Sunday, January 25, 2009

In China, it is Everybody's Birthday

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.

1 comment:

MJB said...

Hi Janine,

What a great summary of Chinese New year! I felt like I was there again. I got to enjoy two Chinese new years in Shanghai. Midnight festivities are the most amazing. There are so many fireworks going off that the air is so filled with smoke it looks like a thick fog. You feel like you are literally in a war zone.

A couple more tidbits to add: the Chinese have a different way of saying "Happy New Year" for the calendar and Chinese New Years. For Chinese New Year, it is "Gong xi fa cai" which literally means I hope you are prosperous in the coming year (read, make money). The response to that is commonly "Hong bou na lai" which literally means "hand me the red envelope please." Red envelopes are special envelopes with money in them that are given at weddings and other celebrations. So the response is a humorous .. thanks for the New Year wishes, but why don't you just give me money if you want me to be prosperous! :-)