Xin Nian Kuai Le! It’s the Year of the Sheep/Goat

Last night, our family got together with another family we knew from Shanghai, to celebrate the New Year with a fabulous Chinese meal. They moved back to Michigan around the same time that we did, and have children of similar age. In another one of those small world incidents, when we moved into our first house in China, the kids and I met the neighbor’s wife and children almost right away, as they were pulling in with their car when we got there. They were very friendly, and we discovered we were there with the same company. I knew we would get along wonderfully. The husband came over to meet us and my husband later in the evening. When Billy came down the stairs, both men started laughing and smiling. They had worked together in Michigan years earlier and neither had any idea that they were in China, nor that of the thousands of houses available to expats, we would choose one right next to them! Needless to say, we have remained friends, and although we don’t get together as often as we’d like, we love seeing them when we do!

Xin Nian Kuai Le…….Happy Chinese New Year!

A blog entry from January 26, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year, or as the Chinese call it, Spring Festival! This year, 2009, is The Year of the Ox. The Chinese spent their New Year’s Eve “scaring away evil spirits” with fireworks (“Nian” is a mythical beast who is afraid of the loud noises)), sending Chinese lanterns into the sky in honor of deceased relatives, and “sweeping” away the “old year,” while welcoming the “new.”

We spent the night in downtown Shanghai, on the Pudong side of the river, in the Shangri-La. We were joined by another family from the children’s school, and had a great time enjoying the holiday together. The kids swam in the hotel pool, we enjoyed dinner together, and then settled into one of the rooms with snacks and movies to wait for and watch the fireworks display.

At midnight, much like in the States, the fireworks peaked. However, in Shanghai it sounded like a war had begun in the city. No celebration in the U.S. has ever reached this level. In every direction, we could see fireworks rising above the buildings. Although we had heard fireworks at a decent rate since about 7 PM, at midnight the sound of the explosives could be heard continuously from all directions, for what I’m guessing was about an hour or more. In our awe of the show, we lost track of time.

Before we left the hotel today, we watched a Lion Dance performance in the lobby. Lions are a symbol of protection, and the dance is to summon “luck” and “fortune, ” and scare away evil spirits. The God of Fortune was there as well, giving out “golden nuggets” in the form of foil-wrapped chocolates.

During Chinese New Year, oranges are considered very symbolic. The Chinese word for “orange” is similar to the Chinese word for “luck.” Giving oranges to friends or relatives is sending “good wishes” for the new year. Fish is also a huge part of this holiday. The Chinese word for “fish” sounds like the word for “wealth.” The fish that is served whole, including head and tail, during the new year’s dinner must be tasted, but not finished. If the fish is gone, so is everyone’s “prosperity” for the coming year.

On New Year’s Eve, red is worn, as Nian (which is also the Chinese word for “year” ) is afraid of the color red, and therefore, will not come down to eat the villagers or the children. Everyone sweeps out the house and cleans, to get rid of the “old year” and prepare for the “new year.” At midnight, all the windows and doors are open to let the “old year” out. For the next 15 days houses are not cleaned, as this would be cleaning away the “good luck” for the new year. Finally, one of the well-known parts of the holiday, “Hong Bao” (red envelopes) filled with money, are given out, generally to children and newlyweds, as gifts. This 15 day period, known as Spring Festival, ends with the Lantern Festival, when thousands of Chinese lanterns fill the night sky.

I love the tradition and folklore that the Chinese New Year is filled with. I miss celebrating it in Shanghai. It is such a joyous and beautiful holiday. It will always be close to my heart, and bright in my memories.

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