Chinese New Year in China: Celebrating like a Chinese
This blog has been kindly provided by LTL Student and Intern from Germany, Noah Nugel.
I have been living in China for four months now and this week the most important Chinese festival took place:
Chinese New Year!
Chinese New Year is not only a thing in China, but all over the world, due to the huge numbers of Chinese immigrants in many countries. My parents and friends from Germany told me that even there it was all over in the news.
Globalization and Chinese expansion is really a thing!
Chinese New Year is coming…
The first time I realized that a big Chinese holiday was coming up, was when suddenly many shops and restaurants in Shanghai closed.
Actually this is nothing too unusual but after being in China for four months and being completely used to shops being open every single day from 8am to 10pm, I was a little surprised.
That is also due to most people returning to their hometowns on the weekend before Chinese New Year.
In fact, nearly 400 million Chinese move across the country.
DID YOU KNOW – This is widely considered the biggest annual migration wave in the world!
Important: Clean your house
Living in a Chinese homestay, which I chose to get an authentic insight into how Chinese people are celebrating Chinese New Year in China, I was involved in preparing the big festival.
On the last day of the year (this year, 4th February 2019) my homestay and I cleaned our apartment and cleared out all the broken things.
This is considered getting the old and dirty spirits out of your home and also helping to prepare everything for the New Year.
Therefore it is important that you know some of the Do’s and Don’ts concerning Chinese New Year.
My Chinese family also told me that during the first days of the New Year no cleaning should be done. In Chinese culture it is said that by cleaning on New Year, you will wash away the recently arrived good luck and fortune!
And of course I did not want to risk my future luck, right?!
Chinese New Year’s Eve
On New Year’s Eve in China, the whole Chinese family unites in order to eat and celebrate together.
My homestay father and his older sister were preparing food throughout the whole day and on smelling the Chinese food I started to get really excited about the evening dinner.
While we were watching the traditional CCTV New Year’s Gala (basically many Chinese celebrities singing, dancing and welcoming the New Year), more and more family members arrived.
Like this I got to know the extended family of my homestay, and they were are really welcoming and excited to share their Chinese New Year traditions with me.
So we got to eat and there was….
The table was full of food. Being a vegan in China at first I was a little bit scared of not finding many suitable dishes for me, but my Chinese family prepared a lot of dishes just for me. Chinese hospitality at its finest!
We ate loads of vegetables, spring rolls, rice, dumplings and for the all the non-vegetarians there was plenty of meat like beef, chicken and duck.
After the first round I was already quite stuffed… but this is not acceptable on Chinese New Year in China! The empty plates were taken away, new dishes were brought and it all started again.
I have to admit that I was really surprised how much Chinese people can eat, considering that they are all so skinny!
Counting calories is definitely not a part of the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner.
My favourite food was the 八宝饭 (bā bǎo fàn), a traditional rice cake made of sticky rice and topped with eight dates. I was told there are eight dates on the cake because eight is an important lucky number in Chinese. Sweet and delicious!
And of course: We 干杯 (gān bēi) a lot of times (this means to down your drink, literally dry glass).
After dinner we were all sitting together, exchanging the traditional red packets, in Chinese 红包 (hóng bāo), and chatting.
And a great side effect: this evening really helped me to improve my Chinese! After four hours of chatting in Mandarin all my thinking was in Chinese.
At first it was quite hard, as most of the older family members speak either Shanghai Hua or Mandarin with a Shanghainese accent, but the nieces of my homestay father helped me a lot with understanding what was being said.
I did not only learn a lot about Chinese New Year, but I also had to answer many questions about Germany, our traditions, food etc.
A true mix of cultures!
Chinese New Year in China: The First Day of the New Year
The first day of Chinese New Year was more relaxed, we had lunch and dinner together again, but only my homestay father, his mother and me.
At this point I also took the chance and gave them my Chinese New Year present, some German sweets which I brought with me to China. And of course I did not only wrap it in red paper, but offered it with two hands to my Chinese family, and I said the traditional Chinese New Year greetings:
新年快乐 (Happy New Year) and 恭喜发财 (Wishing you wealth and prosperity)！
What I can say after experiencing the Chinese New Year in China: it was an incredible experience, especially because I was living in a Chinese homestay.
I was part of their family during this traditional Chinese festival and I discovered a new side of China!
I wish you all a great Year of the Pig for 2019!
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