Ask Uncle Wang

By Ewa Manthey Source:Global Times Published: 2013-3-12 18:23:01

Q: Dear Uncle Wang,

Why is a 60th birthday such a big celebration in China? What special foods do Chinese people eat to celebrate the birthday and what should I bring as a gift to somebody's 60th birthday party?

A: Usually, Chinese people don't celebrate their birthdays every year. It is only the special ones that call for a major celebration: 1st year, 10th year and 60th year, with the last being the most important of all.

In Chinese culture, 60 years marks one full cycle of life and the 60th birthday is regarded as a very important point as the beginning of a new life cycle.

Traditionally, it is the first birthday in a person's life to be marked with a big celebration. And after that, big birthday celebrations are held every 10 years.

This importance of the 60th birthday is related to the Chinese zodiac.

The zodiac consists of 12 animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

And each of those animals is reflected in one of the five natural elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

The 12 animals multiplied by the five elements equal 60, making it a very auspicious number in Chinese culture.

Usually it is the sons and daughters who throw a big 60th birthday party for their parents to which they invite the whole of the extended family to celebrate the big day.

One of the most popular foods to eat at the birthday celebrations is "longevity noodles." Once these noodles are eaten, they symbolize that the celebrant will enjoy an even longer life.

Children usually serve their parents a bowl of noodles on the morning of their 60th birthday.

The most important thing to remember is that they can't be cut up using any kind of utensils, as this is said to be unlucky and might augur a shorter life.

Another food is a longevity dumpling shaped like a small peach and made of wheat with a sweet lotus or red-bean paste filling.

In Chinese culture, the peach is considered a symbol of immortality and longevity thus making it the perfect 60th birthday dessert.

Also, plain simple cash can make a convenient 60th birthday gift. But there are some rules to remember when giving money as a gift.

It needs to be put in a red envelope and the amount given should be an even number and should not contain the number 4.

And it is not only 60th birthdays that are a cause for celebration. Big parties are also arranged for 60th wedding anniversaries, which are admittedly much harder to achieve than 60th birthdays.

Please send your cultural questions about China to

Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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