Birthdays are a particularly important cause for celebration in the United States and other Western countries. Americans often celebrate their birthdays with a party with balloons, streamers, and maybe even a pinata. Birthday cakes and gift-giving are also essential traditions in the West but historically not so much in other parts of the world. In most East Asian cultures, birthdays may not be a big part of your international student’s culture. In Chinese culture, only certain milestone birthdays are celebrated, whereas others are considered unlucky. In fact, China only started celebrating birthdays with the familiar flair of cakes and gifts in recent decades due to the influence of Westernization. We have compiled a list of the must-haves needed to help your international student feel at home on their special day.
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. The mother and newborn are typically kept at home and away from people outside of the immediate family for the first month. 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 most significant 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. People over the age of 60 are more likely to celebrate birthdays yearly because 60 years represent a full life cycle, and every year afterward should be appreciated.
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.
How to Celebrate Non-Milestone Birthdays
Eastern Asian cultures are starting to partake in more Westernized celebrations like birthday cake and presents. Your international student is likely somewhat familiar with these traditions, but you can take this opportunity to blend some of your birthday traditions with theirs. Red dyed eggs and longevity noodles are two small but essential customs in this culture.
Eggs are dyed red to symbolize good luck and fortune which 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. In China, birthdays are typically celebrated with noodles. The Birthday or longevity noodles differ from other noodles in one crucial 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 eating.
Celebrating with Your International Student
It is important to remember that international students are here to learn more about our culture. If anyone in your family has a birthday during your international student’s stay, it could be an excellent opportunity to learn for everyone to learn from each other.
Take the time to ask how your student usually celebrates birthdays in their family. And then blend some of those traditions with your own. Also, ask your Student Development Manager to come up with a plan to ensure your international student feels loved and supported on their birthday, which could prevent homesickness. We’ve found a list of birthday greetings in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese, to say to your student on their special day. Plus, birthday noodles go well with a birthday cake!
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