Monday, February 02, 2009


Gong Hei Fat Choi! (Congratulations and Be Prosperous!) The Lunar New Year began on January 26th this year, with the new moon and will conclude on February 9th with the full moon and we have been celebrating at our house for the past week. We’ve got a great big ol’ cardboard Kitchen God on our front door and twinkling red lights in the form of fire crackers. We’ve stomped on bubble wrap to scare away evil spirits (instead of setting off real firecrackers), and the kids have been generally making a lot of noise, although there is nothing new about that. On New Year’s Eve we devoured our celebratory feast of fish, stir fried bok choy, noodles and congee (rice stew), then ended the meal on a sweet note with lotus seed filled sesame balls (rice balls) and fortune cookies. The Mama got a fortune that says “Happier days are definitely ahead for you. Struggle has ended.” Wow, now THAT is a good fortune! Although last year was a pretty happy year for me already, more happiness in the new year? Bring it on!

The girls were given gifts of new shoes and Hong Bao (red envelopes with money inside traditionally give to children and unmarried persons at the new year). And we watched the four hour extravaganza that is The Spring Festival Gala on CCTV (the Chinese television station we get on the satellite). Lots of skits, singing, dancing, acrobatics and colorful entertainment.

Lily’s third grade teacher was the first teacher she has had that knew what the Lunar New Year was and the class celebrated with games and food and treats on the first day of Spring Festival. (Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year, Spring Festival, these are all names for the same thing). Lily declared it the “funnest” day she has ever had at school. Thanks Mrs. Brown!! I’m sure that it helped that she was the only Chinese in her class and therefore felt herself the guest of honor.

This past Saturday our friends had several families with children adopted from China over to their house to allow us to all celebrate together. It was loads of fun for all and Lily declared that now IT was the “funnest” day ever. We ate Chinese take out and May, another guest, prepared sticky rice, a traditional sweet made for children that has raisins and peanuts mixed in with the sweetened rice and is sprinkled with red and green jimmies.

The kids played and colored and received more Hong Bao. And we tried to get all of our beautiful girls to sit together for a photo on the sofa, but it was nearly as hard as getting all the babies to sit on the traditional red couch in China to have their photos take together. Someone is always crying or running out of the photo. Still, just look at all those gorgeous faces! And they all live in our little town! In fact, Maggie and Meika are from the same orphanage and now live only a mile from each other!

The Spring Festival is the biggest holiday in China, rather like our December holidays here in the USA. It is a time when people travel to their home towns to visit with relatives, eat and make merry. A time of putting away the troubles if the year passing and starting fresh. People in China traditionally will pay all their debts, scrub their homes clean, buy new clothes and shoes and try to follow the long list of do’s and don't s that have customarily surrounded the holiday. Though the house is thoroughly cleaned, all brooms must be put away before the first day of the new year so that any good luck arriving will not get swept away. Food, especially sweets, are left on the stove as an offering to the Kitchen God who lives behind the stove. He is the recorder of family deeds and it is traditional to try and bribe him so that he will give a good report of family members to the Jade Emperor.

Red clothing is usually worn because it is thought to scare away evil spirits and bad luck. And new clothes are worn to symbolize a new beginning. The biggest part of the new year celebrations is the dinner every family will eat. A dish consisting of fish is mandatory since the word for fish – yu - in Chineses sounds like the word for “surpluses”. Dumplings, cakes, greens and sweet rice cakes also grace tables. Noodles, the longer the better, represent longevity and long life. Oranges are popular as their name is a homophone of “golden luck”. Seeds, such as lotus, sunflower and pumpkin symbolize birth and renewal.

The first day of the new year is for visiting the most senior members of one’s family; parents and grandparents.

The second day is for married daughters to visit their parents and honoring one’s ancestors. Graves are tended and incense burned. People are also extra kind to dogs on this day as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs.

The third and fourth days of the New Year are for visiting with other relatives and friends.

The Fifth day is for eating dumplings in honor of the Chinese god of wealth, since dumplings look like little purses filled with money.

The seventh day is everyone’s birthday! Generally, birthdays are not celebrated separately in China, everyone grows a year older at the new year together.

The ninth day is the birthday of the Jade Emperor of Heaven and prayers are sent his way.

The fifteenth day of the New Year is the last and is celebrated as the Lantern Festival. Rice dumplings stewed in a soup is eaten on this day. Candles are lit outside homes to guide lost spirits home. Families walk through the streets carrying lighted lanterns bringing the festivities to a close. So next full moon be looking for our red lanterns as we parade around the back yard and finish up the Moon Cakes!


Debby said...

I always learn so much from you blog. Very interesting.


Denise said...

Thank you for all of the CNY info..I really need to read up on it some more so each year we incorporate more into our celebration. So glad we were able to get together~