Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chinese New Years

In the United States, we celebrate the New Years on January 1st every year based on the Gregorian calendar. However, the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival is celebrated based on the first day of the lunar calendar. This year, the Spring Festival, which how it is referred to in China (Chun Jie) falls on February 3rd. The importance of family and friends makes the Spring festival so important to the Chinese. This year, an estimated 230 million people will be traveling in what is sometimes termed the “biggest annual human migration”.  On the eve of the New Years, there is a large family dinner in which the foods served have symbolism in itself.

Noodles à in serving uncut noodles, it represents a long life. My mom used to serve noodles for this same reason on my sibling and my birthday
Fish à prosperity and ‘surpluses’, amassing fortunes
Oranges à luck, fortune, and prosperity
Dumplings àresemble some ancient Chinese coins, plus just a really common food that the Chinese eat. Whenever I am home for any break, my mom cooks a lot of dumplings
Niangao àeating this food is supposed to bring in a more prosperous year. It is a combination of glutinous rice, wheat starch, salt, water, and sugar
Some of the food eaten during Chinese New Year

There are much more food that are eaten during this period, but these are the main foods served. Some other foods served include eggs, lychee, peanuts, pomelo, seeds, chicken, assorted cakes, etc… The whole purpose of this dinner and for the Spring Festival is to bring in a more prosperous year.

The next day (New Year’s day), everyone goes about visiting family and friends, beginning with those who they are most close with. My mom told me that this period of visitation was like an open house party, with the doors always open, and people coming in and out. For the children, they would receive money in red envelopes from the elders in the family. In Chinese culture, red is the symbol of luck, and has been constantly identified with China since ancient times. When I was younger, my parents would give us packets of money in red envelopes on Chinese New Year. At the time, I didn’t really understand why they were doing so, except that I enjoyed having money to spend. 
Red Envelope that money is given

Another aspect of the Spring Festival that is important is the decorations and festivities involved. When my mother was younger, fireworks were common as a means for celebration (not the huge fireworks that you see at Disney but the small everyday fireworks), however some places, especially urban areas, have banned fireworks/firecrackers in portions of the city (of course they aren’t always strictly regulated). The importance of fireworks in historical context is that it was meant to drive out evil spirits, but in its modern evolution, fireworks are significant as a way to express joy and the New Year. Like the red packets of money, most fireworks are rolled in red paper.

From this video, one can perhaps see why firecrackers are banned in certain places.

Flowers à  there are many flowers that are used for the New Years. Some are used to symbolize luck, like that of the Plum Blossom, while others like the kumquat symbolizes prosperity.
Lanterns à lanterns used are red and oval in shape
Dragon dance and Lion Dance à most common dances that are used to evict evil spirits, and often time are accompanied by loud drum beats and cymbals

The Spring Festival does not just end after the first day, but lasts another 15 days until the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the New Years. During the lantern festival, families walk the streets carrying lanterns as a way to guide spirits. I have never actually participated in most of these celebrations, but there are now many sources that show that the younger Chinese generation would rather surf the net, watch TV, and hang out with friends than spend time with family during this time of family.

The Lantern Festival in Taiwan

Days of the Spring Festival
Day 1 à visiting of friends and family, giving of red envelopes, and welcoming of the new year
Day 2 à families pray to ancestors; dogs are treated very well as it is thought that it is the birth of dogs
Day 3 and 4 à son-in-laws pay respect to parent-in-laws
Day 5 à no socialization as it will bring bad luck
Day 6- 10à more visitation of family and friends. On the 7th day, noodles are eaten to promote longevity. On day 8, prayers are made to Tian Gong, and on day 9, offerings to the Jade Emperor
Day 10-12 à friends and family are invited for dinner
Day 13 à day in which one eats simple food
Day 14 à preparation for the Lantern Festival
Day 15 à Lantern Festival

The Spring Festival brings about a new year and a hope for prosperity and health, and under the Chinese Zodiac, a new animal for the year, but this topic I will discuss in a later post.