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Chinese New Year is probably the biggest holiday in China. Sometimes referred to as the Spring Festival, it marks the beginning of a new year according to the lunar calendar and welcomes in a new zodiac mascot. Since Chinese New Year is next Friday, February 16th, I figured it would be fun to share some stories I remember about this holiday as well as some traditions.
Although I spent most of my childhood in California, there was a brief 3 year period when I was in China. This is due to my parents' desire for me to at least have a basic grasp of the Chinese language, and it's the reason I am bilingual today. (I only speak Mandarin at a 3rd grade level, but it still counts!) I left China for good when I was 9 years old, but the memories of the red envelopes and firecrackers have stuck with me ever since.
Chinese New Year usually lands somewhere in February, though it can sometimes occur in January. Each year is named according to one of the 12 Chinese zodiacs. If the animal is identical to the one from the year you were born, then it is said that you will have good luck all year. So, no matter how your life is going, every twelve years, no matter what, you should theoretically be able to have a fantastic year. 2018 is the year of the dog, which symbolizes loyalty.
Growing up, the most iconic thing attached to this holiday was the national broadcast of the Chinese New Year Celebration on CCTV. Preshow started as early as 4pm the day before and the actual program started at 7 or 8 pm, right around dinner time, and continuing until after midnight. It is a massive event filled with skits, musical performances, and acknowledgements. Many of China's most important celebrities show up to perform in the show. In recent years, the overseas celebration program emerged to give those not able to return to mainland China a taste of home.
This holiday is all about gathering with your whole family and eating lots of food. I found out young that a lot of families eat similar things during Spring Festival. When I asked my mom about it, she explained to me the meanings of the dishes. There's almost always fish, which in Chinese sounds like the word for abundance. It carries the hope that you will have an abundance of everything good (primarily money) in the next year. Since the Chinese word for left-overs also sounds like fish and abundance, people will purposefully leave a bite of every dish on the plate. Dumplings look like traditional gold bars, so they're eaten to bring you money. Some families will have sweet sticky rice balls filled with anything from black sesame paste to peanut butter in hot soup for dessert, symbolizing togetherness and reunion.
Chinese New Year is also most Chinese children's favorite holiday, beating out Christmas and New Years. Not only do they get their long winter break during this holiday, they also get red envelopes filled with money. At the family gathering the night before Chinese New Year, children are told to wish their elders happiness and health in the new year. In return for their wishes, the adults give the children money. I've also heard that red envelopes are given out to "hit them over the head with money" so the children will grow up slower.
Finally, I remember that all over Beijing, right when the clock strikes midnight, firecrackers would go off everywhere. The purpose of this is to scare off a mythical monster named Nian that would come into town on Chinese New Year to steal anything from children to live stock. After the climactic firecracker show finishes, people would return to their homes and go to sleep. The next day, on new years day, people would put on new clothes to signify the arrival of the new year.
Although I haven't spent Chinese New Years in China for almost a decade now, I still remember it fondly from when I was little. Now, thinking about it, it is a great holiday. It ensures that you end and begin each year with your family. So whether you celebrate this holiday or not, I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about this holiday. I hope the new year brings you joy and happiness, good health, and good fortune. Happy Chinese New Year! 春节快乐，万事如意！