Celebrating Chinese New Year, the Year of the Monkey
For thousands of years, celebrating the New Year in China is always the biggest event of the whole year. During the lunar New Year celebration, every family makes the best food, wears their best clothes, and shoes, and keeps up their best spirit and mood. Family and friends get together to enjoy eating, laughing, chatting, and friendship. Another very important element of the celebration: fire crackers. Fireworks are set off at midnight on New Year 's Eve, to get rid of (scare away) evil or monsters. If you are an early sleeper, don't expect to sleep well on this night, because the midnight fire crackers will definitely wake you up. Fireworks are everywhere without exception. The New Year celebration usually lasts about seven days. That means at least seven days vacation for everyone. But it can even last up to 15 days, especially in the countryside (in farming communities). If you are doing business in China, do not expect to have any business work done during these days. In the early days many foreigners were very frustrated before they understood the culture and tradition of the New Year celebration. There are many traditions with many variations in different counties or regions. I don't know them all, but some are national traditions I grew up with.
Some of the New Year Traditions:
During New Year celebration, for many years, you say to whomever you see "Xin Nian Kuai Le, Gong Xi Fa Cai". It means "Happy New Year, Wish You Have a Lot of Money". Especially in early days "Gong Xi Fa Cai" was heard more often. Now we pretty much just say "Xin Nian Kuai Le".
- Door decorations:
Many families like to put banners or signs on both sides of their front door with a good luck rhyme written on red paper. They wish to bring good luck in the New Year, or to disperse any evil energy.
- Cleaning house:
I remember when I was in my teens; my biggest fear around the time of New Year was that my parents would ask me to clean the house and windows. At that time there was no hot water, so using cold water in 30 F degree weather to clean the house was dreadful. Now things have changed, everything has become easier, including cleaning house. In my personal life, I definitely will clean house around the New Year, and possibly re-arrange the furniture, too.
- New clothes:
For many years China was a poor country. People saved money to buy food and clothes for New Year. Now China's economic status has changed, people have much more money these days, sometimes even more than the average American. But this tradition is still going on no matter how many clothes you have you still like to buy new clothes for New Year. I guess this is good for business anyway.
This is huge. If you ever visit a Chinese family in China around New Year, you will be so lucky, because you will have the most delicious food ever. In the past, all foods were home made, but now more and more people just make a reservation in a restaurant for their New Year gathering. One thing is that people don't want to spend too much time in the kitchen; the other reason is that people can now afford more expensive food, the third reason is that there are more and more new dishes created every year and people want to try them. Some families might hire a professional chef for New Year. Therefore, there is a chef shortage around New Year celebration time.
In the old tradition, families would get together to make dumplings (Jiao Zi) on New Year's Eve. Some regions have a stew, or hot pot, Sticky Buns (Nian Gao). On the first day of the New Year, the dinner feast must include fish, which has same word sound as "Extra". The metaphor of eating fish is to have extra every year. In some places people eat sticky sesame candy, which also has a historical metaphor. If the Stove God (family god) eats sticky candy, he would be unable to talk to Jade Emperor (heavenly god) tell bad things about the family. Also the sweetness implies that the report from the one god to the other would only include good things.
On the 15th day of the New Year, comes Yuan Xiao Jie, means First Night Festival, also called Lantern Festival. Dumplings are made from sticky rice flour and various fillings. Many families hang lanterns outside, children carry lanterns and play outside. After Lantern and Dumpling Festival, the New Year celebration is officially ended.
Another tradition in Chinese New Year is visiting family and friends. Usually we take turns to visit each other's family. During visiting we eat, chat, gossip, play (cards or MahJong), and share some stories. The visiting was the most fun thing for me when I was little. When visiting relatives, I really enjoyed eating the fabulous food that I otherwise rarely had. Of course, the most memorable thing is red envelope I got from relatives.
- Red Envelopes:
Red envelope is called "Hong Bao" in Chinese. The red envelope is filled with some money and is typically given to children. The amount of money depends on economic situation of each family. People believe the Red Envelope brings good luck and happiness to their children.
- Dragon, Lion Dance:
The Dragon is present in many Chinese cultural celebrations as the Chinese people often think of themselves as descendants of the mythical creature. On the fifth day of New Year, many stores like to hire a group to perform a lion dance or dragon dance in the front of their store, or in front of an office building, along with firecrackers. They believe this will bring prosperity and good fortune for their business. On the 15th of the New Year, Dumpling Festival, there are also a lot of Dragon or Lion Dances.
New Spirit, New Energy, New Beginnings
Why is celebrating Chinese New Year is such a big thing? It is about New Sprit, new energy, new luck, new prosperity, and new life. It is also the time to let go of the old, detach from old unpleasant memories, old bad luck, old things that did not work. This allows the new fresh energy to grow and then flourish in the New Year. From old, we learn new things. From failure, we succeed. From past we move onto now. From mistake, we come to wisdom.
New Year is a good time for self-reflection: let complaining go, let a new plan to take us from "A" to "Z". If we have not done something in the past, we may try doing it this year. If we have not attained discipline in the past, we will have it in this year.
All new ideas come from trying, including health. Many people start with a new year's resolution for "weight loss", almost every year the same thing. How successful are they? I did the same thing in the past, and I did not improve my weight until I changed my energy. What about if this we resolve instead: "New year, new energy, new health." What happens when our health improves, our body and mind guide us to a healthier diet, and consequently our weight becomes balanced. What about learning a new skill, new adventure, new way of seeing things, or thinking about things? No matter what you have in your mind, daily Qi Gong practice can always help you to balance your mind, body, and spirit. Daily Qi Gong also helps you to heal and to prevent disease, brings you positive energy that helps you to succeed. Qi Gong and Tai Chi training programs are two of the many programs I teach.