USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘noodles’
Foodways
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese birthday noodles

INFO:
The informant’s parents would make her noodles on her birthday. No particular kind — just any sort of Asian noodles (not spaghetti) in soup, with no particular seasonings.

You have to eat noodles on your birthday and you can’t bite them — they symbolize long life, so don’t literally cut it short.

BACKGROUND:
There are a lot of noodle dishes in Asian culture, and the correlation between the long noodles and the idea of longevity is one that’s very prominent in Asian food cultures.

The informant’s parents would make her noodles on her birthday. No particular kind — just any sort of Asian noodles (not spaghetti) in soup, with no particular seasonings.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
I also grew up in a Chinese household, but I never heard the story about the noodles in the context of birthdays, only in general. It’s interesting to see how even when I’ve engaged with a particular piece of folklore, there is still variation in how that piece is presented.

general

“Don’t break off your noodles when you’re eating them.”

Informant: William Lam
Nationality: Chinese
Primary Language: English; Other Language: Mandarin
Age: 24
Occupation: Student
Residence: Pomona

“Don’t break off your noodles when you’re eating them.”
William told me that his family has always abided by the rule of not breaking off noodles when eating them. He said that he and his family believe that noodles represent lifelines, and breaking them off will mean their lives are going to be cut short as well.
Chinese people think of longevity as a very important concept, so anything that will harm their longevity will be avoided. This is probably why noodles, which represent life, are not cut short by being broken off. As William informs me, noodles are often symbols of life and are eaten to increase the length of life.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Ritual – Chinese

Notes:

Every birthday the subject eats either a meal of noodles or one single noodle. The noodle symbolizes good luck for the upcoming year. The subject’s mother also practices this ritual on her own birthday as well as the subject’s grandmother. The subject say’s that she learned the ritual from her mother and that the ritual stems from a “Chinese tradition rooted in one [their] staple foods.”

The ritual of eating noodles is very important to the subject in that she has repeated the ritual every year since the age of three. To prove this point, during my conversation with the subject she remembered that she had forgotten to eat a noodle on her birthday (just two days prior). She immediately prepared Ramen noodles and ate them.

When asked if she actually believed that something bad would happen to her if she did not eat a noodle/noodles on her birthday she said no but she has not gone through a birthday before without eating noodles and would “rather not risk it.”

It is also important to note that the variety of noodle does not matter (i.e. egg noodles, spaghetti, rice noodles, glass noodles, etc.) According to the subject, it is the act of eating anything “noodle like” on one’s birthday that is important. Upon further research the length of the noodles can also be a factor in whether the person will live a long life.

Folk Beliefs
general

Folk Belief – Chinese

“Noodles are a sign of longevity”

Ashley learned this superstition on the morning of her 7th birthday when her mom handed her a bowl of noodles to eat rather than the traditional eggs and bacon. When she commented on this change, her mom explained that noodles were a sign of longevity, and that it was custom for people to eat noodles on their birthday each year.  In China, it is believed that eating noodles will bring health and good luck upon the person for the following year and ensure him a long life.  The long and even noodles endow a long and consistent life without pauses or struggles to the eater.  Therefore, it is considered bad luck for an individual to cut the noodle strands while eating them.  He must instead consume the entire strands without breaking them.

This idea is similar to the belief that exists in Korea.  Long noodles represent a long and healthy life while characterizing consistent times.  Just as in China, where individuals eat noodles on their birthday, noodles play a significant role on birthdays in Korea.  In Korean tradition, gifts are endowed upon a child on his first birthday ranging from creativity to prosperity.  Several items representing different gifts, among them noodles, are placed in front of the child, and the child is given the chance to grasp one of these items.  If he picks up the bunch of noodles, it is believed that he will live a long and healthy life.  Therefore, the idea persists, in Korean culture as well as Chinese, that noodles are symbols of longevity and consistency.

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