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An Authentic Chinese New Year

There is a fairly common theme to most Western New Year celebrations. Friends gather to commemorate the year just gone and cheer for the arrival of the next. At around five minutes to midnight, people get excited at the approaching countdown and the festivities develop from there. Chinese New Year is much different.

For the Chinese, the celebrations that begin on the first day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar – 3 February in 2011 – are much more of a family affair. In addition, the revelry continues until the 15th day of the month, culminating this year on 17 February. Though the town might not be painted red in the same way as the Western idiom may suggest, the country does indeed explode with vibrant hues of scarlet throughout, with an abundance of lantern shows, outdoor market places, dancing dragons and the ubiquitous firework displays.

This year, while Chinese families will be celebrating the coming of the Year of the Rabbit, expats may find themselves struggling to find appropriate ways in which to include themselves in the merriment. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take this year to make your Chinese New Year celebrations a little more authentic.

  • Hold a ‘Reunion Dinner’ on Chinese New Year’s Eve (2 February). Reunion dinners are substantial meals that traditionally include chicken. Fish is also eaten, but not finished, and the remains are stored overnight. This stems from the Chinese phrase nian nian you yu which translates to mean "every year there is abundance" – it is believed to signify being blessed or to have profit every year and is a homynym for having leftover fish.
  • On the first day of Chinese New Year, give hongbao – a red envelope – to unmarried members of the family. These red packets traditionally contain money in amounts that are considered multiples, often ranging between RMB 10 and 120. However, in recent times it is not unusual to receive higher quantities in families that are financially well-off.
  • Eat niangao – a sticky cake that is also offered to the kitchen god Zao Jun. This is done so that the god, having eaten niangao, will provide a kind report on the family in heaven during the New Year.
  • Make yusheng – a colourful tossed fish salad. While eating yusheng, make wishes for continued wealth and prosperity.
  •  It is traditional during Chinese New Year to decorate your home with New Year paintings. The most popular paintings are ‘Door Gods’, pasted on the front door to keep monsters and ghosts away.
  • Hang spring couplets in your doorway the month before New Year’s Day (you may be a little late for this one now!). The couplets are traditionally written in black ink on red paper, and often stay up for two months. They express best wishes and fortune for the coming year.

These are a few practices that will help you embrace Chinese New Year in 2011. However, for all manner of entertainment just head to Yu Garden and witness everything from martial arts performances to historical re-enactments. Festivities draw to a close with the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the New Year, during which Shanghai’s streets will be filled with crimson lanterns. Head over to Yuyuan Tourism Mall to experience this event to the fullest at the Spring Festival Lantern Exhibition. Held every year, this important cultural activity displays a variety of large-scale lanterns, each with special themes over an area of around five hectares.

As for the Year of the Rabbit, it is the fourth step in the 12 year Chinese zodiac cycle. The rabbit is one of the most stylish creatures of the Chinese animal signs; those born during the year are recognised as kind and reserved, with a strong sense of justice.


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