Birthdays are special occasions that hold a great deal of meaning for many people. Often a time of celebration, a birthday also offers a chance for renewal and reinvigoration as we aspire to greater things and look forward to a bright year ahead. It also represents an opportunity to reflect and have our gratitude grow for the joys and blessings in our lives.
For the ancient Chinese people, this annual occasion occurred not only on the anniversary of their birth but also on another special day known as renri, which falls on the seventh day of the Chinese New Year.
Literally “Human Day,” renri is the day on which it is said that the goddess Nü Wa created human beings. Also called the Day of Humankind, renri is regarded in ancient Chinese tradition as the common “birthday” of all humans.
The custom of celebrating renri dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220). The 2016 Chinese New Year fell on Feb. 8, thus placing renri on Feb. 14.
According to one version of the ancient legend, Nü Wa came to the world many thousands of years after the god Pan Gu created the world.
Pan Gu had himself worked tirelessly for many thousands of years, standing between the sky and the Earth and pushing them farther and farther apart as his body grew larger and larger. After the separation of sky and Earth became stable, Pan Gu fell down exhausted. He went to sleep and never awoke.
When he died, he dedicated his entire body to the world’s future beings. For example, his head transformed into mountains, his eyes formed the sun and moon, his hair turned into plants and trees, and his blood became the oceans.
Creation of Human Beings
Then Nü Wa appeared, and it is believed that she first made six animals and then created human beings.
From the first to the sixth day of the Chinese New Year, she created the chicken, dog, boar, sheep, cow, and horse.
Then on Day 7, Nü Wa sat by the edge of a pond and, looking at her own reflection, began to mix clay with water to create small figures in her own image, both males and females.
She blew her breath upon the figures before placing them on the ground, thus giving them souls, and was delighted when they became alive.
Every day Nü Wa made more human beings and cherished them. She imparted wisdom to them and created musical instruments so that they could make music and express themselves through dance and song.
This paved the way for human culture to develop, whereby people were able to properly govern themselves and continue to improve their lives.
To ensure that humans lived on after the elderly died from old age, Nü Wa established the system of marriage so that men and women could live together and start families. In this way, human beings were able to sustain their own existence generation after generation.
The number of lives went on to become countless. Each has its own story, much like the lives unfolding in a vivid cherished novel.
So renri is not only a festival to wish a happy birthday to all of humankind, it is also a time to commemorate Nü Wa with a deep sense of gratitude.
Human Day is also a reminder for human beings to live by upright principles as good people, and to treasure their relationships and other lives, so as to honour their creator and indeed humankind’s own creation.