Hakan Ozel, General Manager – Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai
Celebrations of Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, are approaching. The ‘Year of Tiger’ will finish, The ‘Year of Rabbit’ will start. The festival is China’s most important festival, which falls on the first day of the 1st lunar month each year. Family members gather, as many people return home to reunion. Spring Festival activities start in the early days of the 12th lunar month and continue till the middle of the first lunar month of the next year.
In the same way that almost everything has a meaning in China, there are meaningful, traditional, and historical stories in Spring Festival.
Red Color and Fireworks
Spring Festival is also called ‘guonian’, which means keeping the monster ‘Nian’ away. There are many legends about the origin of ‘Nian’. A popular legend from ancient times described ‘Nian’ as a fierce monster resembling a bull with a lion’s head. During winter, when the food was scarce, ‘Nian’ would leave his mountain lair to eat local villagers or drive them from their homes.
The emperor summoned a wise man who approached ‘Nian’ with a challenge. “Why don’t you choose to kill and destroy the humans who are no match for your strength? Prove your real power by destroying the other monsters on earth”.
‘Nian’ took up the challenge and destroyed all the monsters on the earth, but returned to the villages the following year. Being afraid of loud noises, he left children playing with firecrackers unharmed.
The villagers also discovered that he was frightened of the color red and bright flames. So, they painted their doors red, lit fires in their doorways and made loud noises throughout the night. ‘Nian’ never returned. This tradition continued. Firecrackers now can be heard during Spring Festival replacing the crackling of burning bamboo that was once used to ward off ‘Nian’.
Decorations are an important feature of the celebration for the Chinese New Year. The Chinese paper-cuts with intricate patterns are a traditional item for decoration. They may be displayed in wall frames or pressed under glass tabletops to grace the room with their elegant lines and pleasing images.
Spring Festival couplets are popular, as they are Chinese good luck proverbs, often with golden trimming and are usually about happiness, wealth, longevity, or a satisfactory marriage. The Chinese character (fu), meaning ‘blessing’ or ‘happiness’ is mandatory.
Chinese New Year Day
New Year’s Day sees everybody dressed in their finest clothes. Greetings are extended to parents, whilst each child receives a New Year’s gift or money wrapped in red paper or in an envelope. The money is called yasuiqian, which is the lucky money for spring festival and believed to guarantee children’s healthy growth in the coming New Year.
The Lantern Festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month, is closely related to the Spring Festival. It marks the end of the New Year celebrations, following which life returns to normal. The most prominent activity of the Lantern Festival is the grand display of beautiful lanterns. Lanterns in various shapes and sizes are hung in the streets, and excited children hold lanterns as they stroll along the streets in China.
Houses are brightly lit and a sumptuous family dinner is served on the Spring Festival Eve. Dishes such as chicken, fish and tofu are included. In Chinese, their pronunciations are, respectively ji, yu and tofu, which mean ‘auspicious, abundant, and blessed’. In the south of China, people eat niangao, a New Year Cake made of glutinous rice and flour. Niangao means ‘higher and higher, one year after another’.
In Northern China, jiaozi, or dumplings, are eaten as people believe jiauzi means ‘bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new’.
Custom demands the eating of yuanxiao (also called tangyuan), or rice dumpling, on Lantern Festival day. That’s why the Lantern Festival can also be called ‘Yuanxiao Festival’. Tangyuan are small dumpling balls made of glutinous rice flour with sesame, bean paste, jujube paste, walnut, dried fruit, or sugar and edible oil as filling. It can be boiled, fried or steamed. They taste sweet and delicious.
Tangyuan in Chinese has a similar pronunciation to ‘tuanyuan’, meaning reunion. So, people eat them to denote union, harmony, and happiness in the family.
Wishing everyone good health, good luck and happiness throughout the Chinese New Year of The Rabbit:
Gong Xi Fa Cai!