Some Chinese people celebrate two birthdays a year – the day they were born and the day their birthdays fall on the Chinese or lunar calendar.
For example my daughter’s birthday is on September 20, but in the year she was born that day was the 18th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar. So, this year, if she wants, she could have a party on September 20 and another one on October 6 which, in 2009, is the 18th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar.
But no she didn’t; we just got together for a simple family meal round about September 20.
Anyway, traditionally, Chinese people do not pay a lot of attention to birthdays until they are 60 years old. In Chinese culture, 60 years mark a cycle of a life and 61 is regarded as the beginning of a new life cycle.
I read somewhere that the importance of this birthday is not the age but that it is the first and likely only time in the individual’s life that their animal sign and element are together exactly as there were on the day they were born according to their astrological chart.
(Puzzled? Don’t worry; I’m still trying to figure that out myself.)
Anyway, whatever it is, the 60th birthday (liu shi da shou) is regarded as a very important point of life and therefore there is often a big celebration. After that, a birthday celebration is held every ten years, that is the 70th, the 80th, etc, until the person croaks. Generally, the older the person, the bigger the celebration.
I was brought up to be generous, to lavish friends with our generosity, never to let a guest leave our house hungry, but at home, with our own family members our celebrations are always conservative and very low key. Perhaps this is why I cringe when people talk about celebrating two birthdays, having two birthday cakes, two Chinese New Year reunion dinners, etc. I have also heard of entire clans showing up wearing the same outfit – cheongsams, bow ties, batik, whatever.
My dad – and I – would consider such frivolous antics the ??? (tuo hua yang) of wu liao people.