Chinese Birthdays Explained

November 11, 2023

In the vast tapestry of global cultures, birthdays hold a special place. Chinese birthdays, as in many other cultures, are steeped in history and superstition, with unique customs and beliefs that distinguish them from Western birthday celebrations. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the fascinating world of Chinese birthdays, from the concept of "Chinese age" to birthday superstitions and everything in between.

What Is a Chinese Birthday?

In Chinese culture, a birthday or "生日 shēngrì" is a significant event in one's life. It marks the completion of another year of life and is an occasion for family gatherings and celebrations.

In China, age is traditionally calculated using the lunar calendar, which makes it different from the Gregorian calendar used in the West. A child is considered to be one year old at birth, and everyone's age increases by one year on the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the solar year, the lunar calendar is based on the moon's cycles. As a result, Chinese New Year varies from year to year, and so do Chinese birthdays. This means that a person's birthday in the lunar calendar may fall on a different date each year in the Gregorian calendar.

Do the Chinese Celebrate Both Their Chinese and Western Birthdays?

In Chinese culture, it is common to celebrate both Chinese and Western birthdays. A "double birthday" is a significant event in Chinese culture, and it occurs when a person's Chinese birthday and Western birthday fall on the same day. Double birthdays are considered to be very lucky, and they are often celebrated with a big party.

How Are Chinese Birthdays Celebrated?

Chinese birthday celebrations are rich in customs and traditions that have evolved over centuries.

  • Red eggs: One of the most iconic Chinese birthday traditions is the "red egg" or "红鸡蛋 hóng jīdàn" ceremony. On a baby's first month birthday, known as "满月 mǎnyuè" in Chinese, red eggs are given to friends and family to symbolize happiness, fertility, and new life.

Red eggs

  • Chinese birthday foods: Chinese birthdays are often celebrated with a big feast, and the birthday celebrant would wear new clothes. Certain foods are an essential part of these traditional celebrations, with items such as "longevity noodles", or "长寿面 chángshòu miàn" in Chinese, representing a wish for a long and prosperous life. Other common Chinese birthday foods considered to be lucky include dishes featuring fish, which symbolizes abundance, and various types of dumplings, representing wealth.

Traditional Chinese cuisine: sweet and sour fish

  • The color red: Chinese birthday traditions also often feature the color red in decorations and clothing as it is considered to be lucky. Additionally, symbols like the Chinese character "福 ", meaning "good fortune," are commonly displayed during these festivities. As for Chinese birthday gifts, friends and families typically offer red envelopes, known as "红包 hóngbāo" in Chinese, to the birthday person. These envelopes often contain money as a symbol of good luck and blessings.

Chinese character FU

Nowadays, Chinese birthday celebrations have adopted more contemporary elements such as birthday cakes alongside their traditional roots.

Chinese Zodiac and Birthdays

The Chinese zodiac, or "生肖 shēngxiào", plays a significant role in Chinese birthday celebrations.

The zodiac is based on a 12-year cycle, with each year associated with a specific animal sign. The twelve animal signs include the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each sign is associated with unique characteristics and traits.

People often incorporate their zodiac animal into their birthday celebrations. For example, they may wear clothing or accessories with their zodiac animal, or they may decorate their home with zodiac-themed decorations. They may also serve foods that are believed to bring luck to individuals born in a specific year of the zodiac.

Chinese Birthday Superstitions

Chinese culture is rich in superstitions, and birthdays are no exception.

Here are some common superstitions related to Chinese birthdays:
Death and Birth: It is considered bad luck to celebrate a birthday at a funeral or during the mourning period for a deceased family member.
Knife and Scissors: Giving sharp objects like knives and scissors as gifts is believed to symbolize cutting ties or relationships, and it is generally avoided. You can learn more about Chinese gift-giving etiquette in this article.
Sweeping and Cleaning: It is believed that sweeping and cleaning the house on one's birthday can symbolize sweeping away good luck, so it's avoided on this special day.

Common Questions about Chinese Birthdays(and Their Answers)

How Do I Calculate My Chinese Age?

To calculate your Chinese age, find the Chinese lunar years corresponding to the current Gregorian year and your birth year, then follow the next formula:

Lunar Age = current year in Chinese lunar calendar – your birth year in Chinese lunar calendar + 1.

So, if you were born in 1995 on the Gregorian calendar, the corresponding year on the lunar calendar would be 4693. And 2023 on the Gregorian calendar would be equivalent to the year 4721 on the lunar calendar. Hence your Chinese age would be: (4721-4693)+1= 29. As you can see, your Chinese age can also be easily calculated by adding 1 to your current age.

You may refer to the following chart to find out the current year and your birth year on the Chinese calendar.

Gregorian Calendar Year Corresponding
Chinese Lunar Calendar Year
2023 4721
2022 4720
2021 4719
2020 4718
2019 4717
2018 4716
2017 4715
2016 4714
2015 4713
2014 4712
2013 4711
2012 4710
2011 4709
2010 4708
2009 4707
2008 4706
2007 4705
2006 4704
2005 4703
2004 4702
2003 4701
2002 4700
2001 4699
2000 4698
1999 4697
1998 4696
1997 4695
1996 4694
1995 4693
1994 4692
1993 4691
1992 4690
1991 4689
1990 4688
1989 4687
1988 4686
1987 4685
1986 4684
1985 4683
1984 4682
1983 4681
1982 4680
1981 4679
1980 4678
1979 4677
1978 4676
1977 4675
1976 4674
1975 4673
1974 4672
1973 4671
1972 4670
1971 4669
1970 4668
1969 4667
1968 4666
1967 4665
1966 4664
1965 4663
1964 4662

For accurate calculations, you can use online Chinese age calculators to convert your Gregorian age to your Chinese age based on your birthdate.

What Are Auspicious and Inauspicious Birthdays in Chinese Culture?

In Chinese culture, some birthdays are considered lucky, while others are deemed unlucky:
Auspicious Birthdays: Birthdays that end in numbers considered lucky, such as 8 (it sounds like the Chinese word for wealth) and 9, are considered fortunate. For example, the 18th, 28th, 29th, and so on are often celebrated with extra enthusiasm.
Inauspicious Birthdays: Birthdays that end in numbers associated with bad luck, like 4 (which has a similar pronunciation to the word for death), are generally avoided. The 14th, 24th, and 34th birthdays, for instance, are believed to bring misfortune.

Which Birthdays Are Important in Chinese Culture?

Certain birthdays are more significant and come with special traditions:

Baby's First Birthday (满月 - mǎnyuè): The first month birthday, often celebrated with a red egg ceremony, marks a child's first milestone.
60th Birthday: The 60th birthday is considered a major milestone and is often celebrated with a grand party.
70th Birthday: This birthday holds a special place as it represents long life and good fortune. It is a time for family gatherings and celebrations.

What Are Some Good Chinese Birthday Gifts?

In Chinese culture, thoughtful and meaningful gifts are highly appreciated.

Common Chinese birthday gifts include:
Red Packets (红包 - hóngbāo): Containing money for blessings and good luck.
Fruits: Especially those with lucky associations, like oranges and tangerines.
Longevity Gifts: Such as calligraphy with auspicious characters.
Jewelry: Gold and jade jewelry symbolizing wealth and protection.

Chinese Birthday Vocabulary

Chinese character Pinyin Meaning
生日快乐 shēngrì kuàilè Happy Birthday
红包 hóngbāo Red Envelope
农历 nónglì Lunar Calendar
生肖 shēngxiào Zodiac Sign
吉利 jílì Auspicious
不吉利 bù jílì Inauspicious
Good fortune
祝你健康长寿 zhù nǐ jiàn kāng cháng shòu Wishing you good health and longevity


Chinese birthdays are a fascinating blend of tradition, superstition, and celebration. They offer a unique perspective on the passage of time and the importance of family and cultural heritage. So, whether you're counting your Western age or your Chinese age, each birthday is an opportunity to appreciate the cultural richness of Chinese traditions. Happy celebrating!

About the Author

Sara Tao is a Chinese language and culture enthusiast who enjoys sharing her learning journey via Instagram (@saratao_chinese).

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