2021 is the year of the Ox, so for all the oxen-born people 2021 is your year. Today is the beginning of the Chinese Lunar Calendar and will be celebrated with a long and beautiful festival, known as the Spring Festival. It is called the Spring Festival as it beginnings at the start of Spring and marks the end of Winter. It is unfortunate that due to the global circumstances, those who may have wanted to go to a festival may not be able to. For anyone who has not witness one of these celebrations, do you ever wonder what being a part of the festivities? Here are some of the ways that you can celebrate.
The most popular decorations that many may recognise is the red, paper decorations. In Chinese culture, the colour red symbolises celebration and luck, as well as happiness. The lanterns that are seen hanging above streets and houses are supposedly meant to warn off bad luck. Another way to display the lucky red colour would be to cut pieces of paper into shapes and each shape represents something different. For example, a pine tree means that someone wishes for eternal youth. Like many paper designs like these, they are placed on glass so the patterns and design can be seen clearly and stand out. Door couplets are also popular decorations and like in the name, they can be placed on the front doors of people’s houses. Celebrators write poems on each one and much like the paper cut-outs, the poems are about their wishes for the new year.
Then there are the flowers that are used to symbolise many celebratory emotions. The first flower is a peach blossom, which most commonly symbolises love but it also means growth and prosperity. Another type of blossom used is a plum blossom. Although they make look similar, a plum blossom can be much more vibrant and they symbolise determination and trustworthiness. A kumquat is a plant that the Chinese use, it looks quite simple next to a blossom with its dark green leaves and orange fruit but it does have a special meaning behind it. If someone has a kumquat in their house, it means that wish to have good luck and wealth. There is also the fact that all of these plants symbolise the coming of Spring, with new flowers and life blooming.
There are many amazing delicacies that are prepared and eaten today but here are just a few of the foods they eat during the New Year celebration.
Spring rolls – Like in the name, they are eaten at the Spring Festival as they represent the Spring. The traditional filling for these rolls is shiitake mushroom, pork, cabbage, carrots, herbs and spices.
Chicken dishes – There are different ways that chicken can be prepared for the celebratory meals. One dish is steamed chicken and sometimes the head is left on the body. They leave the head to keep the representation of family and reunion. Another poultry dish is chicken feet, which are meant to give someone wealth. They are also very good for the body as they contain collagen, which gives the skin elasticity and many more health benefits.
Dumplings – They are not like the dumplings you may be thinking of, they are not the ones found in a British stew. Instead, they are more like parcels, with a filling (one similar to a spring roll filling) inside a dough. Dumplings are another dish that is said to symbolise wealth as they look like ingots. Some families put a coin inside a dumpling and then the person who finds the coin supposedly has good luck for the rest of the year.
New Year Cake – Otherwise known as nian gao, this is the most popular desserts during Chinese New Year. They are made from brown sugar and rice and are meant to represent being complete and having close relationships with the surrounding people.
Rice dumplings – Unlike the savoury dumplings, these are rice balls that are commonly filled with peanuts or sesame seeds but can also be infused with brown sugar or walnuts. They are eaten during the Lantern Festival as they symbolise family and completeness, so by releasing the lanterns and eating the rice balls they are wishing well on their family.
Steamed sponge cake – This light and fluffy treat is commonly eaten for breakfast. A unique ingredient in this cake is rice wine, alcohol that has been made from rice starch being transformed into sugar.
Since the festival lasts for around two weeks, there is a lot of time to celebrate. These are some of the ways that Chinese New Year is traditionally celebrated.
There is a seven day before the Spring Festival begins where families clean their whole house. They do this to get rid off any bad luck in time for the New Year. This period is also spent creating and putting up the decorations, as well as buying all the food. Having the decorations up is said to drive the bad luck and evil away. Then there is the New Years Eve meal, which is spent with family members. Many families with show respect to their ancestors by giving offerings, which can be things like meat or wine. When the meal is finished, children may receive red envelopes from their parents. In these envelopes is money and the amount of money someone is given varies. For example, a parent may give their own child 100 yuan and they may give a child that is not theirs 20 yuan.
At the strike of midnight, bells will ring to signify the beginning of the New Year. Then comes the fireworks and some believe that the louder their fireworks are, the more luck they shall have in the future. Some families light fireworks before their New Years Eve meal to call upon their ancestors so they can celebrate with them. Much like the decorations, setting off fireworks were used to warn off evil, to begin with.
During the days to come, there are lion dances, which is performed for luck and success. A lion is an animal that symbolises “wealth and power” and are commonly seen in pairs in front of gates or temples to scare away an wickedness. Some may wonder why lion statues or festival designs look completely different to an actual lion, that is because lions were never seen by most Ancient Chinese people. The dance consist of two people underneath a lion costume, one guiding the large lion head and the other controlling the hind. The dancers will use movements like shaking the head and body.
Then there is the dragon dance, which differs from the lion dancing as people hold onto sticks that are attached to the underside of the dragons belly to control its movements. The dragon is also made from a variety of materials, such as bamboo and paper. Whilst a dragon is typically the villain in a fairy tale or movie, in China dragons are seen to be kind and amiable. They are believed to symbolise power and knowledge. The dancers holding the dragon will follow someone holding another stick that has a giant sphere on the top. Both the lion and the dragon can be seen at the same festival, the Spring Festival but also at the Lantern Festival.
On the 15th day it is the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the New Year celebrations. During the festival, people will watch the difference dances, drummers and performers. At night, people light their lanterns that all vary in proportion and appearance, with each symbol represent its own wish. Some lanterns have riddles hidden inside of them, if someone manages to work out the riddle then they get a prize from the writer. There can be different types of lanterns, those that are hung in people’s houses and among the streets. The other lantern type is one that can be released into the sky, the lantern carries the hopes and desires of the one that released it, to bring them good luck. After a spectacular show of fireworks, all the decorations are taken down.
Many people are gifted new clothes or go and buy themselves some new outfits, then they wear them for the celebrations. This is because it represents a new beginning, a fresh start to the New Year. However, traditional clothing may be losing its popularity among the younger generations, but there are still people who wear a few traditional pieces.
Tang suit – This is a men’s jacket that has an upturned collar and knot buttons as the fastening, some pieces can have embroidery decorating the fabric. The clothing inherits its name from the Tang Empire as the clothes they wore were called “Tangzhuang”.
Hanfu – Both a shirt and skirt make up this particular outfit that can be worn by any gender. The left side of the shirt overlaps the right and then tied with a sash. The top of the skirt is hidden underneath the top and flows right down to the feet.
Qipao – A dress worn by women that is short-sleeved, tight-fitted and high-necked. The original, worn by the Qing Dynasty in the 16th Century, was loose-fitted and was a “Long A-shaped, square cut outfit”.
Some may go back to their usual clothes once the two week festival has ended. However, for those who born with the same zodiac animal as the one being celebrated they may infuse the colour red into their outfits for a long time, maybe even a year.