Bright, Fun, Gaudy, Fantastic; Chinese New Year is on the same celebratory level as Christmas in America. I have heard how laowai abandon the country in droves this week to escape the enormous crowds, incessant firecrackers and closed businesses (I was warned to buy extra groceries in anticipation), but we are excited to celebrate China’s most important holiday in the thick of it all, no matter how many sleepless nights the firecrackers cause!
Everywhere you turn, you will see freshly hung cheery red lanterns and decorations. As this is the year of the horse, equines emblazon everything from cards, sculptures, art and underwear. We even saw a special edition Year of the Horse My Little Pony (still kicking myself for not getting that one for Charlotte). You name it, they make a horse version of it. There are also tangerine trees everywhere, which make a popular gift. The shape and color of the fruit is reminiscent of coins, symbolizing prosperity.
The CNY aisle in our grocery store
Preparing our home
For all your CNY needs!
Orion’s first hong bao
Horse displays everywhere!
There are many rules and also exceptions to these rules about what is proper CNY etiquette. Do not wear or give gifts in the color white–a funeral color. Do not give gifts in fours–the word four, si, sounds similar to the word death. Six and Eight are auspicious numbers, however. Noodles should be uncut to represent a long life. Hongbao (red envelopes given to children and unemployed adults) should be give in even numbers–odd numbered monetary gifts are only given at funerals. However, this is determined by the first digit in the number, not by the number as a whole (for example, 30 is considered an odd number based on the leading digit 3). There are so many rules I wonder if anyone remembers or understands them all. The one that sticks with me, however, is that no one is allowed to sweep floors on the first day of the year. DONE!
I sent a photo of the festive sign I bought for our front door to a Chinese friend, asking if I had the character displayed correctly. She congratulated me for knowing to hang it upside down which is how this specific character is done for the holiday. Say what?!
Orion’s school put on a grand CNY performance complete with dragons, lion dancers, Chinese acrobats and confetti cannons! His Pre-Kindergarten class performed their version of a Kung Fu demonstration which was adorable. I cannot stop watching the video of him on stage. Should I be bothered that he smiled widest as he was “punching” the backs of his friends?
The grand finale
He loves that punching!
One night we took a trip to Yuyuan Gardens to enjoy the annual lantern display. The lanes were lined with hundreds of lit lanterns, each lane with a different theme to it. The main attraction was the huge display at the center of it all, featuring a three story tall horse snorting smoke surrounded by animatronic figures. At the entrance to the Garden of Contentment, the waters surrounding the famous zig-zag bridge (it is believed evil spirits cannot turn corners so the bridge is safe. *phew*) were full of bright animatronic figures and scenes. The walk-through started, however, with a scene depicting Adam and Eve; surprising, considering China’s environment of strictly regulated religion. It was a very enjoyable evening!
Adam and Eve–the figure in red represents God
We are in this photo somewhere!
Mr. Li and his mother, proud to show off their most honored holiday, invited us again for a feast at their home on New Year’s Eve. If Santa Clause was a Chinese Granny, it would be Mrs. Li. Waiting excitedly at her front door, pink cheeked, eager to see the children, she happily handed each of them a hong bao full of money. Last time Mrs. Li prepared 21 dishes–this time when Mr. Li asked his mother how many she made, she looked perplexed–she lost count! The table was set with about six dishes when we arrived, and continued on into the evening. Poor Mrs. Li barely had time to sit and enjoy a few bites before she was shuffling back into the kitchen to make something new every few minutes. Our feast included traditional foods such as Eight Treasures Rice (glutinous rice mold studded with raisins, red dates, nuts and filled with sweet red bean paste) and Tang Yuan (a sweet soup filled with dumplings full of sweet black sesame paste). The evening rightfully concluded by setting off firecrackers in the street which was much anticipated by Orion.
Fireworks a’la Rambo
Mrs. Li and I
Back at home, the loud fireworks did not interrupt the children’s sleep or Layne’s ability to concentrate on work, which is exactly what he went back to doing. The deafening noise and billowing smoke culminated just before midnight, but we could not see the actual fireworks because the air was too; how to put it delicately so my phone doesn’t get shut off again; full of revolutionary zeal. The kind that causes lung cancer. It is the closest I can imagine to being in a war without ever having been in one. It was loud and shook the building and seemed unending. Fantastic fun!
Layne living it up on CNY
Happy New Year!
Xin Nian Kuai Le!