So this post is way overdue and old news at this point, but I figured I’d share it anyway. It is a part of my catch up series of posts from my past two blog-less months. Don’t worry, there are only three of them.
Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) is China’s biggest and most important holiday. This year I got to experience it for a second time but with a bit more knowledge and understanding of the holiday. Like many other holidays across the world, there are some general traditions that most people follow as well as some things more specific to families or certain areas.
–Many people believe in doing some pre new year cleaning (their version of spring cleaning) to get rid of the old and welcome the new. I decided to do this too because I wanted to try to follow along with the common activities of the Chinese New Year, and I also really just like coming home to a clean place after traveling or being gone for a bit.
–New Year’s Eve dinner is actually one of the most important meals of the holiday as it acts as a reunion for families. For people who have been living and working in different areas this is a chance for them to come home, eat meals and spend time with their families. Public transportation gets extra busy during this season. Trains are an especially convenient but still affordable way to travel longer distances. There are of course flights and long distance buses as well.
-Similar to the Gregorian New Year Eve celebration, people try to stay awake until midnight to welcome the new year. In areas where it is permitted, people set off fireworks on sidewalks and the edges of roads. Many bigger cities (that don’t allow people to do fireworks) have festivals, performances or firework shows people can attend. We set off some firecrackers on the side of the road near his apartment building. Chinese firecrackers are scary! You better be speedy if you’re the one lighting them. I’ve heard that there are mythical stories behind the reason for staying up late and setting off fireworks. The bright colors and loudness of the fireworks supposedly ward off evil. But my boyfriend isn’t too familiar with the story so it might not be as common for families to share this story as I might have thought. It also seems quite common for people to watch a popular television program called New Year’s Gala on CCTV while waiting to ring in the new year.
–It is quite common for people to give red envelopes with money. The general idea is that the adults and elderly give the envelopes to the younger people. Since my boyfriend is a recent college graduate and we just recently moved to Shanghai, we were still considered part of the younger group (maybe since we weren’t quite established and settled) and received some envelopes ourselves. I think each family kind of comes up with their idea of who is considered old or young enough to receive money. I also noticed that sets (cookie sets, vitamin sets, drink sets and so on) and fruit are a common gift for people to buy. My boyfriend’s mom always had one or the other or both when we would visit any of the grandparents.
–People decorate houses and shops with the color red along with yellow/gold accents. Almost every house door or business door I saw had a red sign with Hanzi expressing happiness and good fortune and such. All of the markets we went to were decorated in red and yellow. You can see the explosion of those colors in my vlog. You can also find small stands selling decorations or people outside of markets who will write the character(s) of your choice (there are a couple of pretty standard ones all relating to happiness, good fortune and blessings) on white paper.
That’s definitely not everything, but those are the most basic and common things that people do during Chinese New Year. When you move to another country, I think getting to celebrate that country’s biggest and most important holiday is a really wonderful opportunity and experience, especially when you can do it with people who are natives of that country.
I actually attempted to vlog during the holiday, but I haven’t quite perfected my vlogging skills so the following video is a bit random and not as informative as it could be. But, I figured I could at least share some of what I recorded.
I’m so sad those because my phone died and I couldn’t take a cool video of what we did to end the Chinese New Year. We burned (a lot of) incense at a temple with crowds of other people. My boyfriend and I bought lanterns, wrote our wishes on them, and lit the candle to send them up into the sky.
Now, lastly, imagine a temple. In front of this temple are large crowds of people setting off fireworks and firecrackers (quite dangerously I might add.) Imagine your eyes are watering from all of the smoke surrounding you and breathing is a bit hard to do without coughing. Your eyes are constantly checking the area around you to make sure no one has set up a firework or large pack of firecrackers near you because you’d like to keep all your body parts in tact nor do you need a haircut. Your hearing is getting worse by the minute and you have to shout at the person standing right next to you in order for them to hear you. This is the way the last day of my holiday ended, and strangely enough it was kind of magnificent. The smoke and noises just helped to create this wonderfully energetic environment. That was probably my favorite moment of celebrating Chinese New Year.