MANILA -- It’s that time of year when dragons come out to play. The Chinese New Year, also called the Lunar New Year, and also known as the Spring Festival, falls on February 5 but celebrations begin today on what the Chinese consider as the New Year’s Eve.
But don’t think the festivities only run for two days – the Spring Festival actually lasts for 15 days, beginning from the new moon on New Year’s Day until the full moon on the Lantern Festival.
In China, stores are closed for the first five days of their longest holiday season so much of the shopping must be done before the red letter date. The Chinese can enjoy no work for at least a week, some as long as 10 days, or even until the Lantern Festival.
Why such a long vacation? Well, it could be because the advent of a New Year is welcomed with great ceremony and a host of traditions designed to bring families together and attract prosperity in the coming year.
In fact, their planning involves two main themes: first has to do with cleansing or clearing away all of the previous year’s bad luck; and second, preparing the home to receive the next year’s good fortune.
Considering the prosperity they enjoy in China and elsewhere in the world, if you want to make merry along with our Chinese brothers and sisters and also attract good fortune, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Sweep away bad luck with a clean home.
In the days leading up to New Year’s Day, the Chinese are busy giving their homes a thorough cleaning. It’s not just to see what items they own still spark joy so they can keep it and throw the rest away. Ceilings are dusted, windows are scrubbed, floors are mopped, and furniture all wiped clean to sweep away the bad luck of the past year. A clean home is a happy home so what are you waiting for?
2. Prepare to feast on New Year’s Eve.
If you’ve enjoyed a Chinese Lauriat, you know that the Chinese are serious about their feasts. In a Lauriat or special occasion, at least 10 dishes are served and guests dine for hours. You could serve your and your family’s favorites but do not forget to include fish. That’s because the Chinese word for “surplus” or “profit” sounds similar to the word for fish. That’s why they believe eating fish will bring wealth in the new year. It’s an excellent source of protein and healthy too so why not?
3. Paint the town red.
When you have the feast planned out, time to decorate and there is only one color to keep in mind: red. Chinatowns around the world transform into scarlet parades from red lanterns to posters and papers bearing lucky characters. It’s not just the streets that undergo the red change – businesses, storefronts and homes – basically every place that wants to attract good fortune dress up in the festive décor. The color red is associated with wealth in Chinese culture, and this is one tradition that they embrace not only in China but also in their diasporas worldwide.
4. Get ready with ear plugs for the Dragon and Lion dances.
The Chinese believe that dragons bring luck, and that’s why dragon dances are performed in almost all special occasions. And if you are wondering why some dances go on and on and on until you are nearly deaf thanks to the gongs, cymbals, and drums, well that’s because they also believe the longer the dragon is in the dance, the more luck it will bring to the community. One more plus: they say the dances also scare away evil spirits.
5. Stockings are out, and red envelopes are in.
The Chinese are also big on exchanging gifts for the New Year, but they prefer to hand it over as cash gifts in red envelopes or ang-paos. As a child, I used to look forward to New Year because all your older relatives are sure to hand you one. Some will have token amounts (hey it’s the thought that counts) but others tend to be a bit more generous and you can feel it from the thickness of the envelope as they hand it over. Ang-paos are usually given by adults to children and from married couples to their younger, unmarried family members. Some bosses also present them to employees (sadly, this has yet to happen to me).
6. Don’t forget the tikoy!
You’ll know it’s Chinese New Year when these red boxes of sticky treats start arriving. Another preferred gift, many Chinese present this to one another, or to their non-Chinese friends to also wish them prosperity. This usually comes in a round shape like a pie, but there are also gourmet varieties and for twice to thrice the price, you can get one shaped like a fish or the Chinese zodiac symbol for the year (for 2019, that’s the pig).
7. Are you ready for it?
When your home is sparkling, the feast about to be served, and gifts waiting to be exchanged, make sure you are personally ready too! The Chinese like to visit the barber or salon and get a fresh haircut or trim. They also have the excuse to shop for a Spring Festival wardrobe, and of course, new red clothing is best. A new you – thanks to a new hairstyle and outfit – are also believed to bring good luck, ensuring a fresh start for the new year.
8. Make sure to settle your debts.
This one may be a tough thing to do unless you have a lot of cash lying around, but still a healthy practice so people stay disciplined about their finances. Again for the Chinese, this has a traditional and symbolic meaning, which is to “close the books” at the end of the year and start a more fortunate page in the new year. But what happens if you don’t? You can expect red paint to be splashed on your door, as one multinational bank discovered after the new year. Allegedly, one of its employees owed money and the debt collectors decided to spill some (figurative) blood, just enough to scare them into paying up!
I admit none of these are guaranteed to pad your pockets, but traditions that survived thousands of years did so for good reason so where’s the harm? Wishing you all Xin Nian Kuai Le! (Happy New Year), or even better Gong Xi Fa Cai! (Wishing you Prosperity).