OCA features how students at NYU Shanghai celebrated Chinese New Year 2017, and how traditions vary between provinces in China.
Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, is one of the most important festivals in China and is celebrated throughout the country for up to ten days. OCA asked some Chinese students how they celebrated Chinese New Years 2017 with their families, and how traditions vary in between provinces in China.
by Jingtian Zong
In my childhood, every time on my way back to Lu’an, I counted the chimneys by the expressway. In Anhui province, in the one hour from my home Hefei to what we called our hometown Lu’an, I could count up to fifty chimneys before falling asleep. Sometimes I also threw up, not because of the smoke from chimneys, but because I was little and my brain hadn’t learned how to balance. At that time I also hadn’t learned what smog and PM2.5 were.
In those years we greeted our New Year in a white single-storey house. Now it has become vague to me whether it was Hui (Anhui) style or not. But I still remember the dark wooden furniture and the Chinese dolls in the cabinet. Now, stepping into my grandparents’ 20th-floor new home, I greet everyone inside, otherwise they ask me why I don’t. When the sound of mah-jong (Chinese traditional game) starts, I have one apple and then another. I always miss the old garden where my cousins and I played Ci Hua (tiny fireworks), having lunch in the air of smoke and alcohol. In the afternoon I escape into my grandparents’ bedroom. I find my peace in reading.
In all the things we lost like Ci Hua and the garden, I find two things don’t change: One is the cigarettes and alcohol. My grandpa says “they are just happy; leave them free” when my father and my two uncle drink and smoke. With these cultures, they try to forget bad things in their year, or maybe their lives, regardless of their rising blood pressure. But I like the other thing: Food. I like chicken soup. I like beef hotpot with only a little hot pepper. I like Hong Shao Yu (fish braised in brown sauce). We never add sugar in it. I don’t like La Rou (cured meat). I love to see Dan Jiao (Dumplings with egg wrapper) even though grandpa has probably put in too much salt. We have these dishes in our daily life, but not on one table at the same time. So when everyone else is drinking and talking loud in this special evening, my cousins, mom and me open our mouths only for eating.
When it’s 8pm, we say “see you tomorrow” to my grandparents because they to go bed early. Back in the hotel we turn on TV and watch our cellphones while CCTV Spring Festival Gala goes on. I don’t watch the Chinese short plays though I know my friends will talk about it later. The firework starts, forming a semicircle around the hotel from the window. Before 12am my eyelids have started fighting, with all the merriment outside. I know tomorrow will be a new year, but people will stay old.
by Kaiwen Wu
The most typical activity during Spring Festival in Beijing is the temple fair, which has a long history of tradition. Initially people just used to go to temples to burn candles or light incense and pray for good luck for the upcoming year, but over the years the tradition has developed. Nowadays, some temples like Younghe Temple and Baiyun Temple still follow the old traditon, but most temples have banned people from burning incense due to the environmental effects. This has been replaced by other activities such as touching carved stones to pray for good luck or walking straight to the bronze tripod stand with your eyes closed. Someone who does this activity successfully and has a great sense of balance will have a good beginning of the new year.
Some temple fairs are also becoming increasingly modernized, focusing no merchants setting up booths to sell food and other items. For example, the Changdian Temple Fair has two sections, one for the market and one to showcase culture such as the lion dance. The Tiantian Temple Fair, which is famous for a traditional Chinese activity called “offer sacrifice to Heaven”, is trying to recreate the traditions of Ancient Chinese Emperors who used to make sacrifices to Heaven in exchange for a good harvest season next year. At TianTian Temple Fair, this activity is displayed to teach the tourists about Chinese tradition. There is also a new Temple Fair called Tongzhou Canal Temple Fair, which has over 100 booths and also a new skiing and VR section to cater to today’s technological generation. The VR section impressed me a lot since it was something new.
All in all, I love the experience of Spring Festival in Beijing because it’s inheriting the advantages of traditions while creating something new.
Spring Festival starts with pasting the antithetical couplets. In Hainan, people paste the couplets on Lunar New Year’s Eve.
After that, it is time to prepare the sacrifice for the ancestors. Spring Festival is a time for family reunion, for the ones who are living and also for the ones who are gone. Ancestor worship plays an important role during this celebration. Normally, every family has their own alter at the house. The offerings are simple, mainly are chicken, fish, wine, rice and areca-nut. So after pasting the couplets, the family will go into the kitchen to prepare the offerings. We finally put them on the altar and burn incense.
Normally, family will wait for the incense to burn down, and then start the New Year’s Eve dinner together. This is a way to show respect for the ancestors.
On the day of Spring Festival, families eat together, and then come out of the house to say happy New Year to neighbors and friends.
It is not a traditional event, but many of the young people go to school or work outside of the island and it is not easy for them to meet a lot of them at the same time, so they just play together for fun.
People in Hainan celebrate the festival for 15 days. For each day during these 15 days, they go to different houses to visit family and friends. In my family, the traditional family and friends gathering day is on Feb. 4 based on the Lunar calendar. On that day, many relatives and friends will come and say Xin Nian Hao (happy New Year) to each other. My grandparent’s family gathering day is the next day, and then the relatives and friends will gather at their houses the next day. my aunt and uncle’s family gathering day is the day after that, and we will go to his house. Family gathering day is the time when little kids (unmarried people) get red envelopes, so I always tried not to miss any of the days. But this semester starts early, and I missed many red envelopes.
by Jiayu Zhu
What do you think of Shanghai? A crowded, sprawling, busy city full of rushing traffics and commuters, an elegant city with Western style houses and transcultural urban-design? A finance center, a harbour, a metropolitan? However, these impressions would never describe the city during the Spring Festival. It is a city of awkward and haunting silence,loneliness and peace. The streets are quiet, the roads are empty, few passengers are travelling, no noise of firecrackers and fireworks on the eve of Spring Festival (due to the policies), many people leave for hometowns, many locals fly for vacations abroad. People are now exchanging red packets online via WeChat. Only food remain the loudest melody from very first of the history, like any other part in China, the country of foodies and chefs.
Thanks to the development of science and technology and the whole economy, it is way more convenient to purchase food and store food nowadays than before. But a lot of habits that related to taste and emotions remained. What do Shanghainese usually eat during spring festival? Well, there are some traditional recipes.
For the main food and dessert, we usually have spring rolls, categorized into salty and sweet flavor: those wrapped with shredded cabbage, bamboo and pork(salty) and those wrapped with red bean paste (sweet) . For the most of time, people would have the salty ones. Spring rolls are wrapped, deep fried and served along with vinegar (in order to reduce the oily taste and add flavor). Also, we will have 八宝饭(Directly translated as 8 treasures rice), is a kind of steamed glutinous rice cake with sweet red bean paste inside and dotted with raisins, walnuts,dates, and some other kinds of beans and nuts. Shanghainese don’t really eat dumplings, that traditional kind of northern Chinese food. Instead, we enjoy egg dumplings, “蛋饺”, a kind of dumplings that wrapped in egg. More authentically, families start to prepare their own egg dumplings a week before the New Year’s Eve. Grown up in a family that keep the habit of making our own egg dumplings, I enjoy working with my mom late at night, helping her whisking eggs. In order to reach a better flavour, pork oil is applied to make egg dumplings. Traditionally, the egg dumplings must be put in the soup of the New Year’s Eve as they look like the gold ingot, representing wealth and good luck.
There are also Shanghainese dishes for the New Year’s Eve, for example, 熏鱼,Shanghainese smoked fish,a cold dish of sweet and salty deep fried carp.There are a variety of drunken dishes in Shanghai, such as drunken crabs, drunken shrimps and drunken chicken. After the chicken is steamed and chopped into pieces, it then marinates overnight in a bowl of punishingly strong baijiu, or other hard liquors. Served chilled, the poultry is a heady, salty delight. Shanghainese also enjoy the non-drunken version of steamed and chopped chicken. Another cold dish called marinated jelly fish and radish, is also served on New Year’s Eve. Honestly, there are many names of the dishes are purposefully designed for a good reputation and blessings, such as 四喜烤麸(Directly translated as four luck fried fungi), a dish of deep-fried sliced gluten with peanuts, day-lily, fungi and mushrooms.
For the hot dishes, usually there are some of the traditional recipes and some of the family’s own best know cuisines. The traditional recipes include Hongshaorou,fried eel and some fried vegetables.
by Chuck Zhu
Xinjiang’s Chinese New Year is not that different from other parts of China. Though located in the most north west of China, Xinjiang has about 40% Han population, and the rest 60% are Muslim minorities. Han people keep their tradition in celebrating Chinese New Year while the minority also has their own New Year called “Id al-fitr” and “Corban”. So in Xinjiang, we celebrated New Year for three times every year.
In the Chinese New Year time, every family will fete dessert to the Kitchen god. After making dumplings in the New Year’s Eve, people will gather around to eat dinner, just like other part of China. Xinjiang people called this “fill up the barn”. The main course for the dinner will be “hands-on lamp”. With the improvement of life quality, people will add more variety to their dinner; prepare the dinner in home, or go to the restaurant. Anyway, this dinner in Xinjiang is very important and people are required to eat till they are totally full. Because in Xinjiang’s tradition, if people are filled in the New Year’s eve, they won’t starve for the entire new year.
After the New Year Eve’s dinner, there are always golden “Sanzi”, a traditional Uygur festival food,on the tea table. Besides that, all kinds of regional nuts like Badam, Almonds are also on the tea table, showing the bright name of Xinjiang as a “kingdom of fruits and melons”.
“Eating” should be the center of Xinjiang’s New Year. After the first day of New Year, relatives will each other to their houses for a treat. This routine could last for at least ten days.
This is a famous norm in Xinjiang called “Eat the head”. What’s head for the dinners? It is the dumplings. During the days you go to others’ house, the host usually will cater you with their prepared frozen dumplings as their main course on the table.
The main reason for “冻饺子坐庄”(Frozen dumpling as the head) is that: 1.prepare so there is no worry in the future 2. Eat as we can 3. Cheap and convenient
Usually people will gain weight during the New Year, because they are all “eat well and drink well”. When going to others’ house, we are surrendered at the hospitality of the host, that we cannot refuse to eat more and more.
Xinjiang is a multi-races region, and the different cultures are influence each other more and more. Han people will celebrate “Id al-fitr” and “Corban “with their uygur friends. And in turn, uygur people will also dress in new clothes and knock on their Han’s friends door to wish them happy new year.
Uygur people regard “Zhuafan” (Pilaf) as a very superior and delicious course, and they only prepare them when in big festivals. In New Year times, Uygur people will often invite some of their Han friends to their houses, and treat them with “Zhuafan”. The main material for “Zhuafan” is mutton, carrots and regional rice. They first fried the mutton with oil, then stir-fried the mutton with onion and carrot. In the last, they put the dish on top of the rice, and steam it till everyone in the house can smell the scent. That is sooo delicious!