Tonight at midnight, Chinese New Year begins. Unlike Westerners whose New Year’s Eve celebrations peak at midnight, the Chinese will just be getting started at that time. Although families may have gathered earlier in the evening for special meals, the events at the temples don’t even begin until the early hours when people arrive by the thousands to light candles and pray. The ceremonies will go on through dawn. Monday will be a national holiday, so the revelers can recuperate from their nightlong festivities.
Wealthy families will pay between $500 to $600 for massive candles that stand taller – and wider – than a man and weigh several hundred pounds. Moving these gigantic wax creations into the temple is a multi-man job. Once lit, they will burn for years. Having the ability to purchase such a gift to the gods is difficult for most, but nonetheless the temples I visited yesterday had rows of these enormous candles standing like giant sentinels.
Tomorrow will not end Chinese New Year celebrations. Quite the contrary. Lion dances, fireworks, and parties will continue for the next two weeks. The 7th day of the New Year is called “Everybody’s Birthday”. In traditional China, individual birthdays were not considered as important as the New Year date. So everyone in the country added one more year to his or her age on the 7th day of each New Year. Chinese New Year ends on Lantern Day, which occurs 15 days after New Year’s Eve. On that day, there will be final parades dominated by lanterns as well as dancing dragons that are made of bamboo, silk, and paper and can exceed 200 feet in length.