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Happy New Year everyone and welcome to 2014!

December is one of the busiest months at Carden China. In preparations for the annual Christmas ceremony, staff-wide Christmas dinner, Secret Santa, and other festivities, the Chinese and foreign staff have been very preoccupied. The holiday season has come and gone quickly. With Chinese New Year around the corner, everyone is now preparing for their month long vacation. Many of the foreign teachers travel to Southeast Asia to escape from Beijing’s dry and cold climate and of course, the cacophony of fireworks. Others return to North America to visit family and friends. Unlike the majority of schools in China, our department offers time off before and after the duration of Chinese New Year (CNY), which lasts approximately 15 days.

The Chinese have traditionally used the lunisolar calendar to determine the dates of CNY each year. Because CNY is dependent on the winter solstice, it usually falls on the second new moon, between January 20 and February 21. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue till the fifteenth. CNY is celebrated in various places including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, various Chinatowns, and other countries that have a large population of Chinese people.

This year Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is on Friday, January 31st. The year 4712 begins the Year of the Horse. Those born in a horse year are said to be “cheerful, skillful with money, perceptive, witty, talented and good with their hands.” (http://www.infoplease.com/spot/chinesenewyear1.html).

The image of the horse is drawn using the traditional Chinese character for horse (馬).

 

In my family, it is tradition that we read everyone’s fortune aloud to see what the new year will bring. Usually these readings are excerpts of books written by famous Chinese fortune-tellers who use Bazi (八字), a method that takes the hour of one’s birth, day, month, and year to calculate their fate.  This method is also often used by Chinese matchmakers to determine peoples’ wedding dates.

Every family has created their own regional customs and traditions. One of the most important traditions is to gather together with your family for the reunion dinner on the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s day. Food has always been an important part of my family and it is an essential part of the celebration of the new year. Almost every dish at the table is symbolic of something. Noodles symbolize longevity; Fish is eaten because the Chinese word for it  (yu), sounds similar to the word for “abundance” and “wealth”; Chicken is also popular because it symbolizes a happy marriage and the coming together of families. It is also usually served whole because chicken is viewed as an amalgamation of the dragon and the phoenix, emphasizing family unity. Dinner is also usually eaten on a round table with a Lazy Susan because the circular shape represents unity in Chinese culture.

It is also traditional for families to thoroughly cleanse the house before New Year’s day to get rid of any lingering ill-fortune. However, on New Year’s day and the following days, it is inadvisable to clean again because the new year brings in good luck.

Always use two hands to receive a red envelope or YOU WILL BRING DISHONOR TO YOUR FAMILY. (Seriously)

According to Chinese folklore and legend, red symbolizes vitality and the element of “fire”; with this energy, one can drive away bad luck. Thus, during CNY, people typically wear red clothes; it is also customary to wear new clothes to represent a clean slate, the beginning of a new year. In addition, red envelopes are passed out because it is viewed as “lucky money.” People are given red envelopes until they are married. Once married, he or she is then responsible for handing out red envelopes to others.

Here in Beijing, regulations in regards to fireworks are rarely enforced, especially around the holiday. Fireworks are constantly lit and can be heard most of the day. It is an ancient custom rooted in the belief that the crackling flames and the sound would drive away evil spirits.

On the  fifteenth day of the first lunar month, the lantern festival is held. Although it is the last day of CNY, it is also the first full moon of the year. Lanterns come in different shapes and sizes. They are customarily red; but growing up in Hong Kong, I can fondly remember my plastic cartoon dragon lantern – powered by a battery. People would walk around the neighborhood with lanterns, spend time with their families and gaze upon the beautiful full moon.

Lanterns, everywhere!

On this day, it is also tradition to eat rice dumplings, known as yuanxiao or tangyuan. These glutinous rice dumplings are composed of glutinous rice flour with various fillings. The most common filling is sesame paste, which is made with ground black sesame seeds mixed with sugar and lard. It can be boiled, fried, or steamed. The word tangyuan has a similar pronunciation with tuanyuan, which means “reunion.” Again, we see the symbolic meaning of food and its importance to the Chinese. People eat them not only because they represent union and harmony, but also because they are delicious!  (My sister begs to differ and refused to eat them while growing up, breaking my poor grandma’s heart because she made them from scratch.)

It’s an acquired taste.

As for me, I’m the rebellious one in the family and will not be going to Hong Kong or America to visit my family. Instead, I will be traveling to Vietnam and enjoying some delicious pho, Vietnamese coffee, beach weather, and of course, the company of good friends.

Safe travels to those who are leaving the country! For those who are staying, I urge you to enjoy and partake in the Chinese New Year festivities! Wear red, buy some fireworks, and eat some tangyuan!

Enjoy your vacation and see you in the Year of the Horse,

Beatrice
(2010-Present)

 

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