National Zoo’s Bei Bei panda celebrates 1st birthday

Bei Bei enjoying his first birthday celebration this morning at National Zoo. He turns one on Monday.
Bei Bei forcing his mom to play during his birthday celebration at the National Zoo.
Mom picks Love and Friendship flag for Bei Bei during Chinese first birthday ceremony National Zoo.

WASHINGTON — It’s time to celebrate, panda-style, as the National Zoo and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China host a special ceremony specifically tailored for a giant panda cub to celebrate Bei Bei’s first birthday.

Historically, the Chinese hold a Zhuazhou to honor a baby’s first birthday, where symbolic items are placed in front of the baby with the items that the baby chooses foretelling something about his or her future.

In this tradition, Bei Bei had three banners with painted symbols placed in his yard with different meanings to “choose from.” The poles were slathered with honey to coax the bears.

But Bei Bei, who actually turns one on Aug. 22,  was not cooperating.

He tried twice to go back indoors. Even the panda keepers tried to coax him down into his outdoor yard by calling his name. Then, when his mother Mei Xiang came out, he bounded down the yard after her.

Mei Xiang was the first to pick a symbolic sign for her cub, selecting “luck and friendship” for Bei Bei’s birthday bash.

Panda keeper Brandie Smith said Bei Bei will play an active role when he enjoys his birthday treat: a giant frozen fruit treat weighting nearly 100 pounds.

“It’s very healthy, and he likes to climb on it as much as he like to eat it,” Smith said.

One of the best parts of the birthday bash for this little cub was that he got his first real taste of honey.

After his mother selected her poster, she knocked it down so she could lick the honey off of the pole. Once she moved on to the next pole, little Bei Bei went in for seconds, getting his first taste of the sweet stuff.

“One of the most fun things about this is that we got to give him his first taste of honey, and he loved it,” says panda keeper Brandie Smith.

Saturday’s celebration included big frozen birthday treats for Bei Bei’s sister Bao Bao, whose birthday is on Tuesday, August 23, and their father, Tian Tian, whose birthday is next Saturday, August 27.

The guests were in on the celebration as well. Visitors were able to enjoy complimentary Dan Dan noodles on a first-come, first- serve basis during the event.

The Zoo streamed the Zhuazhou and frozen birthday cakes via Facebook Live.

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