Thursday, January 26, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

The Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival) celebration is underway!  It started on the 22nd (our time).  The Spring Festival has so many traditions.

On the eve of the Spring Festival, children put on their best clothes for the eve's feast.  Everyone must be reunited with their families at the New Year if there is any way possible--the must be around the same table.  In the south, wontons are prepared along with rice cakes, cooked rice (mǐ fàn), fish (yú), and maybe sticky rice balls (yuán xiāo) and bamboo shoots.  In the north, dumplings are prepared instead of wontons. 

Perhaps the mother or grandmother of the house allows one of the children to polish a silver coin and then put it in boiling water--and then slip it into one of the dumplings, wontons, or rice cakes.  The "lucky" person who gets the coin-ed food is supposed to have good luck for the rest of the year. 

Another Chinese tradition--when eating the fish, you do not touch the tail or the head--only the middle.  It's considered a very bad omen and, in our teacher's words, "people will be very angry with you". 

The Chinese have a lot of stories that go along with their traditions for the New Year.

But, let me back up--the reason the Chinese New Year is different from ours is that while we go by the sun calendar, the Chinese go by the moon calendar--which means there are 28 days in every month.  Sometimes, though, several days will add up and an extra month will be sprinkled into the Chinese calendar! 

You don't really know when the Chinese New Year is going to be until it's close to it.  My Chinese teacher said that if you ask her when their New Year is, she will have to tell you she doesn't know--let her check!  :)

This year is the year of the dragon--the year something big is supposed to happen.  It's said that if something big doesn't happen in the year of the dragon, it'll happen in the year of the snake (which is 2013).  Funny--isn't there a movie about the world ending in 2012?  :P

Getting back to the stories--red is a very, very popular color in China--it's on the flag, it's on just about every decoration you see, and it's considered "lucky".  It's popular year-round, but it's especially popular around Chinese New Year. 

The story behind it is that a great, eat-everything-he-can-see monster, Nián, would eat all the days of the old year and then come to your house and eat you.  :)  But, one year, a very wise old man decided he would go kill Nián.  He found the monster and said something like this:

"You're a big monster, and you could eat an old man easy, but could you eat that poisonous snake over there?"

And Nián said, "Of course!"

And he ate the snake.  When he returned, he said, "Now it's your turn to be eaten!"

"Oh," said the man, "that was just one snake.  There are lots of other beasts on the mountain.  Can you eat them?"

"Of course," exclaimed Nián.  And off he went to eat the other animals.

One depiction of Nián.

When he came back to the man, he once again said, "Now it's your turn to be eaten!"

The man said, "Okay, but let me take my clothes off."

"What?  Why," asked Nián.

"Because," replied the wise old man, "I taste better without my clothes on."

So off went the old man's clothes--but his underclothes were red!  The monster immediately ran away, terrorized--and the old man had just figured out his fear--the color red!

Everyone puts new decorations on their house and door to protect it from Nián.  They leave these decorations up year-round.  And if you'll notice, most Chinese restaurants in America change their decorations (like the ones on the door) around the New Year.

In China, the decorations are red and often have Chinese characters written on them--I'm thinking things like joy, happiness, good luck, good fortune, wealth, etc. 

Ther are also wooden signs with characters written on them--peach wood signs, to be exact.  The story behind that is that there are these two warriors on an island (these two warriors, by the way, also appear on the decorations and signs--I'm envisioning something similar to the picture below--a more mascular form of a sumo wrestler).

When people die, they come to this island and the warriors look at their life and decide if the people will turn into gods/become people again/stay alive or if they will turn into ghosts.  There is supposed to be a peach tree on the island that the ghosts are scared of--therefore Chinese people decorate their house with peach wood signs.

Ever heard of Yīn and Yáng?
Yīn and Yáng represent extreme opposites--sun and moon, day and night, dark and light, good and evil, etc.  Yīn also represents the ghosts in the story and Yáng represents the "alive people".

So yes, the Chinese are very superstitious--as my teacher put it, "They don't have Jesus".  And that's why they need missionaries!

Lots of money goes around during the New Year.  :)  Your boss doubles your pay and, if you're single, you also receive money in a red (what else?) envelope, because if you're single, you're still considered a kid.  Also, in the five days after the New Year, you might try giving a gift to your boss in hopes of a promotion.  :)

Kids and their families visit their elders in the five days of the New Year.  They also call on other family members--aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.--and get hundreds of dollars in red envelopes from almost all relatives.  Kids sometimes get up to a thousand dollars from their relatives! 

So, with that as a background, we went out for lunch on Monday at a favorite Chinese restaurant to celebrate the New Year.

I am amazed at how kind the Chinese people are!  We went in there with a couple of cards for our buddies with a bit of money stuck in them and came out with $5 each and a special dish of shrimp that isn't even on the buffet!  They cooked it especially for us!  The $5 came about when we gave a new waiter a card and he came back with these cards...

...and said that he had never receieved money on the New Year from a child before, so he gave Luke and me money!

Oh, how I long to go to China!  More and more I see that God's placed a special passion in my heart for its people--spefically its orphans!  At any given moment I would be glad to go to a Chinese orphanage and just love on some kids.  Or even better, bring one home.  :)

Have a wonderful Thursday!  :)


Tammy ~ Country Girl at Home ~ said...


That is a very good history of the Chinese New Year! Your teacher makes it all come alive, doesn't she?

And I'm with you on going to China and lovin' on the kids....or better yet bringing one home! Yeah. That sounds good. :)

And I have no doubt that China is in your future in some way. It will be interesting to see what God has in store!

Great post!

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