The colour and tradition of China's New Year is both fascinating and mysterious to visitors from another land and a different culture. Here at Luxos we thought it would be interesting to provide some suggestions on how to experience Chinese New Year, with some tips that in part mirror the traditional programme of the festive season, and that in part are inspired by the Luxos mission: providing a local guide to global luxury.
Welcome, then, to the Year of the Rabbit. Sensitivity, prudence, and wealth earned through hard work; a year of reliability, family ties, dependability. Which is very good news in itself.
The Chinese New Year calendar starts on 3 February 2011, but on the days before this, there are preparations to be made. The intensive house-cleaning that often takes place before New Year, to sweep away the bad luck of the preceding year, won't be necessary for you in your hotel room or suite, but you can attain the same sort of symbolic fresh start by purchasing new clothing and shoes. There may be massive sales in malls, which is great encouragement to throw out the old and welcome the new! Try our store locator on page xxx if you're short of ideas! In Hong Kong, you could visit one of the fourteen flower markets, like the locals who are looking for lucky plants for the home.
The most important moment of Chinese New Year's Eve is dinner (this year on 2 February), and without doubt your hotel restaurant – remember to book, restaurants are packed on New Year's Eve – will include some special regional favourites on the menu wherever you are. The New Year Night Parade is often a massive event in large cities such as Hong Kong, with colourful floats, marching bands and performing groups. Midnight ushers in the first day of the New Year, when money is given to junior members of the family and to company employees using red envelopes. And don't miss the fireworks display that the municipal government, wherever you are, will probably have organized around midnight on 2 February.
During the following day, you may be lucky enough to see some lion dancing or dragon dancing, both of which are connected to ancient agricultural rituals. The dragon is in fact in part a prayer for rain.
On the second day (4 Feb) of New Year, it is traditional to remember your ancestors, and in addition, General Che, whose temple in Hong Kong is in the Tai Wai area of Sha Tin. Turn the wheel of fortune three times for good luck, and have your fortune told by the fortune tellers near the temple. In Beijing, visit the various temple fairs, and in particular the Lama Temple.
The third day is Red Dog day, and this is the name of the God of Anger, who brings bad luck. Traditionally it's not a day for going out, but rather to have a rest after all the celebration, or to place the first lucky bet of the year. In Hong Kong, lots of people go to the racetrack to watch the horses and see how their luck is going.
The fourth day marks the return of the God of Stove to the family kitchen. The Chinese prepare recipes with meat, fruit, cake and wine, and so you can take the opportunity to search out some culinary specialities.
The fifth day, 7 February, marks the start of business after four days of holiday. It is dedicated to the God of Wealth, and today you may see lion-dance teams on the street bringing good fortune to stores and businesses, and receiving red envelopes containing some cash as a reward. There may be some fireworks to further propitiate luck.
Day six, 8 February, is dedicated to the Clear-Water grand master, remembering a monk who prayed for rain to save people during the drought. You could search out his temple and see the ceremony. By now, most stores will have reopened after the first three or five days closure in the New Year.
Day seven, 9 February, is not really celebrated by the Chinese, but it does in fact recall the creation of man on the seventh day of the Chinese Genesis. Try some noodles, whose length symbolizes longevity, and seven vegetables, which repel evil spirits and sickness.
The eighth day, 10 February, marks the end of the holiday, when all the special foods prepared for Chinese New Year have been finished. Everything returns to normal, and everyone goes back to work. But in actual fact, celebrations continue... day nine, 11 February, is the day of the Jade Emperor, the King of Heaven, remembered with three bundles of long noodles, three teacups with green tea, and various other specialities. And then, day ten, 12 Feb is the Eating Day... no suggestions necessary!
Days eleven and twelve (13 and 14 Feb) are really days for recovery, taking a break from celebrations, and looking forward to the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day. Day thirteen (15 Feb) is dedicated to General Kuan Yu, a gallant warrior, whose day is now considered as auspicious for business deals.
Day fourteen (16 Feb) marks preparations for the Lantern Festival, when people traditionally created their own lantern, while today they are generally sold in stores. They are linked to the Chinese horoscope animal of the New Year. The Lantern Festival itself on the fifteenth day (17 February this year) is linked to an ancient legend in which lanterns were used to save a village from destruction by the God of Heaven. You will see lantern displays in the central squares and next to the temple. In Shanghai, the City Temple Fair is world-famous for its lanterns, some of which are decorated with riddles. Riddle games are a feature of this festival in other locations as well. They are often held in temples, related to recent news, or people in the city. Visitors can enter temples without any particular restrictions in terms of dress or religion. Celebrations continue all night with laser shows, flying lanterns, fireworks and music. After this, the long Chinese New Year season is well and truly over!
China Winter 2010