Here in the U.S., we look forward to celebrating our birthday every year, but that is not the case with our Chinese international students. Western culture promotes spending every birthday celebrating with friends and family, and receiving gifts while eating cake. In most East Asian cultures, only certain milestone birthdays are celebrated whereas others are considered unlucky.
Western culture, with its continuous growth of influence in other parts of the world, has swayed many East Asian countries to celebrate individual birthdays rather than milestones. Since this Westernization has only been prevalent for the past few decades, it is possible that your international student does not typically celebrate their birthday every year.
Since birthdays are only once a year, there is often a great pressure to ensure it is a great day for the ones we care for. An international student may experience increased homesickness or culture shock on their birthday since they are far away from home, family, and friends. We have compiled a list of the essentials needed to help your international student feel at home on their special day, but first let’s examine which birthdays are considered more important in Chinese culture.
Milestone Birthdays in Chinese Culture:
Western culture recognizes a baby’s first birthday as one year after the day they were born. East Asian culture considers a newborn baby one year old the day they are born. Both the mother and the newborn are to remain in a restorative confinement since it is believed that they are both in a weakened state and susceptible to illness. One month after birth marks the first celebration of their life, and eggs dyed red are served with longevity noodles.
Each subsequent birthday after this is casual and unflashy, whereas Western birthdays are grandiose affairs. Traditionally, the two biggest birthdays in East Asian culture are 60 and 80. These two ages symbolize fortune and luck, and although other birthdays are acknowledged, they are seldom celebrated.
Age 60 represents a full life cycle in East Asian culture. We seriously doubt any of our international students will be reaching that age during the next academic year, but they may have a relative that will! Ask your international student how you can help them prepare for their loved one and learn more about this celebration.
What You’ll Need to Celebrate:
Eggs are dyed red to symbolize good luck and fortune, and are typically sent to relatives and friends. Eggs represent fertility and new life, so these are most important during the first big celebration in a person of this culture’s life: the one month celebration. Providing red eggs during your international student’s birthday will show that you have done your research into their culture, and they will feel more at home.
Whereas Western culture serves birthday cake, East Asian culture prefers something more symbolic: noodles! The longevity noodle differs from traditional noodles in one important way: it is one long, unbroken strand of noodle. The length of the Longevity Noodle symbolizes a long and prosperous life. These noodles are encouraged to be slurped up in one go, and would be best unbroken for as long as possible while consuming.
It is important to remember that international students are here to learn more about our culture. We suggest that you surprise them with gifts and candles to blow out on their birthday cake!
Another great way to celebrate their birthday is to consult the Chinese Zodiac calendar. Based on the Chinese Lunar calendar, the Chinese Zodiac features 12 animals and is derived from your birth year. Loaded with fortunes and advice, this will give your family a fun activity to explore with your international student.
Feeling stuck? If your international student has an upcoming birthday and you still have no idea how to celebrate, consult your Support Services Coordinator for some ideas! They have plenty of experience with international student’s birthdays.