21 January 2009

新年快樂 ... Xīnnián kuàilè ... Happy New Year!

Known as the Spring Festival here in China, the lunar or Chinese New Year falls on January 26th this year. No matter what you call it, millions of people will be traveling home to spend this oldest and most important festival with their families.

The Spring Festival celebrates the Earth coming back to life after winter and marks the beginning of spring plowing and planting. The Chinese lunar calendar follows a 12 year cycle, with each named after an animal. The year 2009 (or 4707 in the Chinese calendar) represents the year of the ox.

It is an exciting time in China as everyone prepares to celebrate with family. People in town are busy decorating their homes with messages of peace and good fortune in the coming year ... symbols such as peach blossoms and koi are used to symbolise luck and prosperity. Many people have shopped for new clothes to wear when bringing in the new year.

On New Year's Eve, people light up their homes with red lanterns and have a special meal with their families. Special foods are served, such as jiaozi (dumplings) and jin juzi (mandarin oranges). Most people will stay up late and send up fireworks by the car-load in an attempt to scare off evil spirits. Traditionally, hong bao (red envelopes) are given out as part of the New Year's celebrations. The envelopes usually contain money and are typically given to unmarried young adults and children ... the amount contained within should always be of an even number, of course, so as not to be unlucky ... unless it contains the number 4, as the word for 4 in Chinese sounds like the word for death and would also be very unlucky!

It is a fascinating time to be here and a good chance to learn about Chinese tradition. With the week off of work, though, many expats take the chance to travel ... us included ... we'll let the cats enjoy the fireworks for us this year

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