Today is the second day of the two week long Chinese New Year’s holiday. Normally, this is a time of joy, bringing family and friends together.
I’ve read that at this time–because people want to celebrate in their ancestral homes–the movement of people returning to be with their families causes the largest migration in the world. That is, several hundred million travelers are on the move. All within a couple of weeks. Amazing.
Unfortunately, this year, due to an outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus, this tradition was curtailed. The Chinese government has quarantined large areas of the country, particularly in the Wuhan region. All public transport, including airports and train stations, have been closed–essentially freezing people in place. This directly impacts tens of millions of people. Most may simply be unable to travel outside of the city where they are working in order to share the holiday with their loved ones. Others may be trapped mid-route. Many cities have cancelled their New Year celebrations.
This is a sad time for the Chinese nation. We can only hope that these drastic measures to contain the virus work, and that next year the people are able to celebrate the New Year fully.
January 25th 2020 is Chinese New Year day. A typical, happy greeting is: Gong Xi Fa Cai! 恭喜發財 Wishing you happiness and prosperity!
In decorating their houses at this time, people like to paste Paper Cuttings on their windows and doors. This enduring and cheerful tradition goes back at least 1500 years. The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is one of the main times of the year when fresh paper cuttings will decorate houses.
Red paper is preferred and is the most commonly used because red symbolizes happiness but, really, any color can be used.
Since 2020 is the year of the rat, many paper cuttings will have its image either cut out in the center or drawn on the paper. If the latter, a border will be cut out around the square, forming an elaborate frame.
A couple of other very popular images on these red squares are:
the character chun春 for spring—which is a positive word because spring suggests a new beginning and growth—and
the character fu 福 for good fortune, happiness, and luck.
If chun or fu are written on the paper, they will often be pasted upside down on the window or door. Being upside down symbolizes the dumping out of the character’s goodness and blessing the house with prosperity and luck.
First, before I go into this New Year’s blog. I am so excited because yesterday I found out that Trapped, a Mei-hua Adventure, the third novel in the ancient China trilogy, has been nominated for an Agatha Award. The Agatha Award is given to mysteries that hold to the standards of Agatha Christie and her work. I am honored to be among such a wonderful group of other nominees for this award.
Now for this week’s New Year’s blog.
Before New Year arrives, the house is cleaned from top to bottom. By cleaning the house, the family is getting rid of any bad fortune they may have had last year. BUT they do not clean the house during the first couple of days of the New Year because then they could be sweeping away the New Year’s good luck. So: once the New Year comes it’s time to relax and enjoy, their work is done!
Some things people do to celebrate:
WHAT TO DO
Adults give red paper envelopes to children. Inside the envelopes is a New Year gift of money. How much isn’t important, but it’s always in a red envelope.
Everyone wears new clothes.
People decorate their homes and buildings:
At the entrance people hang long red paper strips with good luck sayings written on them. The good luck couplet is also visually balanced by being divided into two strips, one on each side of the door. and the saying is usually visually balanced, too.
Red paper-cuts (usually square in shape) with the year’s animal—the rooster this year—or other good luck symbols (wealth) are pasted on the windows and doors. A popular word is fu for good fortune or happiness and it’s hung upside-down to represent the good things flowing into the house.
Families go to temple fairs where they can watch puppet shows. These shows can be seen almost every day throughout the New Year period.
Setting off firecrackers—much like our 4th of July on steroids. Both public and private fireworks are set off all over. Everyone participates.
On the more serious side, is when the family comes together to honor their ancestors. They may clean the tombs, and they may also cluster together before pictures of their deceased relatives to show honor and respect. By participating in these activities as a family they are stressing that they are united by blood and are a cohesive unit.
People greet each other by saying gongxi (恭喜), which is a way of saying “Best wishes in the New Year.”
WHAT NOT TO DO
Don’t give anyone:
A scissors or a knife because they are sharp and it means you’re cutting off your relationship with them;
Anything with the number 4 in it because 4 sounds like death and is, therefore, an extremely unlucky number.
While fruit is usually a good thing to give as a gift, you should avoid pears. The word for pears is homophonous with “leaving” or “parting.”
Cut flowers because these are generally given at a funeral, so—obviously—not auspicious!
White or yellow flowers, which represent death. Just choose a plant in another color.
Mirrors are thought to attract malicious ghosts—something no one would want to do. Plus, mirros are easily broken and anything broken is a bad omen.
This is a time of great celebration and joy, just avoid anything that implies death, breaking relationships, or bad luck.
We’re almost at the beginning of a new Chinese year! Lucky us. We get to celebrate New Year’s twice: once on January 1st and a second time on the first day of the first lunar month—which this year is January 28th.
As many of you already know, every year in the Chinese Zodiac is represented by an animal — each with special, auspicious qualities. This year, 2017, is the Year of the Rooster.
Why the rooster? What does it symbolize?
The rooster is a strong yang symbol, going back many hundreds and hundreds of years.
The crown on its head (the rooster’s comb) show that it supports and encourages civil society.
When a rooster finds food, it is said to let others know about it. Therefore, roosters are considered benevolent.
Because it crows in the morning, marking the break from darkness to a growing sun light, it is important as a symbol for chasing away negative forces and what is evil.
And, finally, because a rooster has razor sharp claws to fight against its enemies, it is considered courageous.
All of these positive symbols represent one side of a coin—the other side is the personal side. For those people born in the year of the rooster, this will not be such a good year. That’s because the year of one’s birth is usually considered an unlucky year for the person.
Whatever the year brings, New Years is a time of celebration. In times past, and perhaps today if jobs permit, people celebrate for at least a week with special dinners and visiting family and friends.
Veitnamese and Chinese New Year celebrations remind us of the many Asian Americans we have in the U.S.
The Vietnamese Americans are the fourth largest Asian group in the US (Chinese, Asian Indian, and Filipino are the top three). Their mass migration started after 1975 at the end of the Vietnamese War. At that time, people were fleeing Vietnam as refugees and came to the US with little material resources, although a strong ethic and desire for education and for their family to succeed. They left their homeland under duress. If they had stayed, they or their loved ones (father, mother, brother, sister) would have become a political prisoner, perhaps tortured and killed. They had little choice. Once here, however, they have embraced the US as their new homeland, with the intent to stay. They have assimilated politically, economically, even culturally.
At the same time, remembering their roots and valuing their own ethnic traditions are an important underpinning of their communities and families. While the first generation is not as wealthy on average as the first generation economically motivated Chinese immigrants (remember, most refugees come with little to no resources—no matter what their social and economic status was at home), they have poured their commitment into their children and their children’s success. Today, many second generation Vietnamese have completed college, become professionals, and can be considered successful in the US society.
The Chinese Americans are the largest, and certainly among the oldest Asian ethnic groups we have. [Note: I am using Asian as the US Census does: people with origins in the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent.] San Francisco’s Chinatown, which was established in the 1840s, is the oldest Chinatown in the US and has the highest density of Chinese-American residents. Most of these are, or were originally, from Guangdong province and Hong Kong and, therefore, are Cantonese speakers—Remember when I greeted you last week with Gong Hei Fat Choi! for Happy New Year? The reason is because historically most of our Chinese immigrants came from these southern areas; areas that have a long tradition of migrating out of their country for jobs and other economic opportunities. (Note: this includes other Chinese languages, but I’m using Cantonese as a catch-all for the Yue language branch of Chinese.) In the past, mostly men came and stayed in their new host country in order to make a living and send money home. Some of these men returned to their home areas periodically to take a wife, who may have remained in his home village living with his parents, or (once our immigration laws changed) brought them to the US to live.
In the last 10 to 20 years or so, more and more of our Chinese immigrants from mainland China are Mandarin speakers. This is bringing a change within the Chinese-American communities in terms of language use. Mandarin apparently is taking over as the lingua franca of the American Chinese diaspora. However, I must say that when I overhear a group of Chinese at a University or in a large, mixed group setting speaking with each other, they use English. Perhaps English is considered a “neutral” third language for them—one which doesn’t privilege any one of the various Chinese languages over another. Not to mention the fact that it is also the common language of the US and they all are adept at its use.
Naturally, the Chinese and Vietnamese Americans will be found at all levels of the U.S. socio-economic ladder but, overall, both of these immigrant groups have contributed quite a bit to our country. Personally, I am happy with the diversity they’ve added to our cultural understanding, yes, but (I’m being VERY selfish here) they’ve each (as with other Asian cultures) brought wonderful variety to our food cuisine! I love American comfort foods, but who can resist the flavors and textures of these “new” dishes?! If you’re interested in learning more, go on the Internet and type in foods from whatever country intrigues you—you will have a bountiful harvest!
To check on how many people are in each ethnic group in the US go to: http://www.census.gov/. You can get 2013 data as well—in some areas.
This greeting is in Cantonese, not Mandarin, because that’s what you’re most likely to hear in the US.
Can you believe we are already one week into the Chinese and Vietnamese New Year? Traditionally, New Year celebrations went on for a couple of weeks, although today that time has often been limited to as little as one week.
While the Chinese and Vietnamese have many differences in their cultures, they both share a lot of similarities for this major holiday, which the Vietnamese call Tet.