Red Egg and Ginger Party 紅雞蛋
Reaching 100 days, in Chinese culture, is a milestone in a child's life.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
A red egg and ginger party is an age-old tradition to welcome a new baby.
A newborn baby is truly a bundle of joy! Sharing the happy news is something parents relish the world over, whether it’s sending a birth announcement in the mail, posting photos online, or gathering friends and family to welcome the little one’s arrival.
In China, proud parents go the extra mile by hosting a jubilant red egg and ginger party when the baby is a month old. It’s a cherished celebration steeped in tradition, dating back to ancient times when infant mortality numbers were high. The notion still reigns today, honoring the belief that surviving the first month of life is a strong indicator of a healthy future.
Depending on how mother and baby are doing, some families might schedule the party at 100 days or even wait until the first birthday to bring folks together. There’s a bit of wiggle room when it comes to the calendar, as long as the party doesn’t go beyond 12 months. This is a very important milestone in a child’s life.
It can be a simple gathering at home or an elaborate gala at a restaurant, banquet hall, or community center. Platters of red hard-boiled eggs and pickled ginger grace the center of each table, while the room is decorated with festive red and gold banners and balloons.
Red is a popular color in China, symbolizing success, happiness, good luck, and fortune. It represents celebration, vitality, and fertility, and a defense against evil spirits. The baby will surely be dressed in a new red outfit, and family and friends will wear something in crimson to honor the occasion.
Eggs hold a special symbolic significance, too — a promise of unity, fertility, and a good start in life. They’re an essential ingredient in many Chinese dishes such as egg drop soup, egg foo yung, steamed pork in egg custard, and an Asian staple, fried rice with bits of scrambled egg mixed in with chopped vegetables.
Another popular item on the menu is a serving of crispy egg rolls that resemble the shape of a gold bar, portraying a sign of wealth and prosperity — a favorite food on many special occasions, including a baby’s first party.
The pickled ginger honors the mother, recognizing the need for bringing the body back in balance after childbirth. It’s believed that if everyone at the celebration bites a bit of ginger, a circle of comfort will surround the family as they adjust to a new life in the household.
As guests arrive, they happily greet the parents and new baby with little red envelopes stamped in gold foil with flowers and the Chinese character for blessing, wishing the little one a life filled with happiness and abundance.
Grandparents or other revered family members will give a toast and most likely perform two ceremonial customs dating back to ancient times. He or she will take a red egg in each hand, rubbing them gently on the baby’s scalp to signify hope for a smooth, round-shaped head, followed by snipping a lock of hair for a keepsake, commemorating a child’s first haircut. Then the parents will mingle with the guests, personally introducing their new infant snuggled in their arms.
Hopefully, the little one will sleep contently during the festivities, and the new parents can look forward to many more “firsts” in their child’s life. Things are off to a good start!
Dyeing Red Eggs
Preparing the hard-boiled eggs for the party is a top priority. Fortunately, the restaurant or caterer will coordinate this task, but some families prefer to bring their own supply of eggs to the venue. Some will even host a pre-party get-together at home with friends to boil the water and set the dye.
Nowadays, it’s easy to use red food coloring or pre-packaged color tablets for dying Easter eggs, but many individuals prefer a more traditional ingredient — madder root.
Madder was used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans for coloring textiles. Cloth dyed with the pigment was found in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun and in the ruins of Pompeii and ancient Corinth. People throughout Europe and the Middle East were captivated by the vibrancy of the rich colors, using it to dye clothing, flags, rugs, and more. It was colorant used for the scarlet tunic jackets worn by the “Redcoats” of the British Army, Royal Marines, and some colonial units within the British Empire, from the 17th to the 20th centuries.
Rose madder (Rubia tinctorum), commonly known as common madder or dyer’s madder, is native to the Mediterranean but grows in temperate zones worldwide. The Rubiaceae family are flowering perennial plants also known as the coffee, madder, and bedstraw family. Some plants, such as lady’s and yellow bedstraw, have been used to stuff mattresses. It was believed to bring good luck to expectant mothers.
The dye is found in the long and deep roots that grow thicker and richer in color as the plant ages. Growing the plants and harvesting the roots is a time-consuming task, but fortunately, it’s easy to purchase madder root powder online or at local shops specializing in handcrafted supplies. Some spice shops may carry the powder, too.
It’s a fun project for both children and grownups. Start by using chilled hard-boiled eggs. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to dye.
- Combine one quart of water and two tablespoons white vinegar in a medium-size pot. (This can be doubled, depending on the number of eggs used.)
- Bring to a boil and add the powdered matter root — start by stirring in a teaspoon at a time. The more powder, the darker the color.
- Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool.
- Strain the dye and soak the eggs for at least an hour.
- For a more vibrant color, leave the eggs in the dye bath overnight in the refrigerator.
- Remove from dye bath and let dry. For a glossy sheen, add just a few drops of cooking oil to a paper towel and gently rub each egg.
There’s something about the color red that lifts the spirit and brings vitality to the day, whether it’s a Chinese red egg and ginger party, a summer picnic, or a holiday meal. It’s about celebrating the moment and being together!
紅雞蛋 Learn more about Red Egg and Ginger Parties!
- Mama Cheung Cooks talks about Chinese red dye eggs (with English subtitles).
- A Chinese American couple, Darwin and Wendy Lui, hold a party for their son, Everett, in this YouTube video.
- Read about customs and ideas for throwing your own celebration, with the Red Egg and Ginger Party blog.
Originally published in the February/March 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.