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For the third and final post on Spring Festival, we’re going to look at some of the traditions and customs of the first few days of the New Year. As I mentioned in Part One, we are now in the year of the rabbit, having said 再见 to 2010 and the year of the tiger. After the smoke from the firecrackers has cleared, all of the dumplings have been consumed, and the CCTV Gala has been watched, there are many important things to do to start the New Year off correctly.
In China, and many other countries where the lunar new year is celebrated, many people are Buddhists (佛教徒 – fó jiào tú), and there are particular customs associated with Buddhism that go on at the beginning of the year. Many Buddhists believe that the first day of the year is the birthday of the Maitreya Bodhisattva (better known as the more familiar Budai Luohan), the Buddha-to-be. On this day, people will refrain from eating meat and will prepare all food for the day the night before. It’s very common for people to pay a visit to a Buddhist temple, such as the Lama Temple (雍和宫 – yōng hé gōng) and make offerings to Buddha for good health and prosperity in the New Year.
Another tradition around this time of year is the performance of a lion dance (舞狮 – wǔ shī). For the Chinese New Year, lion dance troupes will visit homes or businesses to perform what is called “plucking the greens” (採青 – cǎi qīng). Here is a basic run down of a lion dance and the customs surrounding it:
First of all, a shop owner will hang some vegetables (菜 – cái) above the store, as this word is pronounced the same as fortune (财 – cái), tied to one of the red envelopes (红包 – hóng bāo), which Steve covered in his last post. The “lion” will dance around the the envelople and will eventually eat the green, spitting it out in a nice arrangement such as the auspicious character 福, meaning good luck and fortune. As the dance is believed to bring these things to the business, the troupe is rewarded with the red envelope.
For those celebrating Chinese New Year in the US, lion dance performances can be seen throughout the country in any city with a Chinatown, such as New York, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco.
Here is an example of a lion dance troupe performing the 菜青.
Day 2-Day 8
On the second day of the New Year, many women who have been married will visit their parents, as chances are they don’t do this very often during the year. Also, many people will pray and make offerings to their ancestors and the gods on this day.
The third day of the New Year is known as red mouth (赤口 – chì kǒu). As this sounds similar to the word for the God of Blazing Wrath (赤狗日 – chì gǒu rì), it is believed that this is not a good day to visit relatives or friends.
Day #5 is another day for eating dumplings in northern China (there really are so many of them), and it is also believed that this day is the birthday of the Chinese God of Wealth.
On the seventh day, Chinese will celebrate the common man’s birthday (人日 – rén rì). On this day, everyone grows one year older.
By the eighth day, a whole lot of celebrating has been done, and it’s time for most people to get back to work. Government agencies and businesses will open their doors up once again, and the official holiday comes to an end.
Although the official holiday may be finished by this point, there is still the Lantern Festival, which we’ll discuss next week.