Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy (Chinese) New Year!

Hello everyone! Today is 春节 (chūn jié), also known as Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, THE biggest holiday in China.

Hooray! Happy New Year!!! 新年快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè)!

Image source.

So, you may ask, what do we do for Chinese New Year? Well I’m glad you asked. First of all, everyone travels to visit their family, on trains, planes, buses, etc. (In China it’s seen as totally normal to take a 24-hour train ride if one’s hometown is that far away. I think most Americans wouldn’t even consider that an option- if it’s that far, you fly, obviously.) Anyway, the trains and everything are super-crowded.

People go see their family and have a big meal together. It’s traditional to make dumplings (饺子 (jiǎo zi) in northern China and 团子 (tuán zi) in southern China).

饺子 (jiǎo zi). Image source.

团子 (tuán zi). Image source.

The date of Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so it’s different from year to year- it falls somewhere in January or February. This year it’s January 31, so January 30 is the big night when everyone stays up late for the new year. There’s a tv show called 春晚 (chūn wǎn) (the full name is 春节联欢晚会) which is the equivalent of “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve”- it has singing, skits, magic tricks, and all kinds of entertaining things.

Some people also play 麻将 (má jiàng), which we usually write as “mah jong” in English for some reason.

Playing 麻将 (má jiàng). Image source.

And the fireworks (鞭炮 biānpào) (or maybe this should be translated "firecrackers"? I'm not sure). You hear them from time to time during the days close to the new year (like, during the day. Or night. Whenever.) but the biggest bunch of fireworks happens at midnight. People just buy fireworks and blow them up on the sidewalk outside their apartment- which is probably highly illegal in America. And most of them only make a loud sound, no cool colors or lights or anything.

Wal-mart was all decked out for the new year.

And let’s talk about the decorations. First of all, it’s China, so everything is red. You see red lanterns hanging everywhere. They’re not real lanterns though, just decorative.

And the Chinese character 福 (fú). It means happiness and good fortune, and dude, you see this character on the Spring Festival decorations everywhere.

Decorations with the character 福 (fú) for sale. Also fish decorations.
And it’s often hung upside-down.

福 (fú) upside-down.

Why upside down? Well because in Chinese, 福倒了 (fú dào le), “fu is upside-down,” is pronounced the same as 福到了 (fú dào le), “happiness has come.” It’s a giant pun with a holiday based around it, you guys.

There are also a lot of fish decorations. Apparently “fish” (鱼 yú) is pronounced the same as “surplus” (余 yú). So people say “年年有余 (nián nián yǒu yú),” which means “every year have more than you need” (or “every year have fish” if you’re into puns).

Image source.

Parents give their children 红包 (hóng bāo), a red envelope with money in it. (Apparently this continues until the kid is considered an adult- maybe when they turn 18, or get a job, or get married- it could be different for each family.) Adults also give 红包 (hóng bāo) to their friends’ and relatives’ kids. The amount of money in the 红包 (hóng bāo) ranges from maybe 200 Chinese RMB (about $30 in US dollars) to 2000 RMB ($300). You would give a lot of money to your own kids and just a little to kids of acquaintances you don’t know well.

So yes, kids get 红包 (hóng bāo). But other than that, people don’t give each other gifts- which really surprised me, because everybody in China always says Spring Festival is comparable to Christmas in America. Because it’s the biggest holiday and people travel to see their family. But no gifts. What.

I mean obviously if you go to someone’s house to eat, you bring a gift, but that’s just regular Chinese culture, not a new year tradition.

Horse decorations.

2014 is the year of the horse. Every year has one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, which is as follows:

马 (mǎ) – horse – 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1942, 1930, ...

羊 (yáng) – goat – 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955, 1943, 1931, ...

猴 (hóu) – monkey - 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956, 1944, 1932, ...

鸡 (jī) – chicken – 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957, 1945, 1933, ...

狗 (gǒu) – dog – 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946, 1934, ...

猪 (zhū) – pig – 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947, 1935, ...

鼠 (shǔ) – rat – 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960, 1948, 1936, ...

牛 (niú) – ox – 2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949, 1937, ...

虎 (hǔ) – tiger – 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938, ...

兔 (tù) – rabbit – 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, ...

龙 (lóng) – dragon – 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952, 1940, ...

蛇 (shé) – snake – 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, ...

Find the year you were born to find out what your animal is. (Although if you were born in January or February, better double-check because we’re using the lunar calendar here and it doesn’t exactly line up.)

If you mention your age, Chinese people will be like, “oh so your animal is the rabbit” or whatever. People just know this stuff offhand.

So in December I started seeing horse decorations everywhere, and I’m like, “we’re about to celebrate the year of the horse, aren’t we?” Seriously. Everywhere, everything is a horse.

Well, all the advertising has horses, anyway.

And here’s another Chinese pun: 马上 (mǎ shàng) means “right away,” but if you translate it literally it means “on a horse.” So people are making a lot of jokes about putting money on a toy horse and announcing “马上有钱! (mǎshàng yǒu qián)” which means either “there’s money on the horse” or “I’m about to get money!”

(Look at the above image. On the horse it says "马上‘得福’(mǎ shàng dé fú)"  which means "Dove on a horse" or "we're about to have Dove chocolates!" or "we're about to have happiness and good fortune" (depending on how literally you translate the characters in the Chinese name for Dove chocolate).)

Happy year of the horse, everyone! 马年快乐 (mǎ nián kuàilè)! May you be healthy and happy all year, and may everything go well with you. Wishing you and your family a fantastic new year!

1 comment:

  1. Happy year of the horse to you, too :)
    Very interesting!