新年快乐 ｜马年吉祥 ｜工期发财 ｜ 恭喜发财 ｜恭贺新禧 ｜新年进步 ｜新年好！
In light of the fact that Chinese new years will be starting tomorrow evening, I thought this a perfect time to post all the info I have on Chinese New Year. Although I lived in Taiwan last year during the holiday, I found that I still held many misconceptions concerning the significant holiday. To give you a picture of what I mean, I’ll simply start by talking about what I thought Chinese New Year meant; then contrast that with my current understanding. Perhaps you will find yourself holding some of these misconceptions, and be intrigued to learn more about the holiday.
My perception of Chinese New Years took shape primarily while I was in Taiwan last year, becuase before that, the celebration held no significance to me. Last February, I was living in a small five-bedroom flat with my expat roomies in Guting, Taipei. I was attending a local language school, Shida, so of course I was aware that the holiday was coming, but kinda shrugged it off because I didn’t think it would affect me outside of school. I learned the phrases, ate the specialty foods, and went on with my expat life when suddenly I was hit with the hard and lonely reality of Chinese New Year. I say lonely, but really, it was just lonely for me and whoever else was hit with the same predicament.
I remember coming home the night of the 31st, and how clueless I was about how much of a fervor there was around me concerning the New Year. Granted, I did notice the ubiquitous red signs (春联，chun1lian2) and cankerous cracking of fire in the streets, but I wrote it off as being nothing more than celebretory custom. While this may be partially true, the term “celebratory custom” does not mean the same thing in the West as it does in the East. The two things I failed to notice was 1) the fact that there was more to the story, a rich history that infused the holiday with so much significance that 2) everyone observed it!
To me, “New Years” meant partying, parties and more partying. But to the Chinese/Taiwanese/those who follow the lunar calendar, it meant family, tradition and custom. Because of this cultural gap in understanding, I completely was shocked when I woke up on the 1st to find that no stores were open, no Taiwanese friends were in town, and more problematically, there was nowhere to eat! lol. I’m serious, the only place I found was, of course, McDonalds and TGIFridays, both Western restaurants. Aside from that, only the supermarkets were open, and at that time I didn’t cook at home because I didn’t have a kitchen. It literally felt like I had missed the rapture, or was on the set of the Walking Dead (although not quite as post-apocolyptic). Even more disconcerting was the fact that my roommates were all gone, except for a new German guy who was quite antisocial. They all left for the week to Kending, and I was stuck at home until midweek due to budgetary constraints. Perhaps I’ll write more about the adventures me and my German flatmate had while looking for food another time, but suffice it to say I was absolutely shocked by the predicament I found myself in.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, “cool story bro”, and perhaps your a bit more cultured that I was and would have predicted the rapture of tradition; but recently I traveled down a bit further into the rabbits hole and found some facts that perhaps you might not have been aware of. For instance, the Chinese don’t even celebrate Chinese New Year’s… because there isn’t one. I mean, there isn’t one exclusive beginning to a year based on a clander which only the Chinese follow. Instead, the Chinese celebrate the Lunar New Year, or 农历新年nong2li4xin1nian2, along with 10+ other EA coutries and billions of other people across the world. You might think this a bit anal, but just think, what would your impression be of a Chinese individual who unrepentently thought our New Years would last for 15 days, involved lots of superstition and called it Lunar New Years, only because that’s how he celebrates it back at home? The key word there is “unrepentently”, because that’s how most of us Americans tend to approach the holidays of other nations. We know they contain particular history, particular traditions and particular significances, but never come to truly appreciate them due to the fact that it belongs to “them”… I’m not saying we have to go put on a Nian dragon suit and go dance around in the streets, (though you’re certainly welcome to, although those suits are STUFFY!) but we can at least come to appreciate the holiday that holds so much value to our East Asian friends; and perhaps even refer to it by its proper title… baby steps. But to show that I’m not just being anti-American here, I’ll leave the “Chinese New Year” title, becuase that’s what WE have come to refer to it as.
Anyhow, you can probably tell that I was doing a bit of projecting in that last paragraph, but it shows the stark contrast between the self-satisfied, arrogant American I was a year ago and the culturally sensitive, open-minded person I am trying to embrace now. Of course such cultural importing should not be limited only to China, but since this is ChineseCraze, I’ll end my rants here.
Also, due to the fact that there is so much rich history and culture associated with the lunar new year, I’ll be dividing this into different sections to make this a running archive. But to start things off, I’ll list a few interesting facts about the lunar new year below, to set the tone for this section.
1. Good Luck
Those born in the year of the horse should wear red articles of clothing every day until the 15th for good luck! My auntie was adamant about this, again, showing that it means a lot to others even thought it doesn’t mean much to us.
Yes, there is a purpose to all the dangerous chaos that takes place in the streets. No, it’s not due to a positive happening in history like our 4th of July, but rather is done to prevent the bad from maurading prosperity… or more precisely, to prevent Nian the dragon from destroying our cities. This one might be rooted in complete superstition, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Practice some safety and you can turn the nonstop crackling into some memorable good times!
3. New Years…. Plural?
While there may be only 1 beginning to the year, the holiday associated with it lasts for 15 days. Since the lunar calendar changes every year, the two-week stretch also varies.
4. 15 Days of Custom/Tradition
While most in my generation tend to only think of this time as annoying, filled with interrogating questions from Aunties about salary and marriage, others see it as a time to embrace tradition. I won’t spell out what goes on during all 15 days just yet, but if you’re curious, some of the more interesting ones involve not showering and lots of drinking….
5. The Lunar New Year is celebrated by MANY countries
Including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore,Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Philippines. This may not seem like a lot, but the variation from region to region is quite vast and interesting. I’ll be posting some articles on the differences at a later time.
Until then, check out this video for a solid explanation of the Lunar New Year – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EUsmbqnuw8&feature=youtu.be