Sunday, January 25, 2009

Starting the Year With a Bang!

Spring Festival is China’s most important holiday. It is called Chun Jie and it is directly connected with Chinese New Year. For the past two weeks, people have been frantically preparing for the most important time of the year. It is a time when people thoroughly clean their homes, symbolically sweeping out the old and welcoming in the new. They often buy new furniture, new clothes and other items for their homes. Everything is put in order. Family members from all over China travel back to their parent’s home just before New Year’s Eve to eat dinner together and welcome in the New Year.
No matter where you are in the country, you must drop everything and get home to celebrate with your family. Of course, that means everyone is traveling so train stations and airports insanely crazy, crowded places to be. If you travel by train as I once did, inside the car there is no space to move and getting out to use the bathroom is impossible! (This is when it helps to have Depends) Seats are often sold out or overbooked, so many choose a “standing” ticket which literally means standing the whole trip in the aisles, so no one can move. I know a young man who was so determined to get home that he bought such a ticket and stood for an 18 hours train ride! Can you imagine?

You will know that Chinese New Year is coming because you will see red lanterns displayed on the front of buildings, restaurants, and public attractions. According to the Chinese Zodiac, this is also the year of the Ox, so there are red cows everywhere. I am supposed to be lucky this year because I was born in the Year of the Ox, but this means that I also should wear red long underwear everyday to be blessed…Uh, I don’t think so! Red is the lucky color. After New Years Eve dinner, children and young adults recite a blessing to their elders and in return are given red envelopes (hong bao) . These red envelopes have money inside them as a symbol of good luck and riches to come in the future. Because everyone is traveling, pretty much everything shuts down for a week. Planning ahead and buying food, water, electricity, etc…is essential. You can imagine how crowded the stores are.

Other essential preparations call for making lots of jiaozi (stuffed dumplings), writing blessings on red scrolls that go on or over the door frame, and buying fireworks. Chinese legend has it that a dragon named Nian came to the villages each year to eat livestock, crops and even children, but after they discovered that the dragon was afraid of the color red and fireworks, the villagers put red lantern and scrolls on their homes and doors. They also lit firecrackers to scare him away. That is why they continue the tradition today.

In Michigan, most fireworks are illegal unless you are doing a show and have a permit, but here…everyone has fireworks! I’m talking M-80’s, huge strings of loud firecrackers and the kind you shoot up in the air to make those sky flowers we “oooh” and “ahhh” over! There are fireworks stands on every corner and people spend gobs of money getting as much as they can afford so their family will be able to start the year with a bang! At 12:00 the fireworks begin…and basically never end for a week! It literally sounds like you’re in a war zone with non-stop banging, whistling, and sonic booms from above and below. It is so incredibly loud that even inside your apartment, it is difficult to hear the person next to you talking because of the noise. It is both amazing and annoying! Apparently, the officials in Tianjin made a regulation that fireworks could be set off every hour on the hour for the first 24 hours of Chinese New Year in an attempt to control random partying, but as far as I can tell, that hasn’t really made much of a difference. With 11.4 million people in Tianjin, just about everyone has some sort of explosive devise, it’s crazy…and amazing that there aren’t more people in emergency rooms or fires started because of stray fireworks.

I must admit, I couldn’t resist buying a big wheel of firecrackers and a couple of Roman candles. When I bought them, I couldn’t help thinking how much my kids and my brother Curt would love to be lighting these things off with me. I mean, who wouldn’t love lighting those babies and listening to 1000 loud pops going off all at once. It’s a blast! I’m sure by the end of the week, I will be sick to death of the noise, but right now it’s music to my ears. (Look for the video on You-Tube; Chinachick61)



Barb said...

Hey, at least you look good in red! It's your color, baby!