Even though it technically is only a 3-day holiday, most people will accumulate their annual leave to travel far and wide and return to their families and hometowns. Obviously, traveling over this period is a nightmare as most flights, trains, long-distance buses get booked immediately! (For a hilarious Chinese comedy depicting the chaos of traveling during this time check out “Lost on Journey/ Ren Zai Ju Tu” on http://v.youku.com/-only in Mandarin, sorry).
The Chinese New Year is a time when relatives gather to share meals. A traditional dish that is brought to the family table is a glutinous rice cake, Nian Gao. The traditional Nian Gao cake is round with a traditional Chinese character on the top. Today, Nian Gao can be formed into a variety of shapes such as fish, which is the bringer of good fortune, and this can be served fried, baked or steamed. Nian Gao is a homonym for the Chinese New Year greeting, “Nian Nian Gao Sheng” which means to have a prosperous and progressive New Year. Eating a whole fish will bring good luck, as a symbol of luck in the beginning and at the end of the year. Additional items such as dried seafoods, mushrooms, meats and varieties of nuts are considered for good health. On a side note – “The words for fish and abundance are pronounced the same in Chinese (yu), so the fish in Chinese culture symbolizes wealth. Fish also symbolize harmony, marital happiness and reproduction because they multiply rapidly and sometimes swim in pairs.”(www.chinesepaintings.com).
Over the first couple of days people will hand out “Red Bags/ Hong Bao” containing money as gifts to children and sometimes to unmarried women. Upon returning to work after the New Year, employers often give their employees a red bag too – but this is usually just symbolic as a sign of good will for the upcoming year.
One of the traditions for businesses, restaurant, shopping centers and co-operations is to hire “Chinese Lions.” These are two guys dressed in a Chinese Lion costume. It is called the Lion Dance. One is red and one is yellow. Accompanying them is a lady with a tambourine and two guys with drums. They stand waiting at the entrance of the office/building/restaurant with one of the lions on either side of the lady with the tambourine. The owner or general manager then paints the eyes on the lions with a black strip. The loud banging of tambourines and drums start up and the lions begin to perform a dance. It is like a little aerobic show. They go to each outlet or office where a piece of lettuce is tied up with a red ribbon. Behind the lettuce is a red envelope (hong bao) containing money. The lions perform in front of the office, outlet and then the guys under the lions pounce up and eat the lettuce and take the money. This is performed over and over again in front of all the outlets where lettuce and red envelopes are hung. All the time the drums and the tambourines are banged and played to no particular tune, until all the lettuce is eaten and the envelopes collected.
Lastly, houses and shops will adorn their entrances with red posters, and streets will hang up the famous red lanterns. There are also firework displays. But we’re not talking about the lovely colorful Disney type displays here – oh no. We are talking about the LOUD firecracker general noise disarray type fireworks! You’ve been warned :). So, if this is your first time in China over the Chinese New Year, you have a few things to look forward too! “Xin nian kuai le!” – Happy New Year! Say it to your neighbors and impress the socks off them!
Thanks to Wonder and Brutas for helping with the info for this post (not their real names).