So, tomorrow is New Year’s Eve for a large majority of the planet. Chinese Spring Festival or Lunar New Year. Happens on the 31st January 2014. It marks the start of the year of the Wooden Horse, or as South Africans might call it – the stokperdjtie. The year of the Hobby. Alright. As you were.
Since China is one American fuck-up away from global domination, best we learn the new traditions. Besides the Chinese aren’t the only ones celebrating tomorrow – it’s also in Korea, Vietnam and Japan as well as most other Asian countries. (But not my beloved Thailand. Their New Year, Sonkran happens in April – where they have a country wide water fight, to wash the year away!!)
So, if (like me) you’re interested in travel, culture and another excuse to kiss someone at midnight, then read up – and give a little local flair to the Chinese tradition. Here’s what you need to know:
- They drink a lot over the New Year. (yay)
- It’s basically a family reunion.
- There’s lots of tea and cake to be shared
- Oranges represent the gift of gold
- Red Underwear helps you get lucky (duh!)
- Ghosts are everywhere
- Old people must be honoured
- It lasts for 15 days
- At the end of all of this, you will be a year older.
The Chinese people will eat in on NYE, it’s not all about shots of tequila and pumping and grinding in a club. They will traditionally eat a big feast at home on this night, and invite all of their family to be together. The feast usually involves fish, as this is the goodluck for the new year omen. (Unless you’re Nemo’s dad, in which case it’s the worst luck possible.)
The family reunion is actually so sever that it’s the world’s biggest season of human migration. Traffic Armageddon strikes as every single person makes their way across the country, home. The Government expects 3.6 BILLION people to make their way home across cities in China this year! HALF THE POPULATION OF THE WORLD!!!! Hows that N1 gridlock looking now, Cape Town?
The older people give red envelopes of money (how ever much they want, a token amount or a good chunk) to the children. The money is seen as good luck. (Yes, I find my luck increases when i have more money too.)
It’s this Friday night, the colour red is lucky (wear it or decorate with it) at midnight they release fireworks to scare away a monster (who is scared of fire, loud noises and the colour red, conveniently). I plan to get some sparklers because fireworks are a bit douchy – they don’t only scare evil spirits but do a pretty good job of scaring the bejeezus out of dogs too. So, we can still do the traditional countdown – midnight kiss, and then light some sparklers and run around with joy. I’ll also get some Simply Asia
– seafood red curry – that’s fishy enough.
(Also, wearing red underwear is considered very lucky. Sorry what. GET LUCKY.)
But, It’s not one night – it’s 15 days!
Chinese new year, or Spring Festival, starts on the first day of the first lunar month and ends on the full moon, 15 days later. This year the New Year Celebrations will end the day after Valentine’s Day – The last day is the Lantern Festival, so carry through the Asian theme and get some paper lanterns from China-town to lanternify your Valentine’s day dinner. How romantical (and cultural) you shall be.
Day 1: Visit Granny
The 15 days of New Yearness is the time you should visit family members and spread the New Year Love. On the first day, the oldest and most senior members are visited (which makes sense, their days are numbered, so why play chance?)
So, get in that car, visit Aunty Maple (even though she’s going to make you watch videos of her cats that are nowhere near as amazing as the YouTube ones you voluntarily devour.) I plan to Skype call my Nanna on New Year’s Day as she’s the most senior person left in my family. (Hey, it can’t hurt to have some good omens. Even if they are ‘made in China.)
Tea and cake all the time!
This is also the tradition of welcoming guests with tea and sweet treats (which is supposed to sweeten the year ahead.) The visitor also brings a small gift to the household, usually oranges because the colour symbolises gold and wealth. Ok, now you’re talking my language. Over the next 2 weeks I have to have guests over for tea and cake? What a MARVELOUS idea, China. I’ll put the cake on a China plate and really up my eastern ‘cool’. And if my guests want to bring me REAL gold, that’s ok too. :)
“Sweets and fruits are served on a round or octagonal tray – the form resembling togetherness and hence the tray is most commonly translated as the “Tray of Togetherness”. – Source
(- Yeh, so a circular china plate will do.)
Not eating meat on the first day of the Lunar New Year (this Saturday the 1st Feb) is believed to make you live longer. It honours the Buddhist tradition that nothing living should be killed on the first day of the new year. So don’t go swatting any mozzies either.
You can rent a boyfriend!!!!
Lunar New Year can be rough for singles, especially females. Many family reunions are highlighted by dreaded interrogations of singles who haven’t settled down.
Now there’s a solution — boyfriend rentals.
China’s largest online retailer, Taobao, has a section for fake boyfriend rentals, so parents and relatives can finally stop nagging.
Renting a bogus marriage prospect ranges from RMB 500 (R900) to 8,000 (R15000) per day.
The package comes with “a free embrace, hand holding and a goodbye kiss on the cheek,” as well as a list of additional specific service charges. (Hanky panky, pokey wokey?)
According to People’s Daily, dinner costs RMB 50 (R100) an hour and a trip to the movies is RMB 30 (R80) — double if it’s a thriller. (baa haa, chickens!
15 days of Myth and Legend creation.
According to a Chinese legend, Nüwa is the goddess who created the world. Way to go China, your God is Female. Feminists will love this, it’s almost enough to forgive the sweatshops. She created certain animals on different days, hence each day is considered the birthday of the corresponding animal. Human beings were created from yellow clay on the seventh day after the creation of the world. That’s strangely similar to our male Christian God, but this Goddess used Yellow Clay; I can’t decide if that’s racist.
So all 15 days are birthdays of different animals then. and for your 2014 convenience here is the summary of every day we will have starting on the 1st of February 2014.
Saturday 1st, The Chicken:
(I guess it came before the egg) – We’ve covered this day: No meat, visit granny and have people over for tea and cake at will. Also, don’t shower or do laundry – it washes away good luck.
Sunday Day 2, The Dog:
People eat wonton soup on this day, feed pets and stray dogs well and pray to your ancestors. Married women visit their birth parents on this day too. (On the day of a Dog? Are they calling her a bitch?)
Monday Day 3, The Pig:
Day of respect to the dead. If you’ve had a family member die in 3 years, you don’t go visiting houses of other relatives and try to visit the grave site instead. It’s believed that evil spirits roam the earth on this day and it’s bad luck to be outdoors unless to honour them. That’s this coming Monday the 3rd, as if we didn’t hate Mondays enough – this one is haunted! Good luck out there.
Businesses do re-open on this third day, but not by conservative Chinese as they don’t want to be poked by roaming ghosts. I say, more holiday, more betterer but I ‘aint afraid of no Ghosts.
Tuesday Day 4, The Sheep:
Like all good sheep, the 4th day is just following and copying the 3rd day. So beware the ghosts again on Tuesday the 4th Feb. – Some good hearty ‘Ghostbusters’ songs played on repeat might be good, or pop in Sixth Sense DVD after work for a little Chinese culture couch time.
Wednesday Day 5, The Ox:
This is the birthday of the God of Wealth, and shops reopen on this day. People try to stay home in case the money-god decides to visit them and they are out. Friends and classmates can be visited on this day, it’s also the day of 5 elements (Water, wood, fire, metal earth) but that’s getting quite deep into Chinese culture.
Ok – this day seems a little wishy-washy for us Westerners who are trying to take part, what is it with Wednesdays!? Ok, here’s an idea: People in the north eat dumplings on day 5, so you might want to do that. And sweep your apartment and you may now do your laundry (or just keep leaving it ’till you’ve run out of clean underwear and are wearing bikini bottoms, like i always have to.)
Thursday Day 6, The Horse:
This day traditionally marks visiting of temples, relatives and friends. So it’s another Tea and cake day – basically. Yay.
Friday Day 7, Man:
Hey hey. It’s the day mankind was created, so it’s our birthday in the New year’s celebrations!! (Fun fact, this is the day everyone get a year older. Kids are 1 when they are born in Asia, and if they are born before the Lunar new year, they get another birthday. This results in kids who are actually 5 calling themselves 7. When I taught english in Korea, i used to ask them they YEAR they were born in, rather than their AGE, because – as you see, that gets confusing)
So, this day kind of sucks because you’re technically supposed to get a year older. I am NOT ready to be 31, yet. BUT it kind of rules because it’s EVERYONE’S BIRTHDAY!!! You eat foods specific to the celebration of your region. So, if we’re going to personalise that – it means what ever food you associate with celebration or joy; my celebratory food is probably Sushi. Am I right? Am I right!? I might strap on a party hat, hand out balloons at my local pub and tell everyone ‘Happy Birthday’ too.
Saturday Day 8, Completion day:
You can have another family reunion dinner and at midnight they pray to the Jade Emperor
. (He’s the big dog god. He rules over all heavens – China has 30 heavens. He also rules hell and created the Universe, so you pretty much don’t want to upset this one. His birthday is the 9th day of the Lunar new Year. So staying up till midnight, you’re waiting to wish him a happy birthday.
Sunday Day 9, Jade Emporer’s Birthday:
So the Jade Emperor is pretty divine and all ruling. He’s God of all and in charge of alles. Think of Santa, He sends a servant-dude (elf) down to the all households to inspect their behaviour of the last year. If they were naughty or nice they get blessings or punishments.
He is honoured by lighting incense or food offerings. And (get this) even though he’s vegetarian, you can offer him meat too, in case he has meat-eater guests over.
I’m probably going to light incense, because I would NOT like to upset this Jade dude. (My stoner neighbours are obviously very enamoured with him, i smell them burning incense every day.)
Monday day 10 – Wednesday Day 12:
More days for visiting and tea and cake and presents of oranges, mandarins or clementines (remember, they symbolise gold, and have vitamin C – which can’t hurt.)
Thursday Day 13:
Oh, snap China! This is the day to ‘diet a bit after all the rich foods’ so it’s a detox day, with healthy veggie meals and mustard greens. I might just get a Kauaii smoothie and call it a day.
Friday Day 14: Lantern decoration day (Valentines day)
This is the day of preparation of for the Lantern festival tomorrow – So, if you do nothing else, add some Chinese paper lanterns to your V-day for extra points of “awww”.
Saturday Day 15: Lantern Festival
So, this is the end – you’ve made it. It’s a full moon! Lanterns are everywhere, and traditional food with circular dumplings (to look like the moon) is eaten. It’s another feast with the family tonight – if you can stomach it.
Perhaps just order in some Chinese food, put your feet up and watch Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Or a feel good Christmas movie… or just cry about Valentine’s day.
Until Next year.
May your year of the wooden horse be safe from termites and Spur’s meat fillings.