新年快乐 or literally “new year happy”, is what you will hear millions of Chinese people saying to each other today. Yes, today is Chinese New Year!
Here in Beijing, it was hard not to notice. Fireworks were being set off constantly from around 6pm last night to well past 1am this morning, with a climax around midnight. This may seem like an exaggeration, but I have never seen so many fireworks at once. If you get the chance to see a picture of Beijing’s skyline around midnight, you will notice every street corner, back garden and large public space is lit up. In Beijing, you are only allowed to set off fireworks on designated special occasions such as Spring Festival. Beijinger’s certainly made up for lost time, as the city was literally exploding last night. Today, I daren’t go outside, in fear of all the leftover pollution.
There has been the odd firework going off every now and again over the past few days. Yesterday, I asked one of my Chinese students why, especially as they were set off during the daytime. He told me they are used for the loud noise they make, to scare off all the evil spirits and ghosts. I can tell you one thing; with all the noise the fireworks made last night, there isn’t a single bad spirit left in the whole of Beijing!
The Chinese follow a lunar calendar, which is why New Year falls on a different day each year. Every year is associated with an animal. There are twelve : the horse, the sheep, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, the pig, the rat, the bull, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon and the snake. This year is the year of the Snake, or the Black Snake to be more precise. Many people preparing New year paintings or gifts are incorporating a snake into their work.
People traditionally visit their families for New Year. Chinese news are estimating half the population, that’s 600 million people, were on the move. And from tomorrow onwards, they’ll all want to go home again. It’s the biggest annual migration of population in the world. To be honest, I have no idea how the transport system manages.
It is also tradition to give gifts. My student gave me some traditional Chinese lollipops that look a lot like chestnuts. I admit, I haven’t tried them yet, I’m not quite used to Chinese sweets.