The Chinese New Year is here again. On the evening of February 2, 2011, the air space over China will be populated by a sound and vision spectacular of fireworks while midnight will see the disappearance of billions of dumplings. February 3 is the first day of the year (Zheng Yue Chu Yi/正月初一) on the Chinese lunar calendar, and the official start of the Spring Festival in China.

Guo Nian/过年

In ancient China, it was said that there was a wild, violent animal called nian (年). It came into villages to eat people, especially children, on New Year’s Eve every year, and all the people were too scared to resist. After a long time of being terrorized by the monster, one man invented firecrackers to defeat the beast. That year, he set off firecrackers, and sure enough “nian” didn’t come to his village. This news quickly spread. Nian was finally famished, and the people lived in peace forever. In order to memorialize this special moment, the people named it guo nian (过年) which is now the term equated with the name Spring Festival celebrated every year. Guo (过) means passing by or threatening something away, thus guo nian (过年) means to drive all the bad things away from our life during the Chinese New Year. Read more about guo nian on China Today. Some view guo nian as just simply “pass a new year”.

Qingdao becomes a battleground of explosions and bombs of color flash and sonic booms, much like most of China on the night of New Year’s called Da Nian San Shi (literally, Big Year 30).

Door Couplets (dui lian/对联)

These Spring Couplets are seen on doors, usually with black characters on red paper. The short benedictions wish one and all entering the door prosperity, good fortune, health, wealth, and more. Many older people still gather a crowd at an informal dui lian market to write the traditional couplets. Check out more info on these poetic Spring Festival Distiches. Some common couplets seen in China: 四海财源通宝地,九洲鸿运进福门 (Wishing the world’s wealth and fortune to those passing through the door), 年年添富贵,日日报平安 (Year upon year surplus of fortune, day after day safe and peaceful), 人寿年丰好事多,山清水秀风光好 (Abundant luck and fortune for people, beautiful scenery beneficial).

Chinese New Year Rabbit 2011 Fu Fortune

Firecrackers And Other Artillery

Qingdao becomes a battleground of explosions and bombs of color flash and sonic booms, much like most of China on the night of New Year’s called Da Nian San Shi (literally, Big Year 30). The firecrackers are most intense around midnight, right when everyone is getting ready to have the jiaozi (dumplings) made for the special occasion. Eating jiaozi is a must on the eve of Da Nian 30 – as are the massive firework pyrotechnics that sometimes stretch to dawn. Special nights during the two week holiday period such as the 2nd and 5th nights are marked by huge fireworks set off by individuals all around the city. The streets are filled with the debris of red paper, burnt powder, and large cardboard boxes that dispensed ground to air pretty missiles – in Qingdao, they don’t stay long on the ground as the recyclers have a field day on the remains of the day.

Usually before people start to have the formal dinner on New Year’s Eve, they set off firecrackers for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Firecrackers are set off again at midnight followed by a dumpling dinner. This finally heralds the arrival of new year. In my home, we don’t eat the midnight dinner, but my father sets off firecrackers at midnight, and we (my mom, sister, and I) watch the Spring Festival gala on CCTV. After the gala, we go to bed and sleep for only about 4 hours. Then we get up to visit relatives and neighbors. When I was young , I used to get some lucky money in red envelopes and used it to buy my favorite things like books. After getting up and before breakfast (also dumplings), there are about 5 minutes of firecrackers. The first and last evenings of Spring Festival are the heaviest fireworks nights.

Chinese New Year Qingdao Dui Lian

Sticky Rice And Special New Year’s Foods

Break out the baijiu/白酒 (some award winning Maotai would be nice) and put on comfortable new year’s clothes for some serious eating and drinking. Spring Festival is a time to eat with everyone you meet, from the feast of New Year’s Eve to the meals shared over the first few days of the year as people visit family and friends in order of importance. The most important food of the festival is jiaozi. Usually people put a few coins into some of the dumplings to represent good luck and fortune. The people who eat the coin filled jiaozi are purported to be very lucky in the coming year. People who are already rich will become richer if he or she eats dumplings with coins. Ones who aren’t good at making money will eat more, but if unsuccessful in biting in to a money dumpling, then the coming year will be a time of spending more. The tail end of the Spring Festival brings Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Jie/元宵节), which is celebrated with tang yuan, a sticky rice ball in a sweet broth, with fillings of peanut, sesame, red bean, and more.

Many older people still gather a crowd at an informal dui lian market to write the traditional couplets.

Lantern Festival

There is a myth about why people hang red lanterns on Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Jie/元宵节). Long, long ago there were many horrible beasts in human society which did nothing but hurt people. People got together to kill these beasts but accidentally a holy bird got lost in human society and was killed by mistake. The emperor of heaven was very angry and ordered a big fire to be set to punish people. But his seventh daughter was too kind to see people suffering because of her father’s rage, so she came up with the idea of having people hang red lanterns everywhere to recreate the atmosphere of fire. Thereafter, people started to celebrate this day with the hanging of red lanterns. Eating tang yuan is the most important custom of Lantern Festival. The Chinese people want everything to have a happy ending, so eating sweet tang yuan on the night of the first full moon of the lunar year is symbolic of happiness and peace.

Relevant Links:
Spring Festival
Spring Festival Traditions
Lantern Festival (Tang Yuan Recipe)
Lantern Festival Traditions
Jiaozi Junkie

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