Lantern Festival (Yuánxiāojié 元宵节)

Did you hear the fireworks last night? Can you still hear?

Yesterday (Feb 9, 2009), the fifteenth day of the first month, was Lantern Festival. Lantern Festival comes 15 days after Chinese New Year, and marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebration. Lantern Festival is also the last day that fireworks are legally allowed.

REASONING BEHIND FIREWORKS

In ancient times, the Chinese would fill bamboo stems with gunpowder that would be burnt to create small explosions to drive away evil spirits. Now, in modern times, firecrackers are used. The myth is that evil spirits are scared away by the loud popping noises and explosions that fireworks emit. Fireworks also indicate a joyful time of year, and have become a very important part of Chinese New Year celebrations.

POPULAR ACTIVITIES DURING LANTERN FESTIVAL

Lantern Festival is not to be confused with Mid-Autumn Festival (aka Moon Festival, “Zhongqiujie” 中秋节), which is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is usually around mid or late September.

Lanterns
You will notice that lanterns are hung everywhere. They are usually red in colour and tend to be oval in shape.

Sometimes these lanterns have riddles, and a popular activity is for people to guess these riddles. At other times, these lanterns simply contain messages of good fortune, family reunion, abundant harvest, prosperity and love.

Food (tāngyuán汤圆)
A popular food item to be eaten during this time is “yuanxiao”, which is a glutinous rice ball that has a filling inside. Fillings will vary from the traditional black sesame, or red bean, to green tea or even chocolate fillings.

HISTORY
The 15th day of the 1st lunar month is the Chinese Lantern Festival because the first lunar month is called yuan-month and in the ancient times people called night Xiao. The 15th day is the first night to see a full moon. So the day is also called Yuan Xiao Festival in China.
To the Chinese, the roundness of the moon is important to them because it symbolizes harmony, unity, and “completeness”.

Chinese New Year: Popular Greetings

A popular greeting to bring in the new year, which is equivalent to “Happy New Year”, is 新年快乐 (Xīnnián kuàilè). I have often heard my Chinese friends say, 元旦快乐 (yuándàn kuàilè), which means the same thing.

Another popular greeting is 恭喜发财 (Gōngxǐ fācái), which translates are “Congratulations and be prosperous”. There is a very popular song that is played every new year almost everywhere you go. Listen to this song:

As a joke, some youth would say the phrase, 恭喜发财,红包拿来 (Gōngxǐ fācái, hóngbāo nálái). This phrase translated in English means, “Congratulations and be prosperous, give me a red envelope”.

Chinese New Year: Customs and Practices “风俗习惯“(fēng sú xí guàn)

If you plan on staying in China during the Chinese New Year, it is helpful to be aware of some very common customs and practices, called 风俗习惯(fēng sú xí guàn) in Chinese. Understanding the Chinese tradition will make one’s experience celebrating Spring Festival much more enriching.

FOOD

Food is a very important part of any culture, and the Chinese sure love to feast! An especially important time of year for the family is to have dinner together on lunar New Year’s Eve, called, 除夕(chúxī)
. New Year’s eve dinner usually includes chicken and fish. Also a very common custom in the mainland is to watch the CCTV New Year’s Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会 “Zhōngguó zhōngyāng diànshìtái chūnjié liánhuān wǎnhuì”), which features drama, dance, and song performances.

RED PACKETS 红包 (hóng bāo)
Red packets contain money and are given by adults to young children. The amount given should usually be of even numbers, as money in odd number amounts are given during funerals. However, the amount in the red envelopes should never add up to 4, as the word four is a homophone for death, 死 (sǐ). A popular amount adds up to 8. While the south of China follows this tradition, people in the north will give amounts of 50 or 100 yuan, not taking into consideration odd and even numbers.

GIFTS 礼物 (lǐwù)
Also customary when going to one’s home is to bring gifts such as fruit, candy, chocolate, and cake.

FIREWORKS 放炮(fàngpào)
A very important part of Chinese tradition during the lunar New Year celebration is to use fireworks. At 12am, on lunar New Year’s Eve, fireworks will begin to go off. Don’t expect to sleep with the amount of noise that is produced from massive amounts of fireworks being set off. The sky is well lit with fireworks at this time. 15 days from this date, Lantern Festival 元宵节 (yuánxiāojié), fireworks are set off again.

CLOTHING
Many will wear red clothing, as red is the symbol of good fortune and scaring away evil spirits.
In another session, we will discuss the logic or beliefs behind these many customs and practices. The next session will feature some very common New Year’s greetings.

Chinese New Year:Preparations

For most westerners, the BIG New Year celebration has already passed. Not so for the Chinese and many other Asian countries that celebrate the lunar New Year (农历新年 Nónglì xīnnián), which falls on January 26th, 2009. Chinese New Year is also known as Spring Festival (春节 Chūnjié), and many mainland Chinese will almost always use this term.

In preparation for this holiday, many will clean their homes, signifying sweeping away the bad luck of the preceding year and making their homes ready for good luck. Homes are often decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese words, such as “good luck”(福 fú), and couplets (春联 chūnlián). Many will also purchase new clothing, shoes and get hair-cuts or new hairstyles to symbolize a fresh start.

Spring Festival Couplets (春联 chūnlián). Many households choose a pair of red couplets and place them on both sides of the front door.

In Northern China, many will prepare dumplings (饺子 jiǎozi), a symbol of wealth, for the big Chinese New Year’s Eve feast. In Southern China, New Year cake (年糕 niángāo) is made. Niangao literally means increasingly prosperous year in year out.

Dumplings (饺子 jiǎozi)

Chinese New Year cake (年糕 niángāo), made of glutinous rice flour.