Thursday, April 16, 2015

First First Birthday Bash: Zhua Zhou and Smash Cake

William's first birthday

Growing up, I didn't get a birthday party every year. In fact, I didn't get a birthday party most years. Now that I'm older, I get why my mom planned it this way. Birthday parties are a ton of work and if you aren't careful you will spend each year trying to outdo your last year's self while your children become less appreciative and more entitled. I've realized it's a slippery slope that may ultimately lead me to a nervous breakdown in a pile of crepe paper. No thanks.

Would you like some cake?
The situation in China is ideal for me, since birthdays aren't that big of a deal. As with Christmas, I am free to celebrate how I want. Ping has always gotten dinner, a few gifts, and a homemade cake for her big day. Nothing excessive. And I promised myself William's birthday would be equally as low-key. He's turning one for Pete's sake. It's not like he's going to remember it! This was all the practical side of me talking.

with mom
Then came out Mrs. Sentimental. . . . But he's turning one! This only happens once! And if we're really being honest, celebrating isn't really for his benefit, it's for ours. We deserve a cake and a couple of beers to celebrate that fact that we kept a tiny baby alive for twelve months without killing each other. So it was decided. Sentiment and beer won. First birthday festivities there would be, and not only that, they would happen twice. Such is the way in a country that can't decide which calendar to use--Gregorian (western calendar) or lunar.

First up, today, William's western birthday which I consider his Real Birthday (sssh, don't tell Chinese grandma). That falls, every year, on April 16th. Easy enough. But then there's his "Chinese birthday" which falls on the 17th day of the 3rd lunar month. Good luck figuring out when that is. I know this year it will fall sometime in May.

For his Real Birthday, we (I) decided to do a little East meets West. We were going to incorporate the centuries old Chinese tradition of zhua zhou (抓周, zhuā zhōu, meaning something along the lines of "first birthday grab") with the not-even-decade-old American tradition of the smash cake. Zhua zhou? Smash cake? For those unfamiliar, let me tell you more. . . .

William taking a break from zhua zhou

East: Zhua zhou is an ancient Chinese tradition that dates back to, well, I don't remember. As with pretty much everything in China, it has a long history that has evolved. In the past, zhua zhou was a big deal and believed to reveal an infant's personality traits and predict his future career. Today some people still do it, but just for fun. To practice zhua zhou, you set a number of select items in front of the baby, either on a tray or on the floor, and see which one he favors. Each item symbolizes a particular trait or career. William picked up many of the items, but he preferred the mandarin orange and a spoon. Much to his father's disappointment, he showed zero interest in money. But that's okay, because he still made a very wise decision in picking the mandarin. The Chinese word for mandarin orange (橘, jú) is a near-homophone for the word auspicious (吉, jí). Picking the orange is obviously very lucky. The spoon symbolizes a love for food and a possible career as a chef. For more information on zhua zhou, there is short but informative article here.
Cake and Smash Cake
West: Smash cake, I suppose it is pretty self-explanatory. You put a whole cake in front of your one-year-old baby and watch him smash it, smear it, and maybe even eat it. It's ridiculous and wasteful, but ultimately adorable. Plus, everyone's doing it these days. Some people buy elaborate cakes and hire photographers to choreograph the whole event. Though I would like to, I won't make fun of these people since I essentially did the same thing.

William's cakes were made by my incredibly talented friend, Miao Miao, who is the owner of Giraffe Cafe in Chengde. I gave her free creative reign over the cake decorating and she did not disappoint. The big cake (for the grown-ups to eat) features a horse banner, since William was born in the Year of the Horse. She also made a decorative William look-alike surrounded by gold ingots (元宝, yuánbǎo, a symbol of prosperity in China). Miao Miao also served as our photographer.

William's zhua zhou

William's Second First Birthday will be, as mentioned, in May. We won't be doing too much, most likely a lunch or dinner with family members which seems to be a pretty standard practice where we live. I hope to post some photos for that as well.

What about you? Do you celebrate any interesting birthday traditions? Have you ever celebrated a birthday in a foreign country?

cake smashing



Anonymous said...

LOL I loved this post! The inner struggle to even celebrate birthdays...haha!

These are really great photos and I am sure you will be happy to have these happy memories. He will to once he gets old enough to appreciate things.

Thanks for sharing with us!

Autumn said...

Those cakes are lovely! And I had never heard of the Zhua Zhou, that is quite interesting.

rosieinbj said...

Kimberly, thanks! My Chinese friend has taken a lot of his "nicer" photos (she has a great camera and a good eye). I feel very fortunate to have such nice baby pictures of him.

Autumn, aren't her cakes beautiful? My friend makes them by hand. I'm not sure where I heard of zhua zhou initially, but it was a fun thing to do and something different!

Anonymous said...

I think I had heard something about zhua zhou but didn't know the name or the details. Very interesting, hahaha.
I had also never heard of smash cake... I'm not sure how I would feel about it as I can only think of all the clothes I would need to wash later xD

When I was a kid my mom would organize a birthday party every year :) It would usually not be at home but at a café or a place like that and I would invite all my cousins and school friends haha. It was fun! And also an exhausting social activity as I also had to attend their birthday parties haha!

We don't have any special tradition, the only I can think of is that on your birthday people will pull your ear as many times as years you are turning... don't know if this is done in other countries.

William looks super cute in those clothes hahaha

Amy said...

So cute! I wish I could have been there! At Publix when you order a cake for the 1st birthday, they give you a free smash cake. That's the first time I had heard of a smash cake, so that's how we got ours! It would have been a waste of money, because mine seemed scared of it. We had to make them "smash" it. I love the zhua zhou thing. I think William made the right choice with the spoon, since he really does love food! Miss you guys!

rosieinbj said...

Marta, I never heard of birthday ear-pulling. Interesting. My PE teacher in grade school gave us birthday spankings. One spanking for each year. Looking back, that was pretty creepy. Luckily, my birthday was over winter break so I never got spanked!!

Amy, thanks for commenting. I miss you guys! I know giving away the smash cake is pretty common now. But some people buy REALLY elaborate ones. William was a little weary of the cake at first. He does love to eat, so eventually he figured it out!

Anonymous said...

Ahhhhh! Too much cuteness!!
Congratulations, that is one beautiful baby you have.

Constance - Foreign Sanctuary said...

The 'smack the cake' pictures of William are so cute. He looked like he had a ball getting his hands dirty. Many of my friends have done it with their kids and I just love the photos. And the picture of you with him is so beautiful – a precious memory for sure!!

I am glad you took the time to celebrate being parents. It is nice for you to reflect back and realize that you guys have also made it through the first year. Congratulations!

rosieinbj said...

Thanks Bigasian, I think he's pretty cute! But I guess that's my obligation as his mother. Haha.

Constance, I think this whole cake smashing thing is getting popular in the US. You're from Canada, right? Is it a trend there too?

Constance - Foreign Sanctuary said...

Yes, it is popular in Canada as well. Another thing that is becoming popular is 'trash the dress' [a popular name for a wedding photo shoot]. I know a couple of people who had a destination wedding at a beach resort and basically ruined their wedding dresses by getting in the water and rolling around on the sand. Sorry for the random info but I think 'smash the cake' is way more cheaper.

rosieinbj said...

Oh, no. Trash the dress? That just makes me sad. I don't think I could ever purposely ruin something so expensive, beautiful, and fraught with meaning. I haven't heard of that trend, but it's possible that's going on in the US too. I'm pretty behind on things. . . .

A poeng said...

Hi Rosie !
OMG what a cutie 1 yr old baby. looks like a million dollar outfit
all the photos are awesome.
the 4th photo from the top really stands out that looks like he got tired of waiting for his birthday cake to arrive. your friend did a fine job taking those photos.
Happy birthday William.
Thanks Rosie for posting the photos.

rosieinbj said...

Thanks Al. Luckily it was only a $10 outfit! He was really impatient waiting for the cake, but a little weary of it once we could actually touch it. :)

Constance - Foreign Sanctuary said...

I know! It is really sad to spend so much money on something just to destroy it for a photo opp. However, one of the brides I know bought two dresses - one to keep and one to trash.

I am actually way behind the times [I guess living in Asia does that]. However, thanks to facebook, I am more informed these past few years!

Mary said...

THOSE PHOTOS ARE SO CUTE! Oh my goodness I love his outfit it's adorable!!!! Awwww!!!!

I've never heard of zhua zhou before and that's super interesting!! Is there a certain set of items that they use in the modern era, or is it anything goes?

And yes, those cakes are super cute! Did you make them!?

rosieinbj said...

Mary, I think traditionally the items were pretty set, with different things used for boys (abacus, stamp, ink pad, book, coins, etc) and girls (scissors, thread, cooking utensils). I think now there is a lot more variation, but we tried to do traditional items.

rosieinbj said...

Oh and the cakes. . . they were made by my Chinese friend who runs a cafe here. She also took the photos at her cafe.