Thursday, February 7, 2008
Gung Hay Fat Choy!!
Traditional Celebration of the Chinese New Year
Of all the traditional Chinese festivals, the new Year was perhaps the most elaborate, colorful, and important. This was a time for the Chinese to congratulate each other and themselves on having passed through another year, a time to finish out the old, and to welcome in the new year. Common expressions heard at this time are: GUONIAN to have made it through the old year, and BAINIAN to congratulate the new year.
Turning Over a New Leaf
The Chinese New year is celebrated on the first day of the First Moon of the lunar calendar. The corresponding date in the solar calendar varies from as early as January 21st to as late as February 19th. Chinese New Year, as the Western new Year, signified turning over a new leaf. Socially, it was a time for family reunions, and for visiting friends and relatives. This holiday, more than any other Chinese holiday, stressed the importance of family ties. The Chinese New year's Eve dinner gathering was among the most important family occasions of the year.
Sweeping of the Grounds
Preparations for the Chinese New Year in old China started well in advance of the New Year's Day. The 20th of the Twelfth Moon was set aside for the annual housecleaning, or the "sweeping of the grounds". Every corner of the house must be swept and cleaned in preparation for the new year. SpringCouplets, written in black ink on large vertical scrolls of red paper, were put on the walls or on the sides of the gate-ways. These couplets, short poems written in Classical Chinese, were expressions of good wishes for the family in the coming year. In addition, symbolic flowers and fruits were used to decorate the house, and colorful new year pictures (NIAN HUA) were placed on the walls (for more descriptions of the symbolism of the flowers and fruits.
After the house was cleaned it was time to bid farewell to the Kitchen God, or Zaowang. In traditional China, the Kitchen God was regarded as the guardian of the family hearth. He was identified as the inventor of fire, which was necessary for cooking and was also the censor of household morals. By tradition, the Kitchen God left the house on the 23rd of the last month to report to heaven on the behavior of the family. At this time, the family did everything possible to obtain a favorable report from the Kitchen God. On the evening of the 23rd, the family would give the Kitchen God a ritualistic farewell dinner with sweet foods and honey. Some said this was a bribe, others said it sealed his mouth from saying bad thins.
Free from the every-watchful eyes of the Kitchen God, who was supposed to return on the first day of the New Year, the family now prepared for the upcoming celebrations. In old China, stores closed shop on the last two or three days of the year and remained closed for the first week of the New Year. Consequently, families were busy in the last week of the old year stocking up on foods and gifts. Chinese New Year presents are similar in spirit to Christmas presents, although the Chinese tended more often to give food items, such as fruits and tea. The last days of the old year was also the time to settle accumulated. debts.
On the last day of the old year, everyone was busy either in preparing food for the next two days, or in going to the barbers and getting tidied up for the New Year’s Day. Tradition stipulated that all food be pre-pared before the New Year’s Day, so that all sharp instruments, such as knives and scissors, could be put away to avoid cutting the "luck" of the New Year. The kitchen and well were not to be disturbed on the first day of the Year.
The New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations were strictly family affairs. All members of the family would gather for the important family meal on the evening of the New year’s Eve. Even if a family member could not attend, an empty seat would be kept to symbolize that person’s presence at the banquet. At midnight following the banquet, the younger members of the family would bow and pay their respects to their parents and elders.
On New Year’s Day, the children were given Red Lai-See Envelopes , good luck money wrapped in little red envelopes. On New Year’s day, everyone had on new clothes, and would put on his best behavior. It was considered improper to tell a lie, raise one’s voice, use indecent language, or break anything on the first day of the year.
Starting from the second day, people began going out to visit friends and relatives, taking with them gifts and Lai-See for the children. Visitors would be greeted with traditional New year delicacies, such as melon seeds, flowers, fruits, tray of togetherness, and NIANGAO, New Year cakes.
The entire first week was a time for socializing and amusement. On the streets, the stores were closed and an air of gaiety prevailed. There were numberous lion dances, acrobats, theatrical shows, and other diversions. Firecrackers, which symbolized driving away evil spirits, were heard throughout the first two weeks of the New year. The Seventh Day of the New Year was called "everybody’s birthday" as everyone was considered one year older as of that date. (In traditional China, individual birthdays were not considered as important as the New Year’s date. Everyone added a year to his age at New Year’s time rather than at his birthday.)