Celebrating Chinese New Year
‘Fu’ or Good Luck’
The ‘Fu’ or ‘Good Luck!’ Symbol is always conspicuously displayed during the Chinese New Year Period. Intriguingly, ‘Fu’ has two different meanings, depending on which way up you view it, both together mean ‘Happy New Year!’
A different character from Kung Fu it shows a woman by an oven or stove cooking up something special! It’s often displayed upside-down as it then resembles the Chinese character ‘dao’ meaning ‘to arrive’ in the sense of ‘good luck arriving.’
Food for Thought
Food, as the above symbol indicates, is an important part of Chinese New Year. This is reflected clearly in many of the Festival’s customs and traditions. Dumplings symbolise fortune (resembling small gold and silver ingots once used as currency) and are consumed with particular gusto. Fish dishes are also popular as ‘fish’ and ‘plenty/abundance’ sound very similar in Chinese. Delicious glutinous rice-cakes also feature regularly on the New Year Agenda.
Spare-ribs, Singapore Noodles and Special Rice are enough to get you underway if you’ve never tried Chinese cuisine before.
Fireworks and Colour
Red, the most active colour, is the colour of the Heaven Energy (T’ien Qi) which activates and energises our bodies. Red plays a central part in this festival celebrating the activation of the New Year and is to be found everywhere during the New Year Celebrations. Gold, symbolising good-fortune, is also a prominent colour found everywhere at this time, frequently in groups of four gold Chinese characters on shiny red paper, conveying appropriate seasonal sentiments.
Fireworks, including firecrackers are another essential feature of Chinese New Year celebrations. Fireworks’ invention long ago in China, was reputedly prompted by bamboo, which explodes with a loud report when burnt due to the rapid expansion of the air within. Martial Arts displays, dancing (especially Lion Dancing) performances and parades are also important aspects of the festival’s celebrations. Hopefully, knowing about these in advance will encourage more people to enjoy events to the utmost.
Lunar Lights: How the Date is Determined
Yuan Tan, the Chinese New Year Festival, begins when the Year’s second New Moon appears (the first is the 13th and final 28-day Lunar Month of the departing Year) as the celebrations mark the start of a new Lunar Cycle. Lunar Months are actually 29.5 days and so the Chinese insert an extra month periodically (7 over every 19 years) hence this predictably moveable feast has different start and end dates each year.
Celebrating Chinese New Year
Celebrations begin with the first appearance of the Crescent Moon (or whenever, as it’s a world-wide festival as long as it’s on New Year’s Day). These include fireworks, martial-arts performances and of course Lion and Dragon Dances, particularly, in the West, in the ‘Chinatowns’ of major cities. In Sheffield U.K. (my home) crowds look out for Sheffield Chinese Lion Dance Team (of which I’m a member). In London Chinatown my Most Esteemed Teacher, Grandmaster Yap Leong’s Shaolin Fists Lion Dance Team is always in the forefront of celebrations.
Chinese New Year is celebrated in places with large Chinese populations and particular historical or cultural links to China including: Bhutan, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Nepal, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and other places containing significant Chinese populations. Moreover, as I heard a distinguished Chinese Official remark, during last year’s celebrations ‘it’s something that China is sharing with the World. It’s becoming a word-wide celebration!’
So, join the crowds, wherever you are, if you can, when Dragon Year finally arrives on 23rd January 2012. London celebrations reach their peak on Saturday and Sunday January 28-29th. There is a colorful street-parade along The Strand, Charing Cross, Shaftesbury Avenue and through Chinatown and free, first-class performances on Trafalgar Square’s huge outdoor stage, including Kung Fu, ethnic dances, music and visiting Chinese artists.Fireworks, craft stalls and street entertainments in Chinatown, accompanied, of course by Lion Dancing, continue into the evening. Many visiting groups ’round off’ their visit with a Chinese meal at one of the areas many local restaurants. See you there!