The more I learn about Chinese New Year, the more interesting it becomes. First of all, only people who are not Chinese call it the Chinese New Year... here it’s called Spring Festival or 春节. It’s celebrated based on the lunar calendar, so this year Spring Festival will take place on February 16th. The upcoming year is The Year of the Dog, so this is my year! Any of you born between February 10, 1994 and January 30 1995: This is your year too! Additionally most people born in 2006, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946…….. this is your year too! (The lunar New Year typically falls somewhere between January and February, so if you have a birthday in one of these two months, you should check other sources to accurately know what your zodiac sign is.
Back to those of us celebrating “our year”: don’t get too excited yet! When I first found out that I would be here in China as the lunar calendar unfolded into another Year of the Dog my reaction was: YIPPEE! I was so excited to be in China during MY year… I thought it was such good fortune that the two things would coincide! But alas, my knowledge of Chinese traditions was limited. Little did I know that your zodiac year is your year of bad luck! When I found this out I was immediately resistant. But then I thought back to 12 years ago (the last time my zodiac year came around) and realized it actually wasn’t a very good year! (It was 7th grade… we all know 7th grade is no fun!) So I was really sad… I don’t want bad luck while I’m in China! Nor do I want bad luck for the duration of the lunar year!
But, oh! My students and friends came to my rescue and told me a wonderfully helpful tradition! To ward off bad luck, you must simply wear something red all year until the next Spring Festival takes place. I thought, yeah, I can do that! I just need to buy lots of red clothes and make sure I wear them. I already have a red scarf anyway! Then, I got the best piece of advice I’ve received thus far. One of my friends said: just buy lots of red underwear, then you can always have something red on and not have to worry about it!
There is so much more to say about Spring Festival… traditional foods, activities, customs. But the truth is… every province in China is different, and every family celebrates a little differently too. So my goal is to collect as much information as I can from my students after they go home for the winter holiday and celebrate. Then I will be able to share more diverse information, rather than the tidbits that I know right now. One thing I will share is that a big tradition surrounding this festival is for older relatives to give their younger relatives 压岁钱 (red pocket money). This is a red envelope full of money to symbolize good luck and to ward off evil spirits. The specific traditions regarding red pocket money vary from province to province and between the north and the south of China (similar to how regional differences exist within the United States). However, the general idea remains the same.
Bearing all this in mind, the winter holiday is almost upon us. The students will go home soon, and the festivities will begin. So…. if you’re wondering what my plans are leading up to Spring Festival: Buy red underwear is the first thing on my list!