Yes, it’s that time of year again! Chinese New Year is nearly upon us, with Chinese all over the world enjoying the special festivities of their longest holiday of the year. February 9th (Saturday) marks the eve of Chinese New Year, with February 10th officially beginning the Year of the Snake. So as not to go unnoticed in my smalltown, I posted these Spring Festival tidbits in my local newspaper. Here’s what will be appearing in print this Friday in the Marshall Advocate.
1) Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival, as the Chinese call it) begins according to the Chinese calendar which consists of both Gregorian and lunar-solar calendar systems. Because the track of the new moon changes from year to year, Chinese New Year can begin anytime between late January and mid-February. This year, Chinese New Year is February 10 with celebrations and holidays beginning on February 9th, New Year’s Eve. This year marks the Year of the Snake. It officially ends on February 24th, known as the Lantern Festival.
2) Friends and relatives greet one another by saying, “Gongxi, gongxi!” (goh-ng shee, goh-ng shee), which means “congratulations”. Everyone is congratulating one another on the new year, which will hopefully bring better luck and fortune than the year before.
3) Children receive the hong bao, red envelope, as presents filled with money. ( hong = red; bao , pronounced as “bow to a king” = envelope). Children are usually considered young people who are still in school. College students also receive red envelopes from relatives. Some college students from poor families use their money to pay for their college tuition or help with the cost of education, such as dormitory fees or cafeteria costs. At my 3-year college, the cost for English majors is $700 a year with dorms $130 per year and about $70 a month for food. I have students whose relatives give them red envelopes that contain anywhere from $50 to $300 to help them with their schooling. Other students receive their money and buy fancy cellphones or a laptop computer. Still others save their money for after graduation or buy presents for their parents, usually farmers in the countryside.
4) On Chinese New Year’s Eve, people clean their homes all day with the belief that it will help them get rid of bad luck and get the house ready to accept good luck in the year ahead.
5) The Chinese decorate their doors and windows with signs and posters having the Chinese character “fu” (foo) engraved on them. This means prosperity and happiness, but also signifies good luck. These decorations remain up the entire year and are not removed. This is to ensure that the good luck and happiness will not leave the family.
6) The “fu” (foo) character is often hung upside down (like our good luck horse shoe) so the luck doesn’t run out. You will see many “fu” characters, hanging upside down, decorating the doors and windows of both shops and private homes.
7) Buying and wearing new clothes (usually red, the color of good luck) is the tradition for Chinese New Year. Many young people spend their red envelope money going shopping, thus the crowds at shopping malls and along the streets of cities or towns around the country. Years ago, stores, restaurants and shops were closed 3 to 4 business days for Chinese New Year but now, everything remains open, much like it does for our U.S. Christmas holidays.
8) Families fix lavish home cooked 14-dish dinners. They visit relatives on New Year’s Eve and later drop by friends’ homes the 3 days following. A huge abundance of candy is sold, which families keep out for guests when they stop by to bring good wishes for the New Year. Candy varieties in China are all sorts but chocolate is not usually the favorite. Peanut and sesame brittle are usually the best sellers during this time of year. Friends and relatives often bring fresh fruit (bananas, pears, oranges, apples) to share with the families they visit to help replenish supplies eaten by having so many guests popping by.
While this Chinese New Year education is far from complete, at least those of you reading this are armed with a bit more information than before. Any questions? The Internet can help, but even more authentic is a face-to-face talk with those who truly know. In my hometown, I invited readers to head on over to our Happy China restaurant for a chat with our resident Chinese along with a hefty helping of Chinese dishes. I invite others of you in the States to do the same in your areas.
Just don’t forget the greeting of the day, “Gongxi, gongxi!” You’ll not only impress your hosts with your language skills but bring them the much needed fortune and good luck hoped for in this year’s 2013 Year of the Snake.
Wishing you Ping An (peace) for your week, everyone, and Happy Year of the Snake!