The Chinese New Year is a time for celebration and the marking of the passage of time and seasons. Chun Jie, aka Spring Festival, brings with it a ton of ordnance, a blanket of work stoppage, and a great excuse for a huge party on the last day of the last month on the Chinese lunar calendar, also called Da Nian San Shi. The first day of the first month is called Chu Yi, and this is the actual New Year’s Day, the official start of the year.
In China, Spring Festival is the most important holiday observance on the calendar and is just about everyone’s favorite time of the year.
The week leading up to New Year’s Eve, QINGDAO(nese) will be cleaning and washing and sweeping, getting ready for the big night. Sweeping out the household dust represents getting rid of any bad luck accumulated over the past year. Also seen this week in Qingdao, lots of window washing, the preferred wiping tool being a newspaper (works a treat, give it a try if you haven’t yet). The first 5 days of the new year are a no sweeping period, as it is traditional to avoid sweeping on these days in order to not brush out the fresh luck of the new year. Moral of the story: Spring Festival means Spring Cleaning!
Dumplings are a must have for Da Nian San Shi, after lighting firecrackers at the stroke of midnight on this year’s Feb 13/14 border. No one would think of having New Year’s Eve dinner in Qingdao without jiaozi. Leftovers are perfect for frying up the next day to make guo tie, or what some people call pot stickers. The Confucius Institute says the Chinese pronunciation of “jiaozi” means midnight, or the end and the beginning of time. Now you can even make jiaozi on your iPhone.
Originally made of homemade mini bamboo pipe bombs, firecrackers are vital to the Chinese New Year experience. Expect a full assault on visual, olfactory, and auditory senses on Da Nian San Shi and then all the way through the Lantern Festival, when at the end of Spring Fest the kids are picking up the last few firecrackers that did not go off yet and throwing them in a final shout of celebratory pomp. In between, a gazillion tiny red dynamite wannabes smoke and split the air in a show that many people liken to a battle scene from a war zone. It’s all in good fun though, and traditionally meant to scare away evil spirits. Mission accomplished.
Also written as Kung Hay Fat Choy to reflect the Cantonese pronuciation, this blessing is said to bring wealth and good fortune in the new year. Hong bao are literally “red envelopes”, traditionally given to children on Spring Festival, newlyweds on their wedding day, and employees as New Year bonuses. If someone says “Gong Xi Fa Cai”, meaning “wish you wealth and fortune”, you can ask them to put their money where there mouth is by saying “Hong Bao Na Lai”, meaning “bring out the red envelope”, or more to the point, show me the money.
Yuan Xiao Festival signals the end of the Spring Festival, on the 15th day of the first month on the Chinese lunar calendar. This is also the start of the Lantern Festival, which is a great time to head over to Zhongshan Park to view to brilliant lights and decorations. Yuan xiao are sticky rice ball treats filled with black sesame paste, red bean paste, or just good old sugar, walnuts, osmanthus, or dates. Served warm in the broth they were cooked in, yuan xiao are a delicious and nutritious dessert to the main courses of Spring Festival.