Sunday, February 18, 2007

Happy Chinese New Year!

To all readers who are celebrating the Lunar New Year,

May the new year bring you prosperity and good health and God's choicest blessings!

For those of you who do not know, the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration, which is also known as the Spring Festival, lasts for fifteen days and is the most important of all the Chinese festivals. It is celebrated in China, Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and wherever the Chinese can be found. This year is the year of the pig according to the Chinese zodiac.

One of the most important aspects of this festival is the reunion dinner on the eve of the new year. All the members of the family, regardless of whether they are overseas or in the neighbouring towns, will make the long trek to the eldest member's usually the parents, grandparents or great-grandparents home for the reunion dinner. But, due to the affluence of Chinese society, the reunion dinner is frequently held in restaurants and hotels these days.

The rush back for the reunion dinner has sparked a mass migration of hundreds of millions in China. Liberal amounts or liquor will be consumed as family members catch up on the latest news and gamble the night away.

In the morning of the first day on the new year, the eldest and most senior married couple will distribute red packets filled with money to all the unmarried members of the family who will form a line and greet them. This is the part that the kids look forward most to. All married couples are expected to give out the red packets and all unmarried people, including yours truly, are eligible. Red is the traditional colour of good luck and is worn by all Chinese on this day.

The kids will also go from house to house bearing new year wishes and collecting the 'ang pows' or red packets. Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time where families will pay a visit to the oldest and most senior member of their extended family, usually their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.

Some families may invite a Lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Lunar New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises. These troupes come with drums and cymbals and will let off fire crackers which the Chinese believe will frighten away the evil spirits.

I have fond memories of those joyful days when I was a kid. The extended family, including my grandparents, a huge numbers of aunts and uncles and cousins thrice removed would gather at a great grand aunt's place for the reunion dinner. The table would then be cleared and out would come the cards. Black jack and poker would continue into the wee hours of the morning. Before fireworks were banned, we kids would go into the field and let off loads of firecrackers and play with sparklers.
Then, just before midnight, we would get into a car and go down town where the banking district was. The banks would vie and compete with each other to see which bank could let off the most firecrackers. The long red firecrackers would be let down the side of the banks headquarters and at the stroke of midnight, a mighty roar would gather and grow as the firecrackers were were simultaneously lit and the crowd would anxiously wait to see which bank would last the longest.

The gambling would then continue and I would renew my friendships with my cousins. it was so easy making friends when you're a kid. You could see each other only for a day and a year later, you can still pick up where you left off and go bounding off together looking for mischief. =) Those were fun times. When the gambling finally ends, I would get all the spare coins. That was fun!

My grandfather died many years back and the family began to move away and some have migrated overseas. For us the reunion dinner has ceased as there's just no one left.

For my part, I attended Mass this morning, to thank God for all the blessings that he has bestowed this past year and to beg for His continued protection and favour for the coming year.

It's quite fortunate that the new year this year does not fall on Ash Wednesday, Friday or Lent this year as it has happened in past years. The Bishops Conference has usually transferred the obligation of fasting and abstinence when this occurs for pastoral reasons as many Chinese Catholics have non-Catholic family and friends.

Anyway, this was a little snippet into Chinese culture. Hope you've enjoyed it!


Anonymous said...

Happy New Year to you! I used to have a Chinese friend who told me that Chinese say, Kun Hei Fat Choi. Not sure if that's correct phrase,but I hope you have a wonderful New Year.

Andrew said...

Thanks Floo! That's about right.

In the Cantonese dialect which is spoken in Hong Kong, it's pronounced Kong Hei Fatt Choy. In Mandarin, which is spoken in most of China, it's pronounced Gong Xi Fa Cai. Even though it's written the same way in Chinese characters, the pronunciation varies depending on the dialect of the speaker. I, however, speak neither =)

In Penang, where I come from, we speak the Hokkien dialect which originated from the Fujian Province in China and which is also spoken in Taiwan. We say Keong Hee Huat Chye.

So, anyway, lessons in Chinese etymology, philology and linguistics aside, Happy Chinese New Year to you too!

Thanks for the good wishes.

Anonymous said...

Loved the photos; we lived in Japan for three years, ending this past August.

Happy New Year!

Vidimusdominum said...

Hi Andrew,

Keong Hee Huat Chye!

In all your ways, may your day be in the shelter of the Lord. Blessed by His love, led by His light and kept by His grace.

Have an 'indulgent' year ahead.

Andrew said...

Thanks! Although all indulgence ceases Wed =)

DrMatthewDoyle said...