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What You Need To Know About Birthday Noodles And Other Chinese Traditions

Whether you attend a birthday party or celebrate from home, cake and noodles will always be part of the banquet. It’s a no-brainer to be told, “eat noodles for a long life”. These noodles have a unique history we Chinoys have long since adopted. If you want to know more about this tradition’s evolution with a modern recipe to match, you’ve come to the right place.

What is birthday noodles?

In one word — pancit! Noodles have long been introduced to us by Chinese settlers. Legend has it that you must absolutely eat it on your birthday. And most importantly, NEVER EVER bite or cut it into smaller pieces, as noodles symbolize long life and good health.

Case closed. This article is finished. BUT… does this deeply embedded part of culture have any truth to it? Let’s take a look at actual Chinese traditions to give us answers.

Source: GIPHY

Chinese birthday traditions: are they any special?

Compared to Western counterparts, they’re definitely different. For one, they center a lot on meaning. When you give gifts, certain things can actually have ominous symbolisms. The food you eat hopes to bless you with a good life and the time you celebrate your birthday is crucial to your luck. See the pattern here?

Here’s a quick rundown of things to keep in mind when celebrating a traditional Chinese birthday:

1) Age

When a baby is born, he is automatically 1 year old. On his first lunar new year, he adds another year. So if you ask a Chinese person their age, they could be anywhere between 1 or 2 years older than he actually is.  This is referred to as the traditional system or 虚岁 (xū suì). On the other hand, the current legal system or 周岁 (zhōu suì) is the same as their Western age and is the standard for legal documents.

2) Gifts

The number one rule in Chinese gift giving is to never give them anything that is associated with death or bad luck. One good example is a watch or clock, they are a reminder of being one year closer to death. Another one is flowers (sorry romantics!); cut flowers are considered dead flowers so you should only bring this to a funeral. Steer clear of giving shoes too, the chinese word 鞋 (xié) is a homophone for 邪 (xié) or “evil”.

Safe gifts are usually a fruit basket sans pears and 红包 (hóngbāo), or red envelopes filled with money.

Source: cheng-tsui site

3) Celebration Timing

Birthdays are generally not a yearly celebration for the traditional Chinese. It may be acknowledged, but not celebrated. If you do choose to celebrate it, you must do so ON or BEFORE your birthday. A belated birthday is bad luck so it’s a big no-no.

The only times that warrant a big birthday celebration is when you turn 60 or 80. Sixty in particular means you’ve reached a full life cycle. For females, turning 30 is bad luck so they stay 29 for another year.

4) Food

In recent years cake has been more popular due to western influence but the traditional food would include hard-boiled eggs for wealth and dumplings for fertility. Of course, the most important part is the longevity noodles, egg noodles with a spongy texture. It will only bless you with a long life if you slurp it whole. If you cut it, your life is cut short as well.

Longevity noodles: the origin story

Source: theculturetrip site

During the Han dynasty, the Martial Emperor was discussing the concept of lifespan with his ministers. If the length of the groove between the nose and upper lip was 1cm, that meant a person can live up to 100 years. Minister Dongfang Zhuo joked that Pengzu, a man from the Shang dynasty who lived for over 800 years, must have had a long face in that case.

Since then, a long face was associated with a long life. This gave rise to the saying 脸长就是面长 (liǎn chǎng jiù shì miàn chǎng) where 脸 (liǎn) means face and 面 (miàn) can mean either face or noodles.

Therefore, NOODLES = LONGEVITY. Interestingly enough, back then, the tradition meant eating one very long noodle in a bowl. And the concept of birthday noodles was popularized later on during the Tang dynasty.

How to make your own birthday noodles

Refer to this video guide:

This is similar to the ones you’ll see in Chinese restaurants, complete with quail eggs, prawn and vegetables.

It may be quarantine season, but don’t forget to have a happy birthday reader!

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