Chinese New Year is coming to a close

Matt | Chinese New Year | Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Well Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is coming to a close.  Move over Pig, now it’s time for the Year of the Mouse (Rat).  Chinese New Year is technically a 15 day festival that started Feb6th (eve) with the first day of the lunar calendar being Feb7th, 2008.  The closest thing I can compare it to with Western holidays is to combine: the family joy time of Christmas, the excitement of having a New Years’ Eve countdown and celebration, the money giving of Hanukkah but with red envelopes instead, the colourful and loud explosions of fireworks of National Day (Canada Day/Fourth of July) together with the fun of opening and receiving gifts of your birthday.  So Spring Festival is huge here in China.

Everyone in China gets 7 days off.  Technically it’s only 3 days as they have to work 2 days on the weekend prior to the holiday (working 9 or 10 days straight) to get the 7 days off in a row.  This preworking your weekend is common for all Chinese holidays: Spring Festival/Chinese New Year, October 1st holiday and the May 1st holiday.

Back to Spring Festival, while it’s day 9 or so of the 15 day celebration, there are still fireworks going off intermittently, like there is a war going on in the background.  The biggest fireworks display is on the Eve (Feb6th) and on the 15th day of the holiday, when they have got to blow out all their fireworks inventory.   So I will try to get some sleep between now and then.

Superstitions for the Chinese New Year

Matt | Chinese New Year | Thursday, February 14th, 2008

I didn’t realize how superstitious a lot of Chinese were. During the biggest festival of the year – Spring Festival/ Chinese New Year – a lot more of these interesting beliefs and rituals come to light. For the most part, I am not very superstitious and I don’t believe in a lot of them. But actually a lot of them make sense to me.

Annual Spring (Festival) Cleaning. Leading up to Chinese New Year, all families will clean their apartment, walkway, car and anything else they can clean. And this isn’t your run of the mill tidy up job. This is cleaning to the point where it’s almost insane; where you could almost eat off the floor. A typical family will clean the house spotless, wash the curtains, wash the rings holding up the curtains and polish the curtain rod. I believe do this to signify having a clean place for all the good luck and fortune of the new year to come into and want to stay. While I don’t believe in the good luck part, I do think it makes a lot of sense to do an annual and extremely thorough clean up. Like our Spring Cleaning.

On the Spring Festival Eve (Feb6th, 2008) most families will make dinner together (bao jiao zi). Eating dumplings is a tradition in the Northern part of China. While the head woman in the household will likely prepare, cook and slave away making mountains of food, and amazing assortments of fish, vegetable dishes, pork, chicken and desserts. Usually, families will all take part in preparing the dumplings (jiao zi) together. I think this is a nice touch. Remembering back to my childhood days, whenever my family made any food together it was a lot of fun. I remember making cookies of fudge with my dad and brothers. And making a cake or cookies with my mother. I think the act of preparing a meal together really adds to the family fun part of the holiday.

Rules to visit the in laws. In China, during Spring Festival it is also an important time to visit relatives and friends. This is similar to Christmas in Canada. But, in Canada it always seems to be a hassle to figure out whose side of the family you’ll visit first and second or last year it was your family so this year it’s mine. In China, they’ve got it figured out. On Spring Festival Eve every stays at their own home for their family feast, to make dumplings, eat, drink, light off fire works, watch TV and relax. On the first day of the New Year (Feb7th, 2008), everyone visits the father’s side of the family. On the second day, everyone visits the mother’s side. This shows the importance put on the father’s side of the family, but it also makes it easy and clear. There is never any confusion or question as to who you are going to visit on the first day.

These I understand and I think they make sense even though I may not know, understand believe the superstition behind them.

Some other beliefs are a bit more interesting:

Fortune arrives here. Fu Dao Le. On almost all doors in China you will see the sign for good fortune, luck, and happiness (Fu). But it is Chinese custom to put this Fu upside down (Dao). Because in Chinese the word “Dao” has more than one meaning and one of the meanings is to arrive. So by placing this fortune character upside down people believe fortune or good luck will arrive to this door (and it will want to stay because the place is so clean). But others hold a different thought on this, that if you put your “Fu” upside down “Dao” it will arrive at your door and will not enter. So, these individuals keep their “Fu” right side up. As for me, my neighbour hedged her bets. She put “Fu Dao” on her door and “Fu” on the wall across from her. I felt bad if this meant that the good fortune would skip her and go straight into my place. So I put up a “Fu” on my door too.

Fireworks explode into the new year. I believe the original meaning for the fireworks was to scare away bad luck from the old year, so the new year will be lucky, fortunate and prosperous. It’s also good fun to light off thousands firecrackers. But, it’s considered bad luck if you buy a ‘dud’. If your chain of a thousand crackers stops early, say after the first 10, then that means bad things will happen to you. As for me, it’s always fun to light off fireworks. On the Eve it’s good fun. On the second day too. But to be woken up on the 7th day at 7am by some idiot security guard lighting off fireworks is a bit much. After the first few days, which sound like you are in a war zone, the explosions trail off. That is until the big blow up when vendors get to blow out their inventory on the 15th day of the new year.

Don’t cut your hair in the new year or your uncle gets it. This is the weirdest one I have heard of. It is very unlucky to get your haircut in the first 15 days of the new year. Actually, the belief is that your uncle will die if you do so. I think this rumour was started by hair cutters who wanted to have a holiday during the 15 day Spring Festival too; a kind of negative advertising. Although I don’t believe this superstition, I couldn’t take any chances, so I got my hair cut before the New Year.

These are some of the interesting customs and superstitions celebrated in China.

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