Chinese Birth Celebration Tradition, Custom, Rite, and Cultural Meaning.
What are Traditional Birth Celebrations in China?
Birth celebrations in ancient China include a series of customs and rites, from pregnancy to the newborn's one-year-old birthday.
Officially formed in Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC) and spread from nobles to civilians, people would hold rites for a newborn on the birth day, three days after birth, one month, a hundred days, and one-year-old birthday.
Some details have been simplified or adjusted throughout history, but the main ceremonies are inherited well.
Today, besides birthdays, full month and a hundred days celebrations are still common in China.
Preparations and Birth Celebration
In some places, after a new couple found out their pregnant news, the father would write two names, one boy and one girl, and the mother would put it into a red envelope and seal it.
After the baby was born, the father would hang a bow on the left side of the door if it's a boy, or hang a scarf or fabric belt on the right side if it’s a girl.
Then, the parents would open the prepared red envelope together and tell the baby his or her name, some people could name the baby on this day too.
Afterward, the husband would bring some gifts (varies in different places and dynasties of China), first to his in-laws and then to his own parents, to share the good news.
Three Days Celebration or San Zhao Li
The rite that is held on the 3rd day of the baby's birth is named San Zhao or Xi San, the day to bathe the newborn and pray for a healthy life and future.
In this ceremony, the newborn's parents and close relatives would put different herbs and money, representing health and wealth, into the bathwater, and talk auspicious words when bathing the baby.
Newborn's parents' close friends would bring gifts to participate, some well-educated ones would write beautiful poems too.
The baby's mother's parents would also send presents with auspicious meanings on this ceremony, such as clothes, jewelry, peanut, and cakes.
If the newborn is a boy, he will be brought out, and watching his father use a ritual bow and shoot arrows to heaven, earth, and four directions, represents the baby boy would grow into an ambitious man, who pursues his great dreams all over the big world.
Full Month Celebration or Man Yue Li
Full Month Celebration or Man Yue is an important rite of birth celebration in China till today, though with different details and procedures.
One month after the baby’s birth, the parents would light incense and inform their ancestors about the newborn, which is not widely followed nowadays.
In some places, the newborn would have his or her hair shaved for the first time.
Introducing the baby to everyone, however, has always been the most important part.
Usually, the mother would take the baby out to meet all the guests, while the father would put a jade pendant on him/her, and tell everyone about the baby’s name and meaning.
Together, the parents would show their baby where is heaven, earth, four directions, relatives, and close friends.
After all ceremonies, there always would be a Full Month Banquet, when guests would give gifts to the newborn.
A Hundred Days Celebration or Bai Ri Li
The 100 days celebration is to put on patchwork clothes and longevity lock to the baby, on the 100th day of his or her birth.
Patchwork Clothes or Bai Jia Yi is to get fabric scraps from 100 other families and to sew into clothes for the newborn.
It represents best wishes and luck from 100 other families.
Chinese Patchwork Clothes or Bai Jia Yi of Early 20th Century — Minority Garments and Decorations Museum of Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology
Longevity Lock or Chang Ming Suo, made of silver, gold, or jade, is usually given by the baby's grandparents or godparents.
A longevity lock means to lock all good luck for the newborn, usually carves auspicious words on one side, and lucky patterns on the other side.
Gilding Silver Longevity Lock of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
First Birthday and the Draw Lots
On the baby’s first birthday, Draw Lots or One-Year-Old Catch, in Chinese named Zhua Zhou, is a very important activity.
Formed no later than Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 — 589), the Draw Lots ceremony has been believed can show the baby's future, personality, and hobby.
On the newborn's one-year-old birthday, after showering and putting new clothes on the baby, the parents would put him or her in the Draw Lots place, a spacious room with Draw Lots objects set in a circle.
Generally, those objects should have similar sizes and should be things that the baby had never played with or seen before, to make sure it’s fair.
Then, the baby will be put in the middle, to see which one he or she would grab.
Common Draw Lots objects including book, pen, seal, money, food, ruler, sword, fabric, instrument, painting brush, toy, sports goods, some also would add modern things like a keyboard.
After this ceremony, a banquet is usually held to celebrate the baby's first birthday, when some people would let the baby taste a little bit of grownup's food, representing the tasting of life.
Till then, the whole welcome process of a newborn is officially completed.
What to Give for Newborn's Birth Celebrations?
Today, except for very close friends and relatives, people usually won't be invited to all celebration rites of a newborn. In general, a parent would hold a big celebration banquet either on Full Month, or 100 Days, or One-Year-Old Birthday.
Money in a red envelop is the most common gift for birth celebrations, which the parents can use to buy whatever they want.
The amount of numbers depends on one's closeness to the baby's parents, usually auspicious integer numbers.
Decent gifts like toys and jewelry are also good ideas, but it is always important to know those are things the parents actually want.
You Might Also Like: