李明

Celebrating the New Year in China

11Jun 2015 李明

 

By Li Ming, Xiangyang, Hubei Province, China

Trainee at the University of Nagasaki, Siebold Campus, in 2013

Lived in Nagasaki April 2013 – March 2014 

 

 

 

Hello everyone!

 

My name is Li Ming. I attended the University of Nagasaki, Siebold Campus as a trainee in the 2013 academic year. Now I am back in China, working hard at my job.

When I was asked to write an essay to be posted on the Dejima Network, at first I wasn’t sure what to choose as my topic, but it just so happened that the request came as the Chinese New Year celebrations were finishing, so I decided to write about how Chinese people mark the New Year.

 

 

In China, the 12th month in the old lunar calendar is called la yue. Once la yue is over, people in China welcome in the new year. Customs and practices for bringing in the New Year vary greatly by region and ethnic group but they all have in common an element of bidding farewell to the old year and greeting the new one. This deep meaning of the celebrations has been unchanged since ancient times. And the real thrill of the New Year celebrations is found in the lively, bustling and excited atmosphere that unfolds around this time.

 

 

In my hometown, preparations for the New Year celebrations start early. On the 8th day of la yue, we make a kind of congee (porridge) using rice, chestnuts, red beans and nuts, which we call laba zhou (la from la yue, ba meaning 8, zhou meaning congee). This porridge is sweet and warms the body, and it also serves as a wish for good health in the year to come. On the 24th day, the whole family gets together to do a major cleanup of the whole house. By wiping away the past year’s dust and dirt, we get the house ready to welcome the new year with a fresh face. On the 29th day, we visit the graves of our ancestors. On the 30th day, we wake up early and stick red papers, called ‘chun lian’, which are marked with lucky words, onto gates and entrances to the house. We then start to prepare lunch. This day is similar to New Year’s Eve in Japan, and we refer to the evening as ‘chu xi’, which literally means ‘evening for removing’, i.e. for getting rid of the old year. The whole family stays up late watching special New Year programs on TV. This practice is called ‘shou sui which literally means ‘guarding the age’, referring to waiting together for the new year to start. When the clock strikes midnight and the bells toll, we celebrate the arrival of the new year by letting off firecrackers. At this moment, the new year has come at last. In the lunar calendar, the first month is called ‘zheng yue’.

 

Laba zhou congee

http://shanxiji.sinaimg.cn/2014/0109/U10371P1335DT20140109113758.jpg

 

Chun lian (couplets written on red paper)

http://livedoor.blogimg.jp/jive301/imgs/d/6/d6c1df44-s.jpg

 

Chu xi (New Year’s Eve)

http://img2.ph.126.net/0ji-oQ4J_oqqb-aVZyAMWA==/6630626861535900695.jpg

 

Miao hui (temple fair)

http://images.china.cn/attachement/jpg/site1000/20090121/00114320debb0ae117001c.jpg

 

 

On the first day of zheng yue, the custom is to visit the homes of relatives, friends and colleagues, bearing gifts, to offer a greeting for the New Year and celebrate it together. This practice is called ‘bai nian’, meaning ‘paying a New Year’s visit’. These visits continue right up to the 15th of the month. During this Spring Festival period, people also like to go to temple fairs, called ‘miao hui’, to pray and make offerings of incense. The whole of China comes alive with bustling festive activity! We also get a lot of time off work, so it’s a good time to go traveling, and Japan is one of the popular overseas destinations for New Year travel.

 

 

Incidentally, as times have changed, many New Year traditions have gradually become simplified, and the feeling of ‘specialness’ has diminished. People nowadays feel that the atmosphere of long-ago New Year’s celebrations has slowly but surely disappeared. Even for myself as an adult, the new clothing and delicious food which I was so in awe of and delighted by at New Year no longer seem so special. However, even as times change, the tradition of returning to one’s hometown at the end of the year and spending time with family does not change. I am not alone in saying this – anyone would feel the same way. For Chinese people, however busy they may be and however far from their family they may live, returning to the family home at the end of the year is an especially meaningful act. Whether the past year was a fun one or a tiring one, we return to our parents and round off the year together, and recharge our batteries. We soak up blessings and hopes for the year to come, and set out again on our journey with renewed energy.

 

 

That concludes my account of New Year traditions in China. How do you celebrate in your country? For Chinese people, the most important celebration of the year is the Lunar New Year. If you get the chance, I would definitely urge you to visit China during this period and experience this exciting aspect of Chinese culture directly for yourself.