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Happy Yuan Xiao Festival

Posted by Tina | 02.15.14

Yuan Xiao

Today is the 15th day of Chinese New Year, the first full moon in the New Year. Holding lanterns around and solving riddles on lanterns are traditions, and maybe that’s where the English name “Lantern Festival” came from. In China, the day is called Yuan Xiao Festival. Yuan Xiao literally means night of the first month in New Year, and it is also the name of the sticky rice balls people eat on this day. It’s a day for family reunions, and also the first festival after Chinese New Year Day when people sends hundreds and thousands of text messages or WeChat messages to their friends and families.

Lantern show

Chinese New Year is a 15-day celebration. How have we been celebrating? Partying, feast and drinking? Nope! Everyday has its own significance, do’s and don’ts. Having grown up in Beijing, I probably know less than half of the traditions. Plus as China is such a big country, every region or maybe each one of the 56 ethnic groups has its own way of celebration.

Here’s a good article talking about the day-by-day celebrations, as well as some do’s and don’ts: http://www.chinatravel.com/focus/chinese-new-year/celebration.htm. The way I define this being a “good article” is that I personally have heard of most of the traditions described in it when I was in China, and actually apply some. From my point of view, my family’s version of New Year celebration is much simpler.

First of all, for any festivals, what really matters to most people is how many days off they can get. CNY is a 7-day long stat holiday. However, the 7-day include one weekends, plus people are requested to work two extra weekend days, which means long working weeks before and/or after the 7-day holiday (Lantern Festival is not a stat holiday this year). To many, the 7-day does allow them to take a long haul trip and thus worth the hard work before and/or after it.

Celebration starts on NY Eve. It’s not a stat holiday but many companies offer their staff half day off.  NY Eve dinner is the most rich meal during the festival. Besides lots of kinds of meat, serving fish is a must. The pronunciation of the word fish is same as the word extra. Like Gong Xi Fa Cai, Nian Nian You Yu every year there’s extra. At eight o’clock, if not playing mahjong,  people would gather around the TV and start to watch the 4.5hr long national NY Eve Show. Sometimes the TV volume has to be turned fairly high while uproarious fireworks outside is bombarding the sky above the whole city.

Red Pocket

Flour Fish

New Year Day breakfast is always dumplings,  plus a fish-shaped donut called flour fish ( in your imagination it might look really cute, but sadly my family don’t really put an effort into shaping it. The name is what matters.) which is a traditional snack from the origin of my grandpa, Shan Dong province. In the bright shiny clean home (“spring cleaning” need to be done before the New Year as a tradition), adults by rotation would play mahjong while the rest watch TV. We either watch the replay of the NY Eve Show since they missed some of it because of mahjong, or a new year horoscope show on a Mandarin channel from HK). A privilege of being a kid, as well as the happiest moment during CNY for a kid, is getting red pockets with money. For dinner, we would go to my mom’s side of family for dinner for a change if the night before was spent with my dad’s side of family.

Fast forward, the next 6 days after New Year Day and before going back to school/work mainly involves shopping, gathering with friends, travelling, and of course, lots of food. Older generations clearly follow more tradition than younger generations. Many of these days, my aunt would gather family members together for a special traditional dish/meal for the day, which generally is for luck, health and fortune. Certain superstitious taboos don’t allow people do certain things. Hair-cutting is a big taboo for my grandpa and many others as they believe that it would bad luck and curse their uncle (from the mother side of family). Grandpa would get a haircut on the 2nd day of February in lunar calendar, for good fortune.

Being in Canada while all my family are in China, I miss them the most during Chinese New Year. Going to some local celebrations and gathering with friends are the things I can do to feel the holiday atmosphere. These are also things I can tell my family about when they ask about what I am doing for celebrating the New Year. I am thankful that there are Chinese New Year events around, and that more and more people and businesses are involved in the celebration. They make me feel like home.