Chinese New Year celebrations – Welcome to the year of the Snake 蛇 Shé

Chinese New Year is the most important and, at 15 days, the longest holiday in China.  Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar, so it is also called Lunar New Year, and it is considered the beginning of spring, so it is also called Spring Festival.  Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays.  Regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese New Year vary widely.  The Chinese New Year celebrations ended on Sunday February 24th.  We heard hours and hours of firecrackers and fireworks going off until the early hours!  We also lit 2 Chinese lanterns and sent them soaring into the sky.

The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it’s been called since the 20th century, remains the most important social and economic holiday in China.  It is also a time to bring family together for feasting.  With the adoption in China of the Western calendar in 1912, the Chinese joined in celebrating January 1 as New Year’s Day.  However, they continue to celebrate the traditional Chinese New Year, although in a shorter version with a new name–the Spring Festival.   (Significantly, younger generations of Chinese now observe the holiday in a very different manner from their ancestors. For some young people, the holiday has evolved from an opportunity to renew family ties to a chance for relaxation from work.)

Some of the traditions at this time include: each family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck.  Windows and doors are often decorated with red colour paper cut-outs with themes of “good fortune”, “happiness”, “wealth” and “longevity”.  Other activities include lighting firecrackers (to frighten evil spirits) and giving money in red paper envelopes – red is very lucky colour in China!   People post scrolls printed with lucky messages on household gates and elders give out money to children. In fact, many of the rites carried out during this period are meant to bring good luck to the household and long life to the family–particularly to the parents.

The Chinese calendar is a complex timepiece.  Its parameters are set according to the lunar phases as well as the solar solstices and equinoxes. Yin and yang, the opposing but complementary principles that make up a harmonious world, also ruled the calendar, as do the Chinese zodiac, the twelve “signs” along the apparent path of the sun through the cosmos.  Each new year is marked by the characteristics of one of the 12 zodiacal animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey (me), rooster (Owen and Isabelle), dog and pig (Oliver).

Most important is the feasting. On New Year’s Eve, the extended family joins around the table for a meal that includes as the last course a fish that is symbolic of abundance and therefore not meant to be eaten.  In the first five days of the New Year, people eat long noodles to symbolize long life.  On the 15th and final day of the New Year, round dumplings shaped like the full moon are shared as a sign of the family unit and of perfection.  It is a time for family get together, cooking and celebrating!

The Friday before New Year (February 7th) BISS finished the week of Chinese celebrations with the opportunity for the children to dress up in traditional dress.  Isabelle and Ava were suitably attired:

Chinese New Year celebrations at BISS.  Isabelle and Ava dressed in traditional Chinese dresses.

Chinese New Year celebrations at BISS. Isabelle and Ava dressed in traditional Chinese dresses.

Oliver is born under the sign of the Pig, specifically the Fire Pig, and those born in the year of the Fire Pig are supposed to be enthusiastic, extroverted, rebellious, passionate, brave and valiant; however, they can also be hot-tempered, snappy, uncontrollable and short-tempered.

Isabelle and Owen are born under the sign of the Rooster who is supposed to have a very flamboyant and expressive personality, very talkative, an extrovert who loves to showoff.  The Rooster is a trustworthy, hardworking and confident individual.  Brave, romantic, motivated, proud, blunt, resentful and boastful.  Isabelle is a Wood Rooster who likes the company of others and is a good friend.

Chinese New Year (CNY) is also the time for companies to hold their annual parties to celebrate and recognize their employees.  My company is no different and on Tuesday February 5th we were all at a posh hotel for dinner.  We all signed a huge board on our way in:

Signing the board (bottom left)

Signing the board (bottom left)

I walked into the Ballroom that had a stage set up and lots of tables.  I was asked to sit at the center table.  (This meant that I had lots of toasts to keep up with the Chinese Baijiu wine, which is lethal!!!!)  This consequently meant a pounding head on Wednesday.  🙂

The "Red" table - many courses over the evening and many toasts!

The “Red” table – many courses over the evening and many toasts!

Throughout the dinner, the employees were engaged in the entertainment.  I was amazed to see displays of karaoke, drinking games and dancing.  The first show was a flamboyant dance to Abba’s Dancing Queen:

"Dancing Queen"

“Dancing Queen”

"Sales" and "Operations" singing about their love/hate relationship!

“Sales” and “Operations” singing about their love/hate relationship!

This drinking game involved a large glass of Baijiu and glasses of water.  The goal was to guess who was drinking the alcohol!

This drinking game involved a large glass of Baijiu and glasses of water. The goal was to guess who was drinking the alcohol!

A fantastic voice singing a lovely song!

A fantastic voice singing a lovely song!

I got "volunteered" for a game on the stage.  This involved getting a pretzel stick to the shortest length possible with your partner.

I got “volunteered” for a game on the stage. This involved getting a pretzel stick to the shortest length possible with your partner.

In many ways, all the games were a throwback to my youth!  It was all unexpected at a business function, but everyone is actively participating.

Speeches and flowers to the support staff.

Speeches and flowers to the support staff.

The final song of the night.

The final song of the night.

My first Chinese New Year celebration was fun (very alcoholic!) and an unforgettable experience.

Celebrating the end of the Chinese New year festivities with the lanterns:

Lighting the lantern - it took several minutes to fill with warm air.

Lighting the lantern – it took several minutes to fill with warm air.

Kids letting it go.......

Kids letting it go…….

Up, up and away.  We watched it soar so high - it was still flying and alight by the time it was out of sight!

Up, up and away. We watched it soar so high – it was still flying and alight by the time it was out of sight!

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