The birth of a child has always been a critical part of Chinese life, especially during the decades of the one child policy. Although many ancient traditions have evolved, a number of traditions around pregnancy and birth persist throughout modern China. Besides the actual birth, 1 month 满月 (mǎnyuè), 100 days 百日 (bǎirì), and 1 year are the most important milestones for a baby and are celebrated in different ways by the family.
The biggest celebration, 满月 (mǎnyuè), happens one month after the child is born. During the first month, both the baby and mother are considered at risk of getting sick since their immune systems are weakened. Therefore, mother and baby must stay at home, preventing exposure to germs and eating foods that restore strength and health. After one month at home, the baby is formally introduced to the extended family and friends at a party, either at the family’s home or, more often now, at a restaurant or banquet hall.
As with many celebrations, people bring red envelopes with money 红包 (hóngbāo) to give to the baby. However, even more symbolic than the red envelopes are the red eggs served at a 1 month party. Boiled eggs are dyed red for good luck and their round shape symbolizes harmony. Giving and eating red eggs celebrates the good fortune of the baby surviving its first month. For a baby boy, an odd number of eggs should be served, and for a baby girl, an even number.
Other traditions for celebrating a new baby include cutting the baby’s hair, learning to walk, and the type of gifts that people give the baby. The first haircut is done either for the 1 month or 100 days celebration. Cutting the baby’s hair gives it a fresh start. Traditionally parents shaved the baby’s head but now people often just trim the hair. A lock of hair is often kept to protect the baby, sewn into a pouch on its pillow or other meaningful place.
Red eggs are the most iconic present for a new baby. The eggs are sometimes substituted with circular cakes, sweets, bread, or rice balls these days. Jewelry is also a popular gift for babies, giving them wealth and good fortune now and symbolizing their later success in their life. Jade bracelets are especially popular and used to be worn around the baby’s wrist especially as they started to walk. It was thought that if the baby falls, the jade bracelet will break before their body is hurt.
No matter what customs are followed by Chinese families these days, the birth of a baby is still the most important and celebrated event in a family’s life and is celebrated by everyone.