The time has come again to ready ourselves for the biggest holiday of the year here in China. In the West, we call it Chinese New Year, but it is referred to here most often as “Lunar New Year” or “Spring Festival”. In the press, it is sometimes called the Great Migration since it is the season when the largest percentage of the world’s population is on the move as people return to their hometowns to see family.
For us, we traveled ONCE during CNY and plan never again to make that mistake! Not only is it the most expensive time of year for transportation costs, but every conveyance is chocked to the gills, making it uncomfortable, stinky, and unpleasant to get around. Not only are we not going anywhere, but we find that we have become a travel destination as we have become “family” to some who have moved to other parts of China and take this chance to come “home” to visit us!
We will share other aspects of the holiday in later posts, but I thought some of you might enjoy hearing what we do to prepare and why. One tradition we have skipped this year is deep cleaning our home. With the broken leg and other health issues, we have settled for a “relatively clean” house, but we have managed to get ready in other ways.
My husband went to the bank to get new money to stuff our red envelopes. Though people will take old money, new money is thought to be more appropriate for the New Year!
We get different denominations for different levels of gifts. One yuan is worth about 16 cents so you do the math. We give little kids that we don’t know five yuan and work our way up through various acquaintances, service people, security guards, friends, and children of friends to the higher numbers. Except for service people, recipients of lucky money are young and single.
We buy “red envelopes” to use in giving the money (referred to as “lucky money” by many.
If you look closely, you can see much symbolism on the envelopes. Goldfish are not only cute but they stand for money (gold). The pink one with the plum blossoms would be for a single lady since plum blossoms signify needing a husband. Firecrackers are used to scare bad spirits away. (We don’t believe the superstitions but rather buy the ones we think are pretty or fun!) Bamboo stands for long life and virtue- sort of a symbol for righteousness. And most of them have “fu” characters on them for blessings. Some of these have little birds on them. As far as I know there is no significance to the birds other than welcoming in the spring, but there may be something I’ve missed! (Cranes stand for longevity but most red envelopes don’t have cranes on them.)
Then we stuff the envelopes. Hope was happy to have a task she was able to do from her wheelchair!
She and Grace enjoy putting the money in the envelopes along with something much better than money (a tract) and marking on the back in small numbers what’s inside!
To ask for lucky money, many will clasp their hands and express a wish for a prosperous new year. The implied meaning is something like, “I hope you’ll share your prosperity with me!” I enjoy giving red envelopes to faithful workers, friends, little children whether I know them or not, and children of friends, but it’s amazing how many workers come out of the woodwork in our complex during Chinese New Year who are complete strangers! Our complex houses 40,000 people and has about 32 towers. The workers from ALL those buildings tend to congregate publicly to “wish us happy New Year”! A few are friendly and helpful year round and we reward them well with good envelopes, but many would not open a door for a mom carrying a baby, holding a two-year old by the hand, and struggling with groceries if their lives depended on it. It’s a good time to remember that we ourselves are recipients of grace we never deserved! And since we share Good News with everyone to whom we give red envelopes, we can genuinely smile and wish them Xin nian, hao!
We also purchase decorations for our windows and doors that consist of a variety of fu characters. Interestingly enough, many Chinese hang them upside down to “catch the blessings” in the same way that some Americans hang horseshoes.
These are paper cuts- aren’t they pretty? The large one in the middle communicates “blessings from heaven” which is the closest we could come to a Christian idea. But our daughter-in-love, Christy made us some calligraphy banners for our front door that have a New Year’s greeting with a Christian connotation. I’ll post a picture later- we don’t have ours hung up yet! But you can see Christy’s calligraphy art for sale at http://www.calligraphyforgod.com
We also decorate in a traditional way by purchasing many varieties of flowers, both potted plants and fresh cut. Stacy and Grace went out today to buy them.
Joy and Faith are actually at a flower street tonight so I think Joy will have more good shots for you. Stacy outdid himself and brought home a beautiful bowl of paperwhites, purple dahlias, yellow mums, sweet williams, impatiens, an azalea, and six orchids.
Actually, Lunar New Year is said to herald the beginning of spring. I’ve never really gotten that since it’s in the middle of winter, but I love flowers and enjoy the chance to fill my home with them at least once a year. I think we spent about $60 total for our bounteous beauty!
And finally, we purchase snacks to put on our coffee table to share with those who come to “bai nian” – pay respect visits. We get an assortment of candies, nuts, seeds, chips, cookies, and so forth. Notice the cute papercut designs on the Pringle’s cans at the top left! Pistachio nuts (whose Chinese name means “Happy nuts” because they look like they are smiling- I love that!) and sunflower seeds are very popular because they take a while to open and eat so people can politely take food but not eat too much since they make many respect visits and are offered food at each one.
So tonight we have everything we need in the house- new money, red envelopes, plenty of snacks, decorations, and flowers. Tomorrow we’ll set about the real business of decorating and setting things out to prepare for the guests who will begin to come on Sunday!
Stay tuned for more Chinese New Year fun here at Pearl River Diaries!
‘Til next time!