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Wednesday, December 5th 2018


Chinese Birthdays

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Not reported
  • IN THE BACKDROP: furnace noises

So, yes, you're eyes are not deceiving you. I'm going to give the old blog another try. Sometimes it's easier to develop a thought without the confinement of little narrow comment windows. Also, sometimes I want to exhume the creativity I used to draw on in the good old days of my blog.

I have accidentally deleted a number of entries from 2017, not that there were all that many. Regardless, once more, here's an attempt at a new start. For now, if I stick with it, the rebeginning will basically be simple answers to good questions, but who knows where it may go once I get into it. 

Chinese Birthdays

In a recent post on FB, I alluded to the Chinese way of counting birthdays, and a dear friend told me that she found it confusing. I don't blame her because it involves a different way of numbering years than we non-Chinese are used to. However, once you make one particular switch, it does make sense.

Insofar as I may speak for us Westerners, we count years in the same way as we count socks. We start with zero socks, and then every successive sock gets its number. So, this would be five socks, or, in the spirit of the season, Christmas stockings:

5 socks

I can't really imagine how or why we might chance upon half a Christmas stocking, but if that would occur, we would not have six stockings, but only 5 1/2.

Five and a half socks

We Westerners use the common "counting numbers," or cardinal numbers for collections and ages. As long as you don't have the entirety of something, you can't give it credit with a whole number. A boy may proudly inform his grandmother that he's no longer 5 years old, but 5 1/2, and that's fine. But in our system he would be wrong if he said that he was 6.

However, when Chinese people talk about their age they express it in terms of chronological rankings. Someone who has just been born has entered the first year of their life. The difference is though that, according to the Chinese way of counting, this means that the infant is one year old. That takes getting used to. Sticking with the Christmas stocking motif, this is how it goes.

5socks with ordinal numbers

Then, when we add the mysterious half-sock, we have a sixth one, and, even though it is not yet present in its entirety, it is still number six and should be counted as number 6. In application, if the child is 5 1/2 years old by our standard, he is in his sixth year and therefore is considered to be six according to Chinese traditional reckoning.

6 socks Chinese style

Furthermore, according to Chinese tradition, people don't get a year older on the annual repetition of their birthday. It's much easier here. Everybody can count themselves a year older on Chinese New Year. The New Year of the Chinese lunar calendar falls into late January or early February of our solar calendar. There are numerous traditions connected to it. They vary regionally, including gift-giving, visiting relatives, and eating special foods. I had the privilege one year to partake of "wax duck," which tasted just about the way it sounds, viz. "waxy" and "ducky." For our purposes here, the most important custom is that everyone can count themselves a year older come New Year's celebration.

So, the following scenario is not at all unlikely. Let's say that a baby will be born today on December 5, 2018. It's her first year of life, so the answer to the question, "How old are you?" would be "1" if she could speak. Well, New Year's is just around the corner; on February 16, 2019, the present "year of the dog" will be finished, and the "year of the pig" will commence. Our little baby girl, along with the rest of the traditional Chinese population will be deemed one year older. So, she will have been one year old from December 5 of this year through February 15 next year and then will turn two on February 16.

2 Comment(s).

Posted by Winfried Corduan:

Hm. We age without even realizing it. :)
Thursday, December 6th 2018 @ 17:15

Posted by jimm wetherbee:

Perhaps I am just being contrary, but I've been saying that I am in my 60th year for the past five and a half months (which conventionally would make me 59). So, if we use the civil calendar, I would be in my 61st year come January and if the liturgical calendar, I would be in my 61st year now. Cool.:)
Thursday, December 6th 2018 @ 10:32