Chinese New Years Festival - The Beginning and the End
Hello everyone! Welcome back to our series on the Chinese New Year Festival. Last time, we looked at the Chinese lunar calendar and how the solar terms play a significant role in the lives of Chinese people. This time we continue our journey about the longest holiday in China. We will dive into the plenty of interesting food and all sorts of celebrations and ceremonies for this holiday season. We will have a feast!
腊八节/là bā jié/. Laba Festival. Preparations for New Year festivities begin well in advance of the actual date of the holiday. Starting from 腊八/là bā/, the eighth day of the last lunar month, you will start to feel more and more the atmosphere of the New Year. 腊/là/ means the 12th lunar month. You would often hear the words associated with腊 such as: 腊月/là yuè/—the last month, 腊肉/là ròu/—Chinese bacon made in the last month, and 腊八粥/là bā zhōu/or Laba Congee, a rich Chinese soup. The soup is made from glutinous rice, red beans, millet, Chinese sorghum, peas, dried lotus seeds, red beans and some other ingredients, such as dried dates, chestnut meat, walnut meat, almond, and peanut.
小年/xiǎo nián/,廿三. The 23rd of the last month, also called the Kitchen God's Day. On this day, a thank you dinner is served in with a bowl of sticky rice and sticky candy bars. This is placed in front of the Kitchen God, who, in folk belief, is assigned by Yu Huang, the emperor of heaven.Yu Huang watches over each family and every New Year he goes back to heaven to report on how the family has done throughout the year. 糖 瓜/táng guā/, sticky candy with various shapes, is believed to be able to glue the Kitchen God’s mouth together so that he will not speak evil about the family’s activities. Can you imagine how sticky that could be? You should try it yourself!
除夕/chú xī/: New Year's Eve. Also can be called 年三十/nián sān shí/ because it commonly falls on the 30th or sometimes the 29th of the last month. A new portrait of the Kitchen God is hung in preparation for his return from heaven on New Year's Day. Other decorations that are hung are the 门神/mén shén/(door gods), the 春联/chūn lián/(the Spring couplets), and other festive decor. Families do three important things on this evening: worship ancestors, have a reunion dinner, and stay up past midnight. Respects would be paid to the gods and ancestors, to whom sacrifices of food would be given along with burning of incense. Plentiful courses are in the reunion dinner, one common dish of which is 鱼/yú/, fish, which word is homophonous with the word 余/yú/, meaning surplus or abundance, and therefore auspicious. In the north, a traditional food is 饺子/jiǎo zi/, or dumplings. 饺子sounds like 交子/jiāo zǐ/, meaning the meeting of the last hour of the old year with the first hour of the new. A lot of family members from near and far travel to be with loved ones in time to usher out the old year and welcome in the new. Common activities are playing games, drinking wine, singing, joking, and telling stories –making it a night of merriment and hoping to set a pattern for the entire year to come.
春节/chūn jié/ or 过年/guò nián/, the first day of a new year. 过年Literally is translated as "pass over Nian" or "overcome Nian". Legend has it that 年, a horrible demon creature, that every year on the first day of the year descends upon the village to eat all the grain and livestock. But the beast is easily scared by the color red, loud noises and strange creatures. Thus, it has become a tradition that on New Year's Day lots of red decorations are hung; streets are filled with music, loud drums, and fireworks are held all day long. It is also a custom to give children 红包, red envelopes, with money that is considered lucky. People exchange visits with relatives and friends, called 拜年/bài nián/. In some areas the second day is the day wives go to visit their own families, taking children to see their maternal grandparents.
元宵节/yuán xiāojié/: Lantern Festival. The Lantern Festival signals the end of the New Year festival period. A traditional food for this day is 元宵/yuán xiāo/ or 汤圆/tāng yuán/, round dumplings of glutinous rice flour, small or large, filled or unfilled. The filled 元宵can have a mix of sesame, peanuts, and sweet bean paste. On this day, there are often public exhibitions of exquisite lanterns in a variety of shapes and styles. The Lantern Festival is another occasion for inviting guests and holding feasts, though on a smaller scale than the New Year’s Eve celebrations.
By now the new year is already half way into the first month, and virtually everything has returned to normal routine. Businesses have reopened, schools are back in session, and farmers have returned to their labor. A new cycle is well under way. Our Chinese New Year's series is also coming to an end. I hope you enjoyed it and I look forward to sharing more interesting things about China and Chinese language with you soon. 保重/bǎo zhòng/(take care)!