Out with the Old, In with the New
On February 14th, millions of people will celebrate love and family ties across the world. And many of the celebrations may have nothing to do with Valentine’s Day.
This year, February 14th is also the day when the Chinese will ring in their new year. Traditionally, in China and for Chinese families across the globe, the new year is the most important occasion of the year, more important than their birthdays or any other day of the year. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are occasions when the entire family gets together to celebrate, much like Thanksgiving or Christmas in the Western world. The exact date of the new year changes every year as it is based on the lunar calendar. The Chinese celebrate New Year on the first day of the first moon in the lunar calendar. This date usually falls between Jan 21st and Feb 19th. This year, it coincides with Valentine’s Day.
Traditionally, celebrations in China begin a few days in advance. Homes are swept, dusted and cleaned. Auspicious verses or Spring Couplets scrolled in black on red paper are hung on walls. Flowers are used to decorate homes. A grand feast is prepared for the Kitchen God who leaves a few days before the start of the New Year to report to heaven on his observations of the family’s behavior. New Year’s meals are prepared a day ahead and all sharp items are put away on New Year’s day as they are believed to hinder or ‘cut’ the coming in of good luck. Members of the family gather for a New Year’s eve feast. Even those not present are remembered. Children offer their respects to elders by bowing to them. The elders give them cash gifts in red envelopes which are considered auspicious. On New Year’s Day, people visit family and friends, exchanging wishes and gifts, dressed in their finest new clothes.
In China, the new year festivities last for a fortnight. There are fireworks, parades and lion dances on streets. The seventh day of the Chinese New Year is considered “Everybody’s Birthday”. This is the day when everyone adds a year to their age, since individual birthdays are not really considered very important in traditional China. The festivities come to an end on the 15th day with the Lantern Festival that involves dragon dances performed by men and people carrying lanterns into the street and joining the parade.
While, this may be how the Chinese New Year is celebrated in parts of China, it’s obvious that not too many of us today can afford a 15-day long break from work or to have a New Year’s party lasting two weeks. So, in America and other places with a considerable Chinese population, a shorter, simpler version of the celebrations can be witnessed. If you have the chance to visit Chinatown in San Francisco or a similar area in any other city, you might still get to see most of the above celebrations. It might just be packaged more appropriately to fit our busy work lifestyles, taking into account practical considerations.
One thing is for sure. It will be a celebration like none other. After all, it’s not everyday that you get to watch colorful lion dances and dragon parades and participate in celebrations that reflect a centuries-old culture.
And no matter where you are and how you celebrate, don’t forget to send your friends and family free Chinese Near Year ecards. They may not be part of Chinese tradition, but they are sure to be loved!