One day I got out of class and my loving caring boyfriend was outside the building waiting for me. He smiles and tells me that it is his birthday.
How could I possibly be such a horrible girlfriend to forget my boyfriend’s birthday? Then after going through my mental organizer I recall my loving boyfriend’s birthday is in July and do a quick recheck of the current date and time being no where near July. What is going on and why has this happened every year since?
It is true that different cultural customs surround birthdays, but the biggest challenge to any foreigner trying to celebrate a Chinese birthday is figuring out when it is! There are two calendar systems in China, the traditional Chinese calendar and the western one with which most of us are more familiar. Many Chinese people ignore the western calendar completely, and some ignore the Chinese calendar completely. Most, however, do not acknowledge their birthday on the western calendar. This is very important to remember if you ever see a fortune teller in China, they need your Chinese birthday!
So what this means to us foreigners living in China is that when someone tells you their birthday is in July or September, their birthday may very well show up in October.
With casual acquaintances a “happy birthday” on the western birthdate can suffice, but when the Chinese birthday you are preparing for is your husband’s it complicates things. Every year there is guilt when my husband receives birthday wishes from his family and friends and I am none the wiser. He does not blame me, mostly because birthdays are not a big deal to most Chinese people until they are old enough to have grandchildren, but birthdays are important in my culture.
So I try to make a big deal out of what I believe to be his “real” birthday, the one on the western calendar. After a few years of doing this, I am about ready to give up. He seems to lack the enthusiasm one should have for a birthday. I am not sure if this is because:
A) He has already celebrated one birthday that year
B) He does not believe the day to be his true birthday
C) Birthday parties are for the old and respected (Chinese youth celebrating birthdays is actually a more modern trend)
Forcing someone to eat noodles and cake is never a good idea.
My suggestion to all those trying to surprise a Chinese friend or loved one on their birthday, learn to read a Chinese calendar.