It’s 9:30 in the morning and the sound of fire works can be heard outside my window. That can mean only one thing: It’s almost time for the biggest celebration on the Chinese calendar. The Chinese New Year, otherwise known as the Spring Festival in China, is one of the most important traditions in Chinese culture. It is a time for family and a time for families to extend their good wishes to all the youngsters in the family.
This special holiday happens at the very end of January and goes on until the beginning of February. I have been told that the holiday used to last two or three weeks but in recent times the working days have gotten longer and the holidays shorter. The Spring Festival of the year 2014 starts from Jan 30 to Feb 5, 2014. The Chinese government now stipulates people have seven days off for the Chinese Lunar New Year.
Every year the theme of the Spring Festival changes according to the zodiac calendar. This year falls on the year of the horse and everything is centered around that theme. Shopping malls have painted horses on their windows. I have seen a huge influx of horse stuffed animals around Beijing. Grass hedges have been cut into the shape of a horse. Cars are sporting horse decals and painters are selling pictures of horses with Chinese calligraphy. The horse also happens to be my zodiac animal so hooray for 1990 being the year of the horse! It is said that if the Spring Festival falls on your birth year, then you have to wear more red in order to remain lucky throughout the year. Good thing I like red!
Fireworks are also a HUGE part of the new year. If you think shooting off fire works during the 4th of July is a huge deal, then come to China for a whole new ball game. Imagine how many people are in China and then imagine every single extended family shooting of fireworks together. Fireworks are shot off all hours of the night and day during the Festival. I have been told that seeing the fireworks on Chinese New Year’s Eve is truly magical because the whole sky is lit up from dusk until dawn with no less than hundreds of fire works wherever you go in Beijing. However, over the past few years fireworks have been heavily regulated to control the pollution in Beijing. This year they are easing up on the regulations in order to fully celebrate this long-held Chinese tradition.
During the festival, it is custom for family’s to eat lucky jiaozi( dumplings) on the eve of the New Year. It is also custom for elder members of the family to give gifts of money to young children. These gifts are called hongbao which directly translates to” red gift”. It is actually a red envelope with pretty gold writing on the outside. I had dinner with one of my friends last night who also works for EF. He is Canadian but his parents are Chinese and some of his relatives live in Beijing. He was complaining that he had to shell out cash to give to some of his cousins during this holiday. Apparently children really rake in some serious dough from all of the hongbao they receive.
As mentioned previously, this time of year revolves around family and everyone and I mean most EVERYONE travels back to their home towns, if Beijing isn’t their home town, to see their families. This presents an interesting phenomenon of a mass exodus of people leaving Beijing. It is reported that about 1/3 of the Beijing population leaves the city to go back to their home towns. Ok people, that is about 6 million people leaving the city and you know what that means..I can sit on the subway! No, just joking. Sort of. But in all seriousness, the city becomes significantly less crowded and apparently it’s an excellent time to go sightseeing.
What I’m most looking forward to about the festival is visiting one of my student’s home towns. A few weeks ago one of my dear students asked me if I would like to accompany her, her husband and their new-born baby to her home town in Tianjin. This city is about 90km from Beijing and apparently it’s a lovely town where many Beijingers come from. Her mother and father and some of her aunts and uncles live there. I will be driving with her family this Saturday to the home town and will stay in her parents home for the evening. I’ve been told by my student that her parents are extremely excited to have a foreigner stay in their home! My student said i will also get to help her father make dumplings! I am so excited.
It’s so wonderful to see my students so excited about returning to their home towns. I love that the true meaning of this holiday is about family reunion. Now I’m off to buy some fire crackers and gifts for my visit to Tianjin!
Happy Spring Festival!