Mom’s birthday banquet

Saturday, November 4th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Events, Family, Friends

I messed up.

A bit of background: On all of my mother’s U.S. government-issued identification — driver license, passport, etc. — her date of birth is listed as September 24, 1946. This is not her birthdate. September 24 is the Gregorian calendar conversion of her actual birthdate, which was on the 24th day of the 9th lunar month. For those unfamiliar, the Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, i.e., it incorporates elements of both lunar and solar calendars. (The only widely used purely lunar calendar is the Islamic calendar, whose year always consists of 12 lunations.) Although the Gregorian calendar is used by Chinese in day-to-day life, the Chinese calendar is firmly entrenched in the culture; it is used to determine the dates for traditional holidays like Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival, and in astrology to select auspicious dates for important events like a wedding, a funeral or a business venture. In the Chinese calendar, the first day of the month is determined by the arrival of the new moon. The length of the month will vary between 29 and 30 days.

The Chinese calendar dates do not correspond to the dates on the Gregorian calendar from year to year; Chinese New Year (i.e., first day of the first lunar month) can fall anywhere between January 21 and February 20. In years past, trying to figure out Mom’s birthday would involve tracking down a Chinese calendar, and studying it to determine the date that year. The advent of the Internet has made this annual research somewhat easier, but… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The 60th is a milestone birthday in most cultures, so the family wanted to celebrate accordingly. At minimum, this involved the “children” all gathered in one place, which given the geographical distance and punishing work schedules, required quite a bit of advance planning. A few strokes of the keyboard and — Eureka! — I hit upon the official governmental Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) site for handy Gregorian-Lunar conversions — a quick reference to the years from 1901 to 2100. I clicked on 2006 to find the Gregorian calendar date corresponding to the 24th day of the 9th lunar month.

If you looked at the 2006 calendar, you may have noticed, as I did, that the 7th lunar month is repeated: 6th, 7th, 7th, 8th, 9th. I assumed this was an error, so made the adjustment accordingly. The 24/9 (on the calendar as 24/8) would fall on October 15. I sent the word out, and work schedules and tentative celebrations were planned accordingly.

What is the old saw about why one should never ass-u-me?

Had I done a little more research, I would have learned that each lunisolar year has 12 regular months, which are numbered in sequence (1 to 12). However, because a solar year does not have a whole number of lunar months, a lunisolar calendar must have a variable number of months in a year. There needs to be an adjustment every second or third year to keep in sync with the seasons. The adjustment is made in the form of an intercalary or embolismic month — something like a “leap month” — which may come after any regular month. It has the same number as the preceding regular month, but is designated intercalary. For 2006-2007, there are effectively 13 months.

It seems that the Hong Kong Observatory official Gregorian-Lunar calendar was correct in repeating that 7th intercalary month. Mom’s 60th birthday would be on November 14 — not October 15.

So I messed up.

J clued me into this discrepancy when she did her own — accurate — research. Mea culpas (mine) and mad schedule scrambling (theirs) followed, but in the end, since Mom hadn’t wanted an elaborate birthday blowout, I was spared at least from having to recall dozens of mailed invitations — for the second time in two years.

The family plus a few special guests gathered on Saturday night for a traditional Chinese banquet at East Manor in Elmhurst. Longtime friends ML and LL were in town visiting my parents from Vancouver — and also celebrating a birthday — so it became a joint celebration. We made the arrangements in advance, and the restaurant was able to put us in a private curtained area, set off from the fountain wall and familiar-looking ceiling mural. (Egads!)

East Manor

Food, glorious food. We started off with plates of Chinese cold cuts, bitter melon and jellyfish…


…followed by suckling pig…

Suckling Pig

… baked scallops on the half shell, with sea cucumber and other seafood…


…jumbo prawns (love the candied walnuts!), braised whole abalone with chinese mushrooms, crispy-fried whole chicken, sauteed lobsters, a whole steamed fish, and of course, my favorite: shark fin soup with crab meat.

After all these courses, we finished off the meal with giant platters of E-Fu longevity noodles and a dried fish and scallop fried rice, which was really quite delicious, despite the chef’s sneaky inclusion of golden raisins, which I abhor under almost all circumstances.

Three varieties of sweet dessert soup, and a plate of these lotus seed-paste filled longevity buns — the traditional Chinese birthday bun in the shape of a peach.

Longevity Bun

Our own Western touch: birthday cake. Well, not entirely Western: it was green-tea flavored.

Happy Birthday Mom

From now on, I’ve proposed that we celebrate Mom’s birthday on October 18 — which corresponds to the Gregorian calendar date in 1946. Though perhaps we should get second party confirmation on that.

There are 3 Comments ... Mom’s birthday banquet

November 12, 2006

Lemonade, lemonade. Now we know all about the “intercalary or embolismic month”. 😉

November 12, 2006

And henceforth, I will be using the term “intercalary day” to refer to February 29. Can’t wait for 2008.

November 18, 2006

So October18 is another date I’ll log in my mind, just like 1/4, 6/20, 8/20, 8/27, 12/5….

Go for it ...