
Happy Birthday to You
祝你幸福, 祝你健康
(zhù nǐ xìng fú, zhù nǐ jiàn kāng)
Here’s to your happiness, Here’s to your good health
(zhù nǐ qián tú guāng míng)
May your future be bright
(zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè)
Happy Birthday to You
(zhù nǐ shēng rì kuài lè)
Happy Birthday to You
祝你幸福, 祝你健康
(zhù nǐ xìng fú, zhù nǐ jiàn kāng)
Here’s to your happiness, Here’s to your good health
(yǒu gè wēn nuǎn jiā tíng)
Here’s to your family.

Best videos about How Chinese People Celebrate their Birthday:


Apart from their first birthday, many Chinese people don’t celebrate their birthdays each year. Children, however, might get a celebration or two since the young alongside the elderly get special consideration in Chinese culture. The children are the future, while the elderly are considered the bridge between the past and the future generations.

We hope you now have a clearer understanding of the way birthdays work within the Chinese culture – we sure do!! If you have a Chinese friend, surprise them with a few facts you’ve learned here. And if it’s their birthday, get them the right gift. You might be treated to dinner from the birthday girl or boy. Don’t regard it as a strange occurrence since the Chinese are generous people who take it upon themselves to extend generosity to their friends.

If you are Chinese or have lived in China and have more to add to this article we would love you to contact us (use the contact form in the footer at the bottom of the page) and let us know what we should also add to make this article the best and most accurate resource it can be!

Samantha Bellerose

Samantha Bellerose is the creator and main writer for The Birthday Party Website. She is a mother to four kids and she loves preparing and planning birthday parties for her family and friends. Samantha is also the writer, creator and owner of several other websites and has found a passion for sharing her knowledge and experience as an educator online!

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