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Wine at Birthday Banquets

2020-03-19

Longevity is something Chinese people have always desired the most. According to Hong Fan in Shang Shu, 'Of the five good fortunes, longevity should be given the most priority.` Therefore, birthday celebration has been a customary practice for the Chinese people, though there is something special about it in Shaoxing. Shaoxing people believe that a birthday banquet should be organized when one is a decade or decades old. This has been been generally accepted. As a saying goes, 'The 10th birthday should be marked at the maternal grandma's, and the 20th at the mother-in-law's; while the 30th should be marked, the 40th neglected; the 50th should be marked by oneself, and the 60th by his/her sons and grandsons; the 70th and 80h are occasions to celebrate.' At the 10th or 20th birthday, either the grandma's or the mother in-law's should prepare such gifts as robes, the Four Treasures, in the Study, and buns; homage should be paid to deities so as to pray for blessings for the birthday person. Though he or she may not be qualified' to celebrate the birthday, since he or she is an even decade or two even decades old, the occasion must be marked. Thirty is an age of established standing, hence the 30 birthday should be celebrated. Since the number 40 (si shi in Chinese) is not auspicious because it has often associated unfavorably with 'death' (si), the 40th birthday is never observed. As the saying goes, 'Seventy is a rare age since ancient times`. In the past, 70 and 80 were regarded ages hard to reach. If the birthday person has many offspring and an affluent, family, grand banquets may be thrown to treat relatives and friends and receive their congratulations. In Shaoxing, people are rather particular about these occasions. Not only good wine is provided, but also longevity peaches, longevity buns and longevity noodles should be made of grains in proper numbers -SO that the birthday person may have all the earthly bliss- and sent to all the folks and neighbors. His or her sons or grandsons, wherever they are, should manage to return home and pay homage. Then a group photo of the entire extended family will be taken. Four or five generations in a common hall' is regarded as the greatest of domestic bliss.

Birthdays are generally celebrated every ten years. However, in Shaoxing, they may also be celebrated when the birthday person is 9, 19, 29...years old, because ancient Chinese believed that 9 was a positive number' and an extreme. Birthdays celebrated in this way may harbinger the next one. For example, at the 69th birthday, the 70th is celebrated in advance; at the 79th, the 80th. Birthdays after 80 and 90 years old are to be celebrated on an annual basis. It is generally known that presents for most occasions cannot be made up for (if you do, the receiver will see this as inauspicious), but birthday presents are an exception, because Shaoxing people believe that birthday presents sent afterwards are a sign that they will live longer, which is a great relief and comfort for the old birthday person. There is a saying in Shaoxing, which goes, `The old and the young celebrate birthdays with different wishes`.

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