Monday, January 23, 2012

Xin Nian Kuai Le or Happy (Chinese) New Year

2012 is the Year of the Dragon.

Red decorations -- lanterns, banners of Chinese characters, and diamond-shaped Chinese knots -- begin to adorn every door, street light and window. Shops post signs indicating their modified hours or return date as a new world record for largest human migration is again set. People from all over China return to their hometowns, and Beijing empties.

Here in Northern China there are few of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, although the girls' preschool did lots of crafts and cultural lessons around the topic. As part of the school celebration, they hosted a Lion and Dragon Dance. Make sure to click after the picture to see some videos and continue reading.

Ever since then Kaleia has been talking about the dragon. Asking and re-asking if the dragon is going to eat her. 

The girls have also learned a New Year song at preschool and they sure enjoy singing it. While shopping at our local Carrefour, basically a French Wal-Mart, Kaleia was very excited to hear it being played over the loudspeaker.

One New Years' festivity Beijingers do participate in is fireworks. We've heard that Beijingers are the the biggest pyromaniacs in China, and our experience does not dispute that. This is no 30 minute display. It goes on for hours with the first kernels popping in the afternoon, right around the beginning of nap time. By bedtime it is rolling continuously until around 2 am. My lifetime cumulative fireworks experienced was surpassed in one night, without the orchestration of a Vancouver Celebration of Light or Disney Main Street Parade. Besides the time some drunk people aimed their bottle rockets at us in a park in Everett, prior to coming to Beijing, I've always viewed fireworks from a safe distance, and in a somewhat controlled situation. Not here. Our doorman seems giddy and as I look around the lobby I notice cases of fireworks that must be for the display to be held in our courtyard. I imagine this is the best night to be a doorman.    

I'm preeeetty sure they are made of the same flammable materials that cause forest fires and second degree burns at home but, apparently, fireworks in China don't need open space. Sparkling bouquets explode right outside your apartment window. Towers of spitting flame are lit on the sidewalk just ahead of you and bottle rockets ping off metal door handles. Another major difference from the fourth of July is this is not a one night celebration. The Chinese spend 14 days ringing in their New Year.

I have no idea how much they cost.  I've always struggled with feeling like fireworks are such a waste.  Here, night after night, people that can't be making very much money continue to literally burn away a chunk of their income. In the interview below, a Beijing man shares that the Chinese believe lighting fireworks will bring good health and prosperity, and firecrackers will ward off evil spirits and disaster.  The tradition goes back 5,000 years. Who knows if the majority of the population still hold this belief or if they just enjoy the fun of the tradition. Either way it helps me understand better why even the poorest find a way to add to the cacophony.

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