New Year, New Resolutions. That’s usually how it goes. We associate a new year with a fresh start and a chance to start anew. It’s a tradition associated with New Years as much as the countdown and a kiss at midnight. December 31st came and went with the countdown, the midnight kiss and resolutions the next morning. Tick. Tick. Tick.
I know how to do New Year. Or so I thought. Six weeks later and another new year: Chinese New Year. The year of the Sheep. Spring Festival and a week long national holiday in China (though not for me). These guys know how to do New Years!! I couldn’t wait!! How different could it be? Countdown. Midnight Kiss. Resolutions. I’ve done this before. I was going to be fine. And I was. But I was also wrong. The Chinese New Year means something different. It is not just the beginning of a new year and the chance to begin anew, and so the traditions and customs are different. Celebrations begin on the eve before new year (that I can identify with) and culminate with the lantern festival fourteen days later. The Spring Festival is a time to honour deities and ancestors and spend time with family. People clean their homes to sweep out bad luck and make way for incoming good luck. They hang red decorations symbolising health, prosperity and good fortune. Red money envelopes are exchanged and firecrackers and fireworks are lit. My first Chinese New Year in Beijing was a mix of Chinese and Western traditions, with a few Diwali sentiments thrown in (why choose if you don’t have to?). There were the many meals with friends, the traditional jiaozi (dumplings) and many many many fireworks! Did I mentions the multiple firecrackers that make me jump out of my skin? I swear they’re louder here! New Years Day saw us gather (post hangover) to go to a temple fair, a must for anyone in Beijing over this holiday. The temple was calm and quiet (rare in this town). Everywhere you looked there were people hanging charms from the trees, making wishes for the coming year and lighting incense before bowing three times as they prayed to deities and ancestors.
It was beautiful to see and be able to share it with people it meant so much to. For my part, I made a wish, milled flour (a lesser known tradition) and braved the cold for so long I could no longer feel my face! The post temple fortune cookies and hot pizza were greatly appreciated! I shared the precious days off with friends and my fiancé, laughed a great deal, indulged in delicious food (including making jiaozi) and made a few memories I’ll hold dear. The perfect blend of Chinese, Western and Indian New Years. & I saw once again how similar we all are no matter where we come from and what language we speak.