By MICHELLE SCHMIDT
Friday begins a new year on the Chinese calendar and with it, plenty of celebrations. Yuqiu Lian, who moved to Lewiston from China around nine years ago, shares seven things you might not have known about the holiday:
1. The Chinese New Year isn’t just a one-day celebration.
Unlike the New Year in the United States, the Chinese New Year celebration lasts two weeks, from their New Year’s Eve until the first full moon, 15 days later. The entire holiday period is known as the Spring Festival; the last day — which falls on Feb. 14 this year — is the Lantern Festival. Holiday traditions vary from region to region and are largely affected by a family’s religious affiliation and devotion.
But just because the festival is two weeks long doesn’t mean everyone gets the whole time off to celebrate. Students get a winter break during this time and most professionals get the first three days of the festival off of work. The Spring Festival (or new year) ends with the Lantern Festival, which is an important secondary holiday, much like our Thanksgiving is to Christmas.
2. The holiday is preceded by lots of cleaning.
Traditionally, the entire home is dusted, swept and thoroughly cleaned to get rid of evil and bad luck. The practice of deep cleaning before the new year is still practiced by most Chinese, even though many Chinese today don’t believe in the religious symbolism of the act.
3. Lions — not just dragons — are an important symbol in parades.
Most Americans are familiar with the multi-person dragons that weave through the streets as part of a festive new year parade, but the lion dance is also an important part of the celebration. Like the dragon, the lion is thought to bring good luck. The lion dance varies based on the region — the lions in the north have a lion-like appearance, while those in the south are exaggerated and more resemble a mythical creature.
4. People watch the “New Year’s Gala,” the largest entertainment television show of the year.
Most families turn on the TV on New Year’s Eve to watch dragon and lion dances, popular singing artists, circus acts, comedy routines and more. Even if people aren’t gathered together in front of the TV the whole evening, having the show on adds a festive atmosphere to the home. Because it is televised, people in both urban and rural areas can enjoy the show and Chinese who are overseas watch it via the Internet.
5. Unlike holiday gift giving in the U.S., the giving of red envelopes isn’t an exchange.
In China, gifts come from those who have a regular source of income, so parents and elders give red envelopes containing various amounts of money to younger non-married children and married or independent children give red envelopes to their parents or elders. The red envelopes always contain money and are decorated with symbols of wealth and luck. Though the amount of money typically corresponds to income, it is more about the act of giving than the amount given.
6. Doorway decor expresses a wish for the coming year.
Traditionally, people select a new couplet — a two-line poem written on narrow vertical scrolls or boards — to adorn each side of their doorway at the beginning of the new year. This couplet is carefully written following poetic rules and reflects the desires for the coming year. Pre-made generic couplets are available to purchase, but those who want custom couplets can have them made.
7. Symbolism plays an important role of the festivities; even foods have meaning.
Traditional New Year foods vary in the north and south. In the north, families eat dumplings, which sometimes contain small surprises for the next year: a coin means you will make more money, candy means you will have a sweet life and a peanut means you will have good health. In the south, families gather to eat a variety of foods around a hot pot. A whole fish — or sometimes a goose or duck — is also served, symbolizing abundance and prosperity.
Schmidt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 305-4578.