The Year of the Tiger. GRRReat!
The 3rd sign of the Chinese zodiac, the tiger, begins it's year long reign on the February 14th this year.
However, much alike our western new year, the most exciting day is actually the eve. But unlike in the west where we find the most exciting party and drink with friends, lovers and, more often than not, a bunch of strangers, the Chinese New Years Eve is spent with family.
In fact, the Chinese New Year 's Eve is the most important family day of the year. Needless to say that the seriousness of my and my boyfriends' relationship is left without doubt, now that I have been invited to share this day with his family.
The year of the tiger is said to ward off any household disasters, such as fire, theft and ghosts. However, if you are a tiger yourself, that is born in the year of the tiger, the year is believed to be unlucky for you. As with all other signs, if we find ourselves in the year of our own sign, the Chinese believe that we should wear the colour red to ward away bad luck.
Believe it or not, this year will actually be the first Chinese new year that I have spent in china. Usually I take advantage of the national holiday and come back to the UK. So this is year is extra special for me, and I've been researching and taking notes from my Chinese friends to learn about what will be expected of me when I join a Chinese family for the biggest festival on their calendar. Here's what I've learned;
1. Gifts aren't necessary
Unlike Christmas, gifts aren't a big thing during the Spring Festival. In some ways, I find it difficult to imagine children becoming excited by Chinese new year if there are no gifts, and no indulgences, but my boyfriend insists that when he was a child, he would become very excited about the fireworks and the hongbao (a red enveloped with money inside given to the children of the family by relatives and friends).
However, being the only foreign face in the crowd, I guess they might expect something a bit different, and I have bought a few gifts to take along for the family - I hope they appreciate that it's more of a 'thanks for having me', than a 'let's make it more like Christmas' gesture.
2. Offer to make the jiaozi
Jiaozi are like dumplings...well, I kind of think they're more like ravioli. They're boiled pasta-like bags with meat and vegetables inside, so yeah, I think they're like giant ravioli. It's these jiaozi that are the traditional food of Chinese New Year, and I've been told that it's very courteous and traditional for me to offer to help make the jiaozi. Expect disastrous stories post-chinese new year about this!
The thing about fireworks, despite them being quite pretty, is the louder the noise the better. The loud noises are believed to scare away evil spirits and keep us safe in the New Year. The previous few years, I've returned to china at the end of February or sometimes even the beginning of March, and the fireworks and firecrackers are still being set off. For a foreigner living alone in the middle of Beijing, this can feel quite scary and what I'd imagine a snippit of the blitz to have been like.
3. The city is a ghost town
I've become very used to there always being people around. You can walk around the city at any time of the day or night, and you will see people around. At first it may have felt odd, but now it's comforting. I hadn't released how used to living in the most overpopulated country in the world until we had a one week festival back in October called Mid-Autumn Festival. Of course, during festivals, people want to be with their families, but what I didn't realize is that a huge amount of people who live in the capital, are actually from smaller towns around china. So when they all return home, Beijing becomes eerily quiet and feeling quite deserted.
4. Mah-jiang is a must
I am very aware that mah-jiang is a popular game in china. Every park in the city is chock-full old folks sitting around on benches playing the games for hours on end. I like to think of Mah-jiang as the Chinese peoples' monopoly or dominoes, I guess. But then, how many of us actually dust of the old games and play a game of monopoly? I took the time to educate myself in the game of Mah-jiang, which seems pretty straight-forward and a game of matching up pairs. Then I was informed that the Mah-jiang that most of these people are playing is actually Taiwanese Mah-jiang, which is indeed a trifle more complicated than the former.
So, this spring festival, so long as I don't insult people with my gifts, poion people with my jiaozi and cry over the fireworks, I still have ample opportunity to embarrass myself with not understanding the rules to mah-jiang. As if communicating solely in Chinese was not enough stress. But then I'm sure I'll get even when I take my boyfriend back to UK to spend Christmas with my family.
Ã¥â¬Â§Ã¥Â®Â¶ÃŠÂÂ°Ã¥Â¹ÅœÃ¥Â¿Â«Ã€Â¹Â! - Happy New Year everyone!
How to say it in Chinese (da jia xÃÂ«n niÃÂ¡n kuÃÂ i lÃÅ¡)