The eve of the spring festival was on Wednesday 6th February and I left my dormitory to visit the supermarket in our campus around 4.30pm local time, to my greatest shock, the streets of China that are always crowded was very very empty.
But what was more shocking was when the fire crackers started firing, The first thought that came to my mind was 1999 when the rebels entered Freetown and all you hear was the sounds of the guns with disserted streets.
Everyone, young, old, rich or poor, looks forward to celebrating the noisiest, most joyous and longest festival of he year.
The Chinese does not celebrate this holiday in hotel or clubs drinking beer and champagne, or eating sumptuously, singing loudly and dancing till wee hours of the morning. In China, the New Year’s Day is a quiet occasion in which every family performs religious rites at the family alter.
This is the time for a family reunion as all family quarrels should be settled amicably and forgotten.
Before the eve, everyone tries to return home from every corner of the country, but this year because of the extreme weather, most people did not go home and some arrived on New Year’s Day to join their families as it is also done in the west during Christmas.
One thing that is for sure in Chinese spring festival, a very big meal is served and every family will prepare dumpling, a kind of food that resembles pie. New dishes, chopsticks, table cloth, bed spread pillow case will be used for that festival. The sweetmeat and melon seed dishes are filled. Fragrant Chinese narcissus plants with only fresh blossoms and buds are purchased from vendors. The living room and altar decorated with grapes, oranges, tangerines, New Year puddings and blooming narcissus plants.
At midnight following after the nice family banquet on the New Year’s Eve, the young members of the family bows and pay their respects to the parents and elders. In the morning, people put on their new clothes and shoes. Men, and their wives, call on relatives and friends to wish them a “Happy and Prosperous New Year ” (Xi Nian Kuai Le / Chunjie Kuai Le). The caller is served tea with sweet-meats; melon seeds, both red and black; and fruits and delicacies such as puffed rice cakes, dump-lings and deep-fried round doughnuts, liquor and tobacco. Before leaving, the well-wisher present gifts of money wrapped in red paper to all the unmarried children of the family.
The Spring Festival lasts until the Lantern Festival begins fifteen days later marking the end of the Chinese New Year.
According to history the spring festival started during the Song dynasty in 960 1279 and since that time it has been celebrated with little change made over the years.
Pasting the Chinese Character ‘Fu’ is also a popular custom. Because ‘Fu’ in Chinese means ‘Good Luck’ or ‘Happiness’, by pasting this character on the center of the door, people show great hope to be happy. Nowadays, people like to paste it backward, for this means ‘Fu’ has come. Many beautiful design variations on the character ‘Fu’ can be found in markets and shopping malls.
The most exciting event especially for the children is setting firecrackers that mean bidding farewell to the evil and past, and welcome the New Year that will usher in good luck. Fireworks have been popular for over 2,000 years, and have become a festival essential.
At midnight, households set off fireworks at almost the same time, creating a thunderous sound. Even our lecturers were fully prepared and the entire university was as noisy as a war front.
Today fireworks have become an indispensable part of celebrating grand festivals, of marriage, even of opening a new shop.
Chinese people are very cautious during the spring festival as they believe it ushers in good luck so most people usually avoid unlucky behaviors during Spring Festival.
Words like bad, dead, kill, ill, ache, etc. are not the welcome because people think bad things may happen if they say these words, and the whole year will be terrible. In addition, they are careful when holding plates, cups and other fragile items. The jar holding rice must be full, and sweeping the floor is also strongly discouraged. In addition, hair cutting should be avoided until the second day of the second lunar month. Other taboos differ in different regions.
This year we are celebrating the year of the Rat and it symbolizes the embodiment of intelligence and prosperity for those who are born under the rat sign.
The year of the rat has been celebrated in 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 and 2008.
People born in the Year of the Rat are noted for their charm and attraction for the opposite sex. They work hard to achieve their goals, acquire possessions, and are likely to be perfectionists. They are basically thrifty with money. Rat people are easily angered and love to gossip. Their ambitions are big, and they are usually very successful. They are most compatible with people born in the years of the Dragon, Monkey, and Ox.
The other animals are: Ox, Tiger, Rabbit , Dragon, Snake, Horse , Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
To be part of this wonderful celebration was a good experience that I enjoyed well especially the eating of dumplings(jiaozi) and the lighting up of the sky to usher in 2008 according to the Lunar calendar.
By Austin Thomas