Welcome to the Year of the Rat

What a privilege to be IN China at Chinese New Year. This year the lunar festival falls very close on the heels of Christmas as we welcome in the Year if the Rat (mice included) so we only had three weeks back at work before having another holiday. Mind you I could get used to a pattern of three weeks off and three weeks on!!

The festival spans 15 days with different events being marked but all of them centre around the family. Everywhere is full of red. It’s all very bright and festive. This is our local supermarket

Here are some fun facts:

Legend has it that there was a beast called Nian who would terrorize a village every New Year’s Eve stealing livestock. The concerned villagers discovered that Nian was frightened of fire, loud bangs and the colour red so they hung red peach wood plaques by their doors, lit fires along the roadside and banged sticks loudly to frighten Nian away. This was successful and this forms the basis of the cultural traditions of wearing lucky red and set off fireworks.

Lots of decorations resemble strings of firecrackers. Unfortunately due to pollution concerns fireworks are banned. I am glad as personally I think they are a waste of money…

Every house is swept clean as families prepare for the festival. This is to remove all the old bad luck and originated from the ancient ritual of epidemic elimination.

On the 23rd day of the lunar month, legend has it that the kitchen god will report to the Jade Emperor all the good and bad deeds of the family. So people make many offerings to their kitchen god in the hope that these good deeds will outweigh any negative ones from the past year. Offerings include rice cakes, sweets or Tofu. Rich in nutrients tofu can be cooked in many different ways and in the past was useful during times of food shortages. This is an indispensable delicacy at New Year.

It is traditional for every family to hang the character’Fu’ on their door. Fu means happiness and fortune. Some paste this character upside down deliberately because the character for ‘upside down happiness’ sounds the same as ‘happiness arrives’.

Some doors also have spring festival couplets. Originally on planks made from red wood, nowadays they are just on red paper. Our landlord gave us some. Apologies for the dark picture but our hallway is very poorly lit. I have no idea what they say or even if we have hung them the right way round!!!

Here are some freshly painted couplets drying outside the calligraphy shop

As New Year arrives people bathe and put on new clothes. New clothes are lucky but they are even more valuable than that, apparently they help to remove evil spirits! (I knew I was doing the right thing with all that retail therapy!!!)

An interesting tradition is to pay attention to your words and actions during the festival period. Lucky words are favored such as an ‘Year of peace and unity’. This hanging sign says something about having a year of abundance.

To avoid accidents people refrain from using sharp objects and even go so far as to avoid putting any rubbish outside.

Money is the traditional gift from elders in the family to unmarried youngsters. This carries the hopes of the older generation that the younger ones will be healthy and free from trouble during the forthcoming year. As red symbolizes luck the money is given in red envelopes.

This shopping mall had a display with red packets being blown about inside. On our part we are expected to give our Ayi a months’ salary as a bonus. Fortunately for us Amy comes only half a day a week; some families find this expensive! Mind you Amy is so good I don’t begrudge it.

The Spring Festival Temple Fair is a folk culture event. This is where you can see stilt walkers, boat dancers and the lion acrobats who seem to defy gravity with an astonishing nimbleness. It is when they throw the small children into the air that my heart is in my mouth.

At school with all the concerns about the corona virus our CNY assembly was canceled but the performers walked through the corridors so that all the children could still see them.

The 15th day brings the first full moon and this point symbolizes the start of spring. Known as the Lantern Festival people gather to eat sticky rice balls, admire the beauty of the lanterns and to solve riddles. This part of the festival originated from the sacrificial celebrations of ancient courts and temples.

The main feature of the Lantern Festival is the Dragon dance. In China, the dragon is a divine creature that represents auspiciousness while also being the master of wind and rain. The dragon dance is not only to seek the dragon’s blessing but also to wish for a good harvest in the coming year.

The food is sumptuous and meals can last anything up to 6 hours! I was gifted some of this

It’s a type of sticky rice called 8 treasures. It symbolizes abundance and it is huge so you feel absolutely stuffed after eating it!

The streets and malls are highly decorated, just like we do at Christmas. This is outside our apartment

Lots of events have been cancelled this year due to the virus. All public gatherings are banned. It’s a worrying time. The Lunar new year in China is the world’s largest mass migration as people travel to be with family.

Let’s hope that the disease is contained and that the world can return to normal as soon as possible. The rat is the first animal of the Chinese zodiac and symbolizes new beginnings. Let’s hope that we are not ushering in a whole new era of pandemic!

One thought on “Welcome to the Year of the Rat

  1. wow that was not only brilliant but so informative. Last year you were surrounded with yellow for the new king and now its all red! It is a lovely shade of red too not a bit wishywashy x enjoy it all x

    Liked by 1 person

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